What you heard:
After a missile strike on a Syrian airfield in response to Assad’s deployment of chemical weapons against civilians, the Administration is taking on Syria’s ruling regime. Or maybe not. Or maybe Russia will do it?
What it is:
Last Thursday, April 6, the US military launched 59 Tomahawk missiles from Mediterranean-based destroyers USS Porter & Ross to strike Sharyat Airfield near Homs, in western Syria. The bombs targeted planes, fuel stores, shelters, radars – all sorts of things necessary to carry out war against your own people. They did not, however, crater any runways, which meant the airfield was back up and running shortly thereafter, much to our esteemed POTUS’s chagrin/angry twitter fingers.
The chemical weapon in question here is most likely sarin gas, a nerve agent that makes your nervous system go haywire, leading to twitching, paralysis, and death (from the aforementioned paralysis spreading to your lungs). Originally developed as a pesticide, sarin is nearly undetectable: colorless, odorless, tasteless. The attack, widely believed to be the work of President Bashar Al-Assad, killed 86 people on Tuesday, April 4, including 28 children. Noteworthy here: Assad killed 1400 civilians near Damascus in 2013 with sarin gas; at this point, Obama asked Congress to authorize use of military force. The GOP, naturally, declined.
What it means:
After the 2013 attack in Damascus and the subsequent denial of military authorization, the US and Russia made a deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria. It kind of worked, resulting in the removal of 1300 tons of weapons-grade chemicals. However, Russia had insisted that part of the deal be no automatic sanctions or violence against Syria in the event of noncompliance, so it’s no surprise that the deal was ultimately ineffectual, or that Assad is still probably sitting on mountains of chemical weapons.
It also means that Trump and the GOP have made a *stunning* about-face on Syria. Trump criticized Obama for wanting to go into Syria after “a little gas” – no joke, he actually said that on the campaign trail last year – and the GOP blocked Obama’s efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for years.
What could happen:
LITERALLY ANYONE’S GUESS. Here’s a timeline of the Trump Administration’s take on Syria. Remember: Assad has a long history of using the exact same chemical weapon as he did on April 4 against his own people – this wasn’t something new and different.
Thursday, March 30: “You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities, and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.” – US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley
Friday, March 31: “With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept.” – WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Tuesday, April 4: Assad attacks civilians with sarin gas.
Wednesday, April 5: “I like to think of myself as a very flexible person.” – POTUS Donald Trump
Thursday, April 6: Tomahawk missile attack.
Sunday, April 9: “There’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.” – US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley
Monday, April 10: “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Also Monday, April 10: “We’re not just going to become the world’s policeman running around the world.” – WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Tuesday, April 11: “We’re not going into Syria… I really think that there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Russia to make sure that peace happens.” – POTUS Donald Trump
Also Tuesday, April 11: “[Assad’s time in power] is coming to an end.” – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Also Tuesday, April 11: “US military policy in Syria has not changed.” – Secretary of Defense James Mattis