Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Extremely disappointing. President Donald Trump signals change in Syria policy after suspected chemical attack.

Damage from the bombing. Reuters. 

Donald Trump has signaled a shift on his Syria policy after a suspected chemical attack in Syria. Reuters. Trump claimed that the incident was "unacceptable" and that it had changed his mind on Syria and Assad. Trump and his staff have rejected the Russian's explanation for the attack. The Russians claim that a Syrian airstrike hit chemical arms under the control of the local rebels. Though Trump has not directly threatened Syria or Assad directly, he and his staff has indicated that the United States might take action because of the chemical incident. 

My Comment:
I was hoping this story would go away since it is so obviously an attempt to change our policy on Syria. To say I am skeptical that this strike was conducted by the Syrians is the understatement of the century. I don't believe for one second that the regime was responsible for this attack. 

For one thing, every source has said that this was a nerve agent attack, probably sarin. Syria gave up its nerve agents in the Russian brokered deal after the last major chemical attack in Syria. The UN confirmed that Syria no longer had these weapons. They still had chlorine, since that weapon has legit uses, but that weapon wasn't used in this attack. So either the UN lied when they said that Syria had no weapons, the regime was extremely skilled at hiding weapons, or someone else had these weapons. 

Secondly, the Assad regime has little reason to use these weapons anymore. They are winning the war against the rebels using conventional means and have no motivation to use these weapons. The Syrian regime knows how bad the reaction to using these weapons would be and it would not be anywhere near being worth it to use them. They would lose so much more than they would gain. Though I don't doubt that Assad would deploy chemical weapons if he thought he would gain an advantage, he gains nothing from doing this. I refuse to believe that a man who has proven politically savvy and intelligent, though certainly brutal, would do something so stupid. 

Third, everyone involved on the ground at Khan Shaykhun is a bad actor. The town has been under control of the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Tahrir al-Sham, since 2014. The other major group in Khan Shaykhun is Ahrar al-Sham, another Jihadist group that is occasionally allied with al-Nusra. These are hardcore terrorist groups and all of them are capable of using chemical weapons themselves. They are little different than ISIS and have essentially the same beliefs. If it wasn't for ISIS, these groups would be the people we would be bombing. 

Fourth, the Syrian regime has never had a monopoly on chemical arms in Syria. ISIS has had a long history of both making and using chemical weapons. Sarin is probably a bit out of their technological abilities, and ISIS isn't active near Khan Shaykhun, but it does go to show that if they can get their hands on chemical weapons, other groups, like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, could do so as well. 

And I find the Russian explanation extremely plausible. The Syrian regime lost control of much of their country and could only eliminate chemical weapons in areas they control. Since Syria hasn't controlled Khan Shaykhun since the beginning of the war, it's extremely possible that there were chemical weapons there unaccounted for. This explanation doesn't even require maleficence on the part of the Syrian rebels as it's very possible that they didn't have any clue that they had these weapons under their control. A bombing run that hit a weapons stockpile would certainly release sarin gas and there is precedent for such things happening in warfare.

Fifth, I do not trust some of the "charities" on the ground. Though Doctors Without Borders is beyond reproach, the "White Helmets" are, at the very least, extremely suspicious. They operate almost exclusively in al-Nusra controlled areas and have extremely powerful propaganda. They have been accused in the past faking news stories and using the same children in multiple rescue operations. Quite frankly, I don't trust anything that the White Helmets say... 

Finally, even if we were to confirm that this was a Syrian regime attack, and I don't grant that for a second, I would still not support a strike on Syria. Though there could be a few circumstances where I would support direct action against Assad, it would have to involve a direct attack on American soil or the soil of our major allies. I would also support it if American troops in Syria were attacked and killed by the regime. 

Neither of those things happened in Syria. Though a chemical weapons strike is always horrible, we haven't proven that the regime was responsible for it and there is evidence that they weren't. If they did do it, it's pretty terrible, but on the other hand the people they killed were under the control of terrorists. Their lives were forfeit the minute that they threw their lot in with al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. 

Even if you don't buy that argument, I still have no idea what our interest is in toppling the Syrian regime. At worst, Assad is a brutal dictator that launches chemical weapons at people but he isn't doing that to us or to our allies in the region. To be frank, we have no reason to overthrow their regime because if we did we would have to overthrow the regime of every dictator in the world. That's an Obama tier foreign policy and I want no part in it. 

A brief check of the most popular Pro-Trump sites on the internet show that many Trump supporters are on the same page as me. I looked at both Reddit's The_Donald subreddit and 4chan's /pol/ board and both had some fairly strong criticism for Trump on this issue. It's harder to tell on /pol/ given the amount of shilling and trolling going on there, probably about half of posts on any topic are sincere but on Reddit, most people were hoping that Trump wasn't going to fall for this. 

So if Trump does end up striking Syria, will he lose support? Undoubtedly. Many of us voted him specifically because we thought he would be much less likely to do so than Hillary Clinton. I think that is still undoubtedly true, Clinton would have struck Syria regardless of any chemical strikes, but it's extremely disappointing that Trump might do the same as Clinton would have. I also think there is a chance of a wider war with Russia if we push the issue too hard, which is something I want to avoid at all costs.

That being said, even if Trump screws up here and screws up bad, I am still going to support him. I like what he is doing domestically even if he does make the wrong choice on foreign policy. And any of the other choices I could have voted for would have been worse on foreign policy with the possible exception of Rand Paul.  

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