The Washington Post
Democracy Dies in Darkness
We need to go big in Syria. North Korea is watching.
By Marc A. Thiessen, April 12, 2018
President Trump’s decision last year to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base was intended to send the Assad regime a message that its use of chemical weapons would no longer be tolerated. But the strikes also had a broader purpose: showing other regimes that the Obama era of U.S. weakness was over, and that America’s adversaries would have to adjust their calculations about our willingness to act in response to their provocations.
Now, a year later, the Assad regime has REPORTEDLY defied Trump by its apparent launch of another chemical weapons attack. Once again, how Trump responds will have consequences far beyond Syria. With a high-stakes summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un coming up, Trump needs to keep in mind how his next move in Syria will be seen not just in Damascus, Tehran and Moscow but also in Pyongyang. He should use his next strikes on Syria both to punish dictator Bashar al-Assad and to demonstrate to Kim what might happen to North Korea if it continues to pursue nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could destroy American cities.
Last year, Trump delivered a measured, proportionate response to Assad’s chemical attack, hoping this would deter the Syrian dictator. According to retired Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, “What we shouldn’t do is another measured, proportionate response yet larger. That won’t deter him.” Instead, Keane says, “What we have to do is . . . destroy all his capabilities that deliver those weapons.” The United States should take out all of Assad’s rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, Keane says, and destroy all of his airfields, aviation fuel at those airfields, aviation maintenance equipment and aviation munitions. “If he still has artillery-delivered chemical weapons,” Keane says, “then we should take down his artillery as well.”
In other words, another “bloody nose” strike — even a bigger one — is not enough. We need to conduct large-scale operations that will destroy Assad’s weapons-of-mass-destruction capability. Such an attack would eliminate Assad’s ability to commit chemical weapons atrocities. Just as importantly, it would also provide an unspoken preview for Kim of what could happen to his nuclear and missile programs if he persists in developing and testing the capability to threaten the United States with nuclear destruction.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has suggested that Trump should also consider taking out Assad with a “decapitation” strike. “Assad and his inner circle should be considered war criminals, legitimate military targets,” Graham said this week. “If you have the opportunity to take him out, you should.”
Graham is absolutely right that Assad and his cronies are legitimate military targets, but Trump should hold off on such a strike — at least initially — and instead warn Assad that he reserves the right to hit leadership targets directly if he retaliates. Why? Because Trump wants Kim to see that a similar military operation against North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction would not necessarily result in regime destruction — as long as Kim does not retaliate.
By acting decisively in Syria, Trump also has an opportunity to send a message not just to North Korea but also to China that he is not bluffing when he threatens to act against Kim’s regime. Chinese President Xi Jinping was with Trump at Mar-a-Lago when he launched last year’s strikes against Assad, and the Chinese leader responded by stepping up economic pressure on Pyongyang. A large-scale operation to eliminate Assad’s capability to produce weapons of mass destruction would be a wake-up call to China that Trump is willing to take similar action against North Korea; it would also create an incentive for Xi to step up the pressure for denuclearization.
Trump also needs to stop talking about withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria. An American withdrawal would not only allow Assad to escalate his brutal campaign of atrocities in Syria, but also it would tell Pyongyang that Washington does not have the stomach to see its military campaigns through. If Trump can’t keep 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, Kim would calculate, he would hardly have the fortitude to see through a much more difficult military intervention against North Korea.
Trump has an opportunity to end Syria’s ability to massacre innocent men, women and children with weapons of mass destruction. But he also has a chance to show Pyongyang before the summit meeting that his threats of military action are more than bluster.
The success or failure of that meeting depends on whether Kim believes Trump is serious about taking military action — which is why Kim will be carefully watching what Trump does next in Syria.
Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on foreign and domestic policy and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Follow @marcthiessen
- North Korea already got a lesson in US belligerence from the Iraq war; the US accused Iraq of having WMD, threatened to invade it unless it allowed inspections, Iraq allowed inspections that showed it had no WMD, and we invaded anyway. Lesson: When the US puts you on a list, actually having no WMD invites invasion. Being weak invites invasion. Being cooperative invites invasion. If the US were to smack Syria around, the lesson is that Syria, a weak country, gets smacked around. No surprise to North Korea, because, as Iraq showed, the US didn’t invade Iraq because Iraq was strong and a threat. We invaded Iraq because it was weak and available.
- No! Getting involved in another war in Syria is exactly what we don’t need to do. I realize that Syria is a quagmire but that doesn’t mean that we need to get in the middle of another civil war where we don’t know who the players are and where the Russians are also playing a role.
- Forgetaboutit, already! We definitely don’t need a man like Trump to be a war president. He makes such great deals and really keeps his eye on the ball…..not! Your ignorance to even spout this nonsense is unbelievable.
- We need to come home and fix our own problems – or we are going in the same direction as Syria.
- What’s the worst that could happen? WWIII?
- When can we legally lobotomize Marc A. Thiessen?
- We go big, and then we’ll get a big list of casualties, people injured, big scenes of destruction; big lines of refugees; big lines of the homeless and the hungry, and big regions affected.
- Here we go again. Syria has weapons of mass destruction? That’s how we got enmeshed in Iraq, a swamp from which we might never fully extricate ourselves. Yes, Syria has chlorine, the same stuff that you put in your swimming pool. Unfortunately, they probably saw fit to use it against their own people but it would appear that has not been conclusively established, so it has to be “probably” for now. If Trump decides to unload a boatload full of Tomahawks on Syria, he had best know in advance what the Russians will do. The Russians are militarily capable of sinking US ships firing off Tomahawks. Will they? Who knows and that’s the essence of the issue facing us. Russia is Syria’s ally and Putin, an ex-KGB officer, is not known for his aversion to violence. Just ask the Ukrainians. If Russian personnel are injured or killed, and/or if Putin needs to show Russia is a loyal Syrian ally, that just might tip things into a cycle of escalation. As despicable as Assad is, like in the Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler”, sometimes you need to just walk away. Sending a moral message may not be worth the potential for actual hostilities between the US and Russia. Any message we send may not sway Assad because like the ruler of North Korea, he just wants to stay in power and couldn’t care less how much other Syrians suffer.
Why don’t we just launch the whole Trump administration at them? We don’t need them in Washington — they are after all “The Swamp” and by doing so they actually might help Make America Great Again— Why? because they won’t be here to sell America out to the highest bidder? Need a chemical weapon? Nothing better than Scott Pruitt. Need to twist their laws? Trump’s legal team will do it for a fee. Need a minister of Information? There is no Hope but I’m sure Sarah can handle misinforming them [with Kelly Anne’s help of course] See? there’s a whole list more we could launch at Russia, Syria, and Iran– all with out the need for any soldiers needing to go in harm’s way for “El Presidente Bone Spurs” who is a terrible actor even for the role of “The White House Apprentice”. Yes it’s time we “go big” and the biggest thing I can think of is launching all of the Liars and “Alternative Fact Makers” in this administration as well as those who enable these liars and thieves at our enemies… What do you think Mr. Thiessen? Won’t that scare our enemies by showing that America won’t stand for liars, thieves, murderers, or those who deny moral or legal responsibility? I’m sure that after they finish laughing they will realize Trump’s last act made America great again because we have gotten rid of the people they put in high office.
- “You know that last war me and my fellow Republicans made up all the evidence for that was a miserable, $2T failure that gutted our military and took 10 years to end? We’ve gotta do that again. Trust me. Also – side note – the idea of young people dying in a blaze of glory really turns me on.” – Marc Thiessen, who has never served in the military
- Hey, Marc, this was actually ghost-written by Bolton, right?
- According to Thiessen, it is OK to attack anything in Syria except Assad himself. Does that make sense? If you have to attack, Assad should be the Ace of Spades.
- Well go figure–a never-served Reich-wing freak and out-spoken defender of torture, now wants us to escalate Syria into an all-out war. Remember, Theissen began his career at the offices of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly–probably the worst den of evil Reich-wing maggots to ever breathe American air.
- We need to kill as many Syrians as possible or else we’ll have to kill a whole lot of Koreans so that they don’t all come over here and kill us. Or something. Craziness redux. 15 years ago, all over again.
- Bolton is probably jumping up and down and showing this article to Trump in order to argue the same thing.
- Cowards from a place of safety always want to send someone else’s kid to fight some unwinnable war.
- Marc, Marc… Russia is not Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria. If we start a fight with Russia, they have the nuclear fire power to end it very quickly. What you are suggesting is recklessly ignorant, highly irresponsible, and possibly downright evil. In regard to who had the motive to launch that chemical attack, don’t you remember how the WaPo editorialists were throwing a fit at the very idea the Syrian war might come to a sudden end? There are a lot of agencies who had a motive to launch that chemical attack, but all Assad had to do before then was wait patiently for the Americans to leave. In other words, I’m not convinced by the establishment mainstream press that Assad launched that attack. My top suspects are the people who had the motive to keep that war alive — the CIA and Israel.
- You are disturbed if you believe the CIA would engage in the killing of innocent women and children to keep a civil war alive. Unless of course you are a Russian misinformation bot.
- If the CIA thinks nothing of starting this war in the first place, a war they knew good and well would slaughter hundreds-of-thousands of innocent people (you know, collateral damage) and send millions of refugees on foot, with children in tow, to journey hundreds or even thousands of miles to safety, why would they care about a few more dozen deaths? Look at what they’ve already done.
- Yes Thiessen, let’s nuke Syria and the Russians. That should shut the North Koreans up.
- Maybe the reason no Syrian rebels are ever killed in these chemical weapons attacks — only civilians — is because the U.S. is being baited again: “On 21 February 2015, Asharq Al-Awsat reported that an anonymous Libyan army official stated extremists had seized large amounts of Gaddafi’s chemical weapons from multiple locations. The official warned that the targeted caches included mustard gas and sarin. The North Africa Post later reported that chemical weapons were stolen by armed men who stormed the chemical factory in the Jufra district where the weapons were stored. Military sources reportedly stated that among the chemical weapons are mustard gas and sarin.”
- It’s already established ISIS and other terrorists have used chemical weapons. To blame it on Assad without proof is politics, inciting for War.
- Some military action is mandatory. But economic action against Syria, Russia, and Iran will hurt more in the long run. Embargo those countries, and any country that refuses to join the embargo.
- We have no strategic interest in Syria and should stay out.
- Thiessen — Shut the f* up.
- Syria is a snakepit and we will gain nothing by ‘going big’ there.
- @realDonaldTrump: “We should stay the hell out of Syria, the “rebels” are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS? ZERO” 5:33 PM – Jun 15, 2013
- @realDonaldTrump: “If Obama attacks Syria and innocent civilians are hurt and killed, he and the U.S. will look very bad!” 12:26 PM – Aug 30, 2013
- @realDonaldTrump: “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your “powder” for another (and more important) day!” 6:21 AM – 7 Sep 2013
- Evangelicals love this because it accomplishes two of their important goals, LYING and KILLING. Evangelicals will support attacking and bombing Syria for sure. None of the things Trump said previously mean anything to Evangelicals. They voted for his because Trump is a LIAR, CHEATER, ADULTERER, PORN STAR HOOKER HIRING SLEAZE, BANKRUPTCY KING, RUSSIA LOVER, RACIST.
- @realDonaldTrump: “Who are our generals that are allowing this fiasco to happen right before our eyes. Call it the “PLENTY OF NOTICE WAR” 2:31 AM – Aug 31, 2013
- N. Korea has nuclear weapons and thousands of artillery pieces in range of Seoul. They are not quavering in their boots at all. An invasion of N. Korea is not going to happen and neither can America force them to do anything. That was the whole point of Kim getting nukes. He saw what happened to Saddam and Ghaddafi. N. Korea doesn’t care what happens in Syria. But then this is a Marc A. Thiesson column… No point looking for smarts here.
- sure Mark, you’re like the Bourbons (kings of Fr,, not the spirits)–you learn nothing and you forget nothing–or is it the other way around? except you’re miniscule
Marc has been off his meds again!
- You want to go big, go take a big dump because you’re frankly full of it … we don’t need to risk WW3 because the puny North Korea is watching! My 8 year old niece has better reasoning!
- The Post’s View: A few cruise missiles from Trump won’t stop Syria’s war crimes
- David Ignatius: American soldiers in Syria showed me something Trump doesn’t understand
- Marc A. Thiessen: Trump is threatening to repeat Obama’s mistakes in Syria
- The Post’s View: Trump says we’re leaving Syria ‘like, very soon.’ Bad idea.
6 basic questions about the war in Syria
By [KIKE] Amanda Erickson, April 12, 2018
The Syrian war has been a slowly unfolding catastrophe, one that has embroiled nearly the whole world. Here’s a look at how it started, why it became so complicated and what might happen next.
How did the war in Syria start?
It’s hard to remember now, but the unrest in Syria began on a hopeful note.
In March 2011, peaceful protests broke out around the country as part of the Arab Spring uprisings. Organizers called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to make democratic reforms, but his government responded with violence. In response, some of the protesters teamed up with military defectors to form the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that wanted to overthrow the government. By 2012, this armed struggle had devolved into a full-blown civil war.
So how did this go from a civil war to an international crisis?
For one, Syria is critical to Iran’s regional power plays. Iran needs Syria to move its weapons and proxy militias to other allies. So when Assad seemed threatened, Iran stepped in to support him. So did Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militia that is a close ally of Tehran.
At the same time, Iran’s rivals in the region — Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey among them — began sending arms and money to anti-Assad rebels, including extremist militias.
Why is the United States involved?
The United States has been reluctant to become too entangled in Syria, but it has acted for two main reasons.
First, the Islamic State began developing a foothold in the country in 2013. The next year, the United States formed an international coalition to launch airstrikes against the group. It eventually sent ground troops into the fight, and about 2,000 U.S. forces are now deployed there. The United States also has acted to punish the Assad government for using chemical weapons such as sarin and chlorine gas.
And what is Russia doing in Syria?
Russia has long supported Assad’s government. According to one scholar, Russia helped build the modern Syrian military, and Assad is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strongest allies in the Middle East. Russia has often blocked meaningful international action on Syria by vetoing proposals at the U.N. Security Council, and Moscow changed the course of the war in Assad’s favor with a military intervention in 2015.
What has life been like for Syrians?
In short: a nightmare. Since the start of the war, more than 465,000 Syrians have been killed, 1 million more have been injured and 12 million — more than half the country’s population — have been forced to flee their homes. More than 5.5 million have moved abroad and registered as refugees.
What actions has the U.S. taken on chemical weapons?
In 2012, President Barack Obama called the use of chemical weapons a “red line” that would prompt military intervention. But when a sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta killed about 1,400 people a year later, according to the U.S. government’s assessment, Obama backed away from a strike.
Instead, the U.N. Security Council ordered Assad to destroy his chemical-weapons stockpile and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits countries from producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.
But there have been several reports of chemical-weapons attacks since then. One particularly bad strike took place on April 4, 2017. Nearly 100 people were killed in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun in an apparent sarin attack. It garnered worldwide headlines and the attention of President Trump, who expressed horror at the images of “innocent children, innocent babies” poisoned by a nerve agent.
Just a few days after that attack, Trump authorized a cruise-missile strike on a Syrian air base. It was the first direct U.S. strike on the Syrian regime in the entire war.
But that apparently hasn’t stopped Assad from using chemical weapons. So what’s next?
Just a couple of days ago, the Assad government was once again accused of using chemical weapons on civilians in Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-controlled area outside of Damascus. Forty people died. On Twitter, Trump threatened a military response, but it’s not clear when that would happen or what it would look like. On Thursday morning, he tweeted that he “never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
It’s unclear what will come next. All that is known is that there are no easy answers.
Amanda Erickson writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Previously, she worked as an editor for Outlook and PostEverything. Follow @AmandaWaPo
kluster van boink
1. This is a nice explainer — for toddlers. People with the presence of mind to question the establishment’s version of events will beg to differ. For one thing, it’s unlikely that the anti-Assad protests “just broke out.” They “just broke out” like they just broke out in Ukraine and several other hot spots where U.S. spy agencies and non-government cover groups cook up their unrest. In Ukraine U.S. officials were caught in an intercepted phone call talking about how they would hand-pick the new Ukrainian regime leaders. They no doubt plan to do the same in Syria.
2. Notice how our officials wring their hands and weep about Assad’s atrocities — and rightly so, as that regime is thuggish — but have nothing to say about our own thuggish pals in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other oil-rich nations? Funny how that works.
3. In this article Iran’s activities regarding its next-door neighbor Syria are described as “power plays” even though they make perfect sense for them. I don’t care much for Iran’s regime either, but the hypocrisy is stunning. As far as I know the U.S. invasions of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Grenada were not described by our journalists as “power plays,” although they obviously were. Why can’t we get even a modest amount of objectivity from the corporate media regarding world events? Nope, we always get the CIA boilerplate version.
4. What’s also obvious about all this is how much our military-industrial complex cherishes its enemies and dreads losing any of them to a peace agreement anywhere. The shrill attacks on Russia, for one, have become absolutely comical in their intensity and would be funny if they didn’t indicate a level of derangement in Washington that should concern everyone.
far east la
Of course, Trump’s missile stunt did not stop Assad. Donnie had to call his brofriend Vlad the Annexer to tell him what he was planning. By the time he got around to launching OUR $60+M worth of cruise missiles, Vlad had told Assad, and both of them got their flying aircraft out of the area. Then, the Russkies and the Syrians used the incoming barrage for target practice. 1 fell into the sea shortly after launch. 30some were hit by our Enemies, several fell in civilian areas in the area of the targeted airbase, and 4-6 actually hit the base. A few hit the runways, and 1 or 2 took out a few disabled planes. V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! The next day the Syrians filled in the holes in the runways, and called their planes back from vacation. The 2nd morning, those planes were, again, bombing civilian targets. Captain Bone Spurs received accolades from Hannity and his Trumpeters.
Trump’s action (if any) will not be based on Syria, or chemical weapons, or Russia. It will be based on how much of a distraction he needs at a given moment. Anyway, a military strike would play well with his base.
So you think we should just abandon the Syrian people to their murderers? Is that right?
The Post Recommends:
- Opinion: We need to go big in Syria. North Korea is watching. A decisive strike can send a message to Pyongyang.
- France’s Macron takes harder line on Syria, asserting ‘proof’ of chemical attack
The story must be told.