Trump’s response to Syria chemical attack exposes administration’s volatility

The Guardian reports: Any punitive strike would have to be backed up by consideration on what to do the day after, if Assad and Putin ignore the message. Increasing military aid to rebels would carry the same risk of falling into the hands of extremists.

Nor has any policymaker on the left or right ever credibly articulated a plan for Syria should the US succeed in toppling Assad, a strategic vacuum reminiscent of the disastrous Iraq occupation.

Moreover, any action against the Syrian regime would now also be against Russia.

Colin Kahl, a former member of the Obama White House, noted in a tweet that it was “worth remembering there are Russian advisers at nearly every relevant Assad base. Any strike means dead Russians.”

The Idlib attack appears to have driven the first meaningful wedge between Trump and Putin. He told the New York Times: “I think it’s a very sad day for Russia because they’re aligned, and in this case, all information points to Syria that they did this.”

Meanwhile, Haley – presumably with White House approval – delivered a scathing indictment of Russia at the UN Security Council.

The shift in mood is clearly another consequence of the Idlib atrocity, but it is too early to say how lasting that shift will be and whether it could lead to the US and Russia clashing in the Syrian battlefield.

The depth and duration of the change is particularly hard to predict, as it appears to have been driven by Trump’s immediate emotional response to the event.

In his remarks in the Rose Garden, he referred repeatedly to the children and babies who had been killed.

Yet the victims of the Idlib attack are far from the first Syrian children to have suffered at the hands of the Assad regime, with Russian and Iranian backing.

And there has been substantial evidence of previous regime use of chemical weapons. What seems to have made the difference this time is that Trump spent some time looking at pictures of the aftermath. [Continue reading…]

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