Better late than never, they say. That dictum certainly applies to justice — and to the price the Assad regime must pay for crimes against its own people.
Were Saturday morning’s missile strikes enough? Absolutely not. That is why I disagree with President Trump’s declaration that this was “mission accomplished.” Is an invasion or a full-scale war the solution? Not at this stage; but the Assad regime has used chemical weapons before, and if not deterred, it would not hesitate to use them again.
Encouraged by the vacillating administration of Barack Obama, who seemed to believe that philosophy was an adequate substitute for action, Bashar Assad has been taking liberties since 2011. He has used every weapon in his arsenal — from bullets to barrel bombs, from torture to tear gas, from the merely cruel to the frankly barbaric, all with the assistance of Hezbollah mercenaries supplied by his allies in Tehran —to silence the demands of the Syrian people for freedom and justice.
Meanwhile, the vacuum left by Obama’s dithering was filled by a Russian presence that tipped the balance in Assad’s favor. A fragmented opposition, and awful crimes committed by Daesh terrorists — many of them released by Assad from his own prisons for just that purpose — allowed the regime to claim the mantle of “the lesser of two evils.”
However, last week’s horrific chemical gas attack on Douma illustrated that Assad is so bloodthirsty, so lacking in basic intelligence, that he could not even wait for his application to rejoin the human race to be approved. He may also be in denial of the fact that there is a new sheriff in town — one Donald J. Trump.
Indeed, how different is this US administration from that of its predecessor. Trump’s missile strike last year after Assad’s gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun should have been warning enough — but dictators never learn.
So now what? The strike has the potential to be a game-changer, not least because the US did not act alone. British and French forces took part in the attacks, while Saudi Arabia and other US regional allies are on board, having seen enough bloodshed in Syria — as will certainly be made clear at the Arab League summit in Dhahran.
Moreover, the anti-Daesh coalition has achieved significant results, and the terrorist group has never been weaker. The missile strikes on the Assad regime signal that the days of actions without consequences are over — which is good to know when the carnage ends and the inevitable negotiations over Syria’s future begin.
With Iran an irrelevance in Syria, providing only logistical support to the regime, the only barrier on the road to a viable solution is Russia’s position. Moscow insists it is in Syria at the request of Damascus, and that its role is to prevent blood- shed and avoid the emergence of another Libya.
Since Russia appears to be going nowhere, let it serve some purpose. In 1962, John F. Kennedy defused the Cuban missile crisis and kept that whole region free of war. It happened in Cuba, it can happen in Syria — but to adapt a phrase, it takes two to salsa.