Rattled by U.S. strike, Assad lashes out at ‘arrogant aggression’

The Washington Post reports: Just a few days ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked like he had little to fear.

After six years of war, his army had penned what remained of Syria’s armed rebellion into shrinking swaths of territory, and European leaders were preparing for a conference that could fund the reconstruction of his war-shattered country.

That sense of security appeared shaken Friday after the U.S. military launched a raft of missile strikes at a Syrian military airfield in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed scores of civilians on Tuesday. The images of lifeless bodies splayed across the ground drew international condemnation and dragged the Syrian army’s tactics back into the spotlight.

“The difference between now and one week ago is that Assad and his backers had reasonably concluded they could fight their war however they wished, with impunity, and that the United States was a nuisance but not a threat,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank based in Washington.

The missile strikes, authorized by President Trump, marked a significant escalation of American engagement in Syria, broadening the U.S. role beyond the fight against the Islamic State militant group.

The operation contrasted sharply with the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria’s crushing war, which was characterized by strong rhetoric but little political appetite to back words with force.

“Now, we can say that when the United States takes an official position on an issue . . . in this conflict, its rivals will have to factor that into their plans,” Itani said. [Continue reading…]

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