Flash Analysis: Trump’s Missile Deployment at Shayrat
U.S. President Donald Trump's recent decision to deploy 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces at the Shayrat air base potentially marks a significant turning point in both the Syrian civil war and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and that deserves some scrutiny.
Trump did this for no one reason, and his rationale likely includes both domestic and foreign pressures.
Trump is likely trying to appease senior, hawkish Republican leadership including John McCain, Marco Rubio, et al. in light of the Russia scandal that pits this leadership against the administration. This is critical, as this leadership is one of the only roadblocks in the GOP that prevents Trump from acting at home and abroad. In connection to the Russia scandal, Trump is also trying to appear more anti-Russian by taking a stance against one of Russia's closest allies.
Despite people calling this a hot blooded and reactionary move, it is possible something like this had been premeditated and the chemical attacks provided a convenient cover. Trump wants to distract the public, appease the leadership, and appear strong.
The overall strategic value of the strike has also been questioned. According to Russian Major General Konashenkov, only 23 of 59 Tomahawk missiles reached their intended target, resulting in damage or destruction of six Syrian MiG-23 aircraft. With Syria in control of 14 additional airfields, the results of this strike do little to hamper their airforce ability.
If this escalation continues, the U.S. and Russia are headed for a game of chicken that Russia likely will not swerve to avoid. Russia has sunk massive costs in saving the Assad regime from the brink of collapse, and would face a massive backlash domestically if it caved. Additionally, we must not underestimate how much Russia values its territory, especially territory with strategic value.
In the unlikely event that Russia does cave, however, we hope Trump has plans for the power vacuum left by the Assad regime and for the powerful and well-connected Alawites. He risks a second Iraq otherwise.
Lastly and most importantly, if the Trump administration cared at all about Syrian lives, it would expand efforts to grant Syrians asylum. This is opportunism, plain and simple. And to those who are skeptical about letting in "potential terrorists”: you are statistically far more likely to die by falling down stairs than at the hands of a refugee. Additionally, because Syrian reports claim that four children allegedly died in this missile strike, Trump cannot claim the moral upper hand.
In many ways, this move is more about what is happening at home than in Syria, and Trump is going to have a headache if he continues to pull stunts like this.
Arbitror's Julian Strachan also contributed analysis to this piece.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily represent the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror as a whole.
Photo credit: "USS Barry fires Tomahawk missiles [Image 1 of 2]" by DVIDSHUB for Flickr with a CC BY 2.0 license.