If President Donald Trump’s aim in using the military to deliver airstrikes on targets in Syria was to create his own “Wag the Dog” moment to distract from his lawyer’s legal troubles, it doesn’t appear the tactic will have much longevity.
Due to the precision nature of the joint airstrikes on three chemical weapons-related targets, the participation of France and the United Kingdom in the operation, and Russia’s lack of immediate retaliation, the U.S. strategy appears to have been the least involved of the possible military options.
Trump took to Twitter Saturday morning to declare the mission a success, although a Pentagon spokeswoman later clarified that the U.S.’ main mission in Syria, fighting ISIS, will continue, along with the monitoring of Syria’s possible use of chemical weapons in the future.
“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” Trump tweeted.
He added: “So proud of our great Military which will soon be, after the spending of billions of fully approved dollars, the finest that our Country has ever had. There won’t be anything, or anyone, even close!”
The strikes, a retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons, targeted three main facilities: a research complex near Damascus that is believed to have been used to produce chemical weapons; a military command post where it is thought that helicopters used in a recent chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma were housed; and a facility west of Homs believed to have been used in the production of the nerve gas sarin, according to The New York Times.
Following the attacks, which included 103 cruise missiles launched by three allied countries, the Syrian presidency tweeted, “Honorable souls cannot be humiliated.”
Leaders from Russia, Syria, and Iran all sought to downplay the significance of the strikes, which were telegraphed earlier in the week by a tweet from President Trump, while equally condemning them in a propaganda effort.
According to The Washington Post:
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the U.S.-led strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities as an “act of aggression,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatalloh Ali Khamenei tweeted that the attack represented “a war crime,” and the Syrian Foreign Ministry described it as “barbarous aggression.”
Trump on Wednesday had tweeted, “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
He was forced to backtrack the next day, also on Twitter, after being criticized for alerting Russia, Iran, and Syria to the possible strike, obliterating any element of surprise.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Trump tweeted.
As the Post noted, “The strikes had been flagged so far in advance that Syria and its allies had plenty of notice to evacuate the likely targets of civilians and assets, possibly also including key components of the chemical weapons program, leaving it unclear how much of an impact they would have.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who seems to have been responsible for successfully arguing for a more limited strike, said Friday night that no more attacks are planned unless Syria launches more chemical weapons attacks.
As CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr noted on Saturday, some questions remain about the timing of the strike. The U.S. has stood by in the past while Syria has launched dozens of chlorine attacks, and Syrian President Bashar al–Assad has waged never–ending bombing campaigns on civilians for years.
The U.S. military has not yet stated if the recent chemical attack in Douma on April 7 involved sarin nerve agent. U.S. officials have said that chlorine weapons were used.