On March 30, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that removing Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria was no longer a priority of the United States, leaving that decision to the “Syrian people.” This statement sounded a lot like a go-ahead for Russia to continue helping Assad clean out the ISIS fighters that operated with near-impunity there under Obama. Oddly enough, Obama wanted Assad out of power so much that he nearly ignored, or even tolerated, the rise of ISIS, with predictable consequences. Now Tillerson was completely reversing course on Obama’s obsessive-compulsive regime change policy–a policy so debased that it facilitated executions of children, enslavement of Christian women, and frequent beheadings—for no other reason than being Christian:
Just four days after Tillerson’s announcement about Assad, on April 4, 2017, “rebel-held” Khan Sheikhun was attacked with some sort of chemical agent, likely sarin gas. Russian officials said that Syrian planes targeted a warehouse facility containing the gas, which caused it to explode and spread into the local population. Locals said Syrian warplanes dropped bombs containing the gas, constituting a direct attack. Under either scenario, Syrian planes would have dropped bombs that resulted in chemical weapons spreading the gas, then injuring and killing hundreds of adults and children. It could be innocent, negligent, reckless or intentional, depending on where the gas was stored and what the pilots knew at the time.
Syria claimed that it had surrendered all of its chemical weapons, including sarin gas, to international bodies by June 23, 2014. The occasionally-accurate New York Times declared at the time that U.S. officials had confirmed destruction of the weapons, which had been used by Assad in the past–calling it a “rare foreign policy achievement” by President Obama.
In the years that followed, however, someone was using chemical weapons of some sort at various times after the agreement. An independent group said that ISIS was responsible for fifty-two chemical weapon attacks between the time it took power in 2014 and the date of the article, November 21, 2016–less than three years. By that time, ISIS had firmly established a caliphate and was in near-complete control of vast areas of Iraq and Syria. The article also mentioned two possible Syrian chlorine gas attacks launched from helicopters, which muddles things somewhat and it’s disputed, but ISIS was using these attacks much more regularly at that time–and this was just about five months ago.
So let’s recap:
- Syria reportedly handed over all chemical weapons to international bodies in June 2014, but possibly engaged in two chlorine gas attacks since that time–not sarin.
- ISIS was responsible for 52 chemical weapons attacks from 2014 until November 2016, during which time its caliphate grew in Iraq and Syrian territory, presumably giving it more access to weaponry left behind or production facilities in those areas, creating even more risk of future attacks.
- ISIS is known for enslaving women, executing children, and otherwise repeatedly killing civilians in horrible and gruesome ways for little to no reason at all, showing absolutely no respect for human life on a scale that rivals the depravity of the Khmer Rouge or Nazis in both scope and savagery.
- Tillerson told Assad last week the US no longer seeks regime change for his government, which Obama had made an obsession for several years. Saving some aspect of his leadership would give Assad a very strong reason not to use chemical weapons now.
- Four days after Assad is told he’s no longer a US target for regime change, a chemical weapons attack occurs in enemy territory, with murky details, possibly by Syrian planes bombing a weapons warehouse/depot that was full of chemical weapons or by dropping chemical weapons themselves–again, with no clear motive or even ability to do so.
- Within days, the entire western world responds and immediately blames Assad for the attack, condemning him for using the sarin gas as a weapon of war, yet have zero motive and minimal evidence he had anything to do with the attack at all. Most leaders and pundits assume that he simply saved some sarin gas in 2014 and chose now–of all times–as the time to use it. Better question: Why would he do it now? He’s winning!
As a matter of strategy, the worst strategic blunder Assad could possibly make would be to personally authorize a chemical weapons attack against civilians. It’s not only a violation of multiple prior agreements, international norms and other legal-type prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons, it’s the absolute worst propaganda imaginable, with pictures of civilians–including at least 25 children–gasping for air and dying after being ruthlessly attacked by horrible nerve agents. Even Kim Jong Un, who never stops threatening to blow up the US, isn’t that stupid.
Also, this is exactly the sort of attack that would cause extreme rage in decent people worldwide (including a visibly emotional President Trump last night–who actually cares about people and is an obviously compassionate leader). Still, I was surprised to learn that President Trump sent a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles into a Syrian airforce base, potentially escalating the tensions between Assad-backed Russia and the United States. Further, President Trump also said that he believed Assad had ordered the sarin attack. Tillerson now says that Assad must never be back in power. It’s all so fast. Too fast because people want fast answers. That’s why there is a very good chance of getting this one wrong. Whether this was a military blunder, the dumbest tactical decision ever, or a false flag perpetrated by ISIS, the result appears to be the same: the western world now wants Assad out, just like Obama did before, and the reason is entirely this attack alone.
However, everyone seems to forget that ISIS is the main opponent in this war. They’re playing chess and they only have a few moves left. They have everything to gain by convincing the western world–falsely or otherwise–that previous-offender Assad is guilty and must be ejected from power, thereby destabilizing Syria and creating a Libya-type outcome in both Syria and Iraq long-term, from which ISIS can continue to build its horrible caliphate and continue to threaten the world from their own country. They want the attention anywhere else, on anyone else, and they’re not above murdering innocent people to achieve that goal.
President Trump needs to speak directly with Putin at the earliest opportunity, demand an investigation into what actually happened, and work as a partner to the greatest degree possible. The US and Russia need to be a team to resolve this, not proxy enemies. Although the missile strikes against Syria came with a warning ahead of time, and only a limited number of soldiers died (6 total), and fortunately there was no further escalation by Russia, there is a serious risk of another provocative event like this happening again. If ISIS is behind this, they will try it again. They can’t win on the battlefield. Their only moves are manipulating us through terror and other distractions, which keeps us from rooting them out of places like Syria, Iraq, and Libya–they depend on our inattention to survive.
We need to make sure the right people are blamed for this attack. Given what Assad has gained recently in the potential freedom to lead again, and the great deal he had to lose from doing something this stupid and unnecessary, it makes no sense that he would be the top suspect. Obama wanted to depose him from power for years, and he’s been in civil war with no end in sight, yet he’s persisted. Then we finally change to a more flexible policy and he starts bombing civilians with nerve gas a few days later? And for no strategic reason? It makes no sense for him–only for ISIS.
ISIS has the motive, the history of prior chemical weapons attacks, and the complete moral depravity to carry out something like this. ISIS is a death cult that has no respect for human life. While Assad is bad enough in many ways, he’s not the type to videotape a beheading with a small knife, set a cage full of children on fire, or dunk caged prisoners into a river to drown them. ISIS not only does all of those things and celebrates them, videotapes them, and then even brags about them afterward.
Remember this guy? He’s dead now, but that girl was kidnapped and sold into slavery. That’s what Obama let happen over there. He did next-to-nothing to help anyone who was victimized by these people. They acted like animals while he stood by and did nothing.
Destroying ISIS needs to be the number one goal here. If it somehow turns out Assad is responsible, he needs to be tried for war crimes. But for now, let’s thoroughly try to figure out guilt first and then respond with overwhelming and devastating force against the actual perpetrators, who I strongly suspect are the guys committing genocide, rape, and slavery on a massive scale already.
I thank God every day for you, President Trump. I hope you’ll help these poor, defenseless people and help them find peace and protection. To finally have a president who is strong and responsible and wants to get things right is an answer to many of our prayers. I just hope you consider that deception may be what’s really going on here (not only by ISIS, but by some of our Senators too), that peace is possible, and that we can work with Russia to do the right things in Syria.