“No means no,” when it comes to the use of chemical weapons, is the message sent by the US strike against the Assad regime-controlled Shayrat airbase, which is believed to be the origin of the Idlib chemical weapons attack. The fairly restrained, and thus far limited, military response will discourage the Assad regime, as well as other military powers, from utilizing weapons of mass destruction. Although the strike does not actually mark a shift way from America’s supporting role in the Syrian Civil War or devastate the tyrannical Assad regime, which has fed support for terrorism through its use of violence against dissenters, it does demonstrate the preference of the Trump Administration for military options over the diplomatic and economic options, including the agreement to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, preferred by the Obama Administration. More importantly, it changes the state of world politics.
In the broken territory of Syria, which used to be a sovereign nation, opposition forces may feel a boost in morale. Terrorist groups will see no tactical benefit as Putin and Assad target moderate factions more than actual terrorists. The Assad regime will either feel compelled to provoke a greater US response in order to garner greater Russian protection and/or eventually abandon the use of chemical weapons. In the US, backlash for Trump’s Putin-friendly campaign remarks will ease. War hawks will see another opportunity to push the US into a costly, ill-advised war that would move beyond the destruction of Assad’s air power. In Europe, Putin friendly politicians will likely see their popularity undermined. Vladimir Putin, who is suspected of utilizing nuclear chemical weapons in England, will either risk an armed conflict with the US or reveal Russia is a Paper Bear under his leadership.
At minimum, Putin adds one more costly miscalculation to a growing list of strategic blunders that have cost the Russian People dearly without providing them any benefit just as relations start to thaw. Putin’s theft of Crime from Ukraine and the protracted Western response, including the Obama Administration’s unexpected campaign to isolate Russia and economically target those closest to Putin, has already helped inflict economic pain on the Russia People. Russia’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War helped distract the world from Putin’s costly and failing support of insurgents in Eastern Ukraine. Now, Putin’s support of Assad will renew support for sanctions against Russia. Inside Russia, Putin faces renewed civil unrest as well as the threat of terrorist attacks in the home, which were, in part, encouraged by Putin’s own heavy-handed intrusions into the affairs of other nations.
Putin’s supporters see him as a master of strategic manipulation, but his calculations have failed to help him exert his will over the International Community. He has simply managed to continually turn the world against Russia and spread chaos around the globe while making Russia an obstacle in world affairs, thereby undermining Russian influence. Continuing to defend the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons with anti-American conspiracy theories, after it is reaffirmed that only Assad can be responsible, only will further the distrust, division, and isolation of the Ukraine Crisis, second Cold War narrative that has united the world against Russia. Criticism of the US will only be seen as Putin’s anti-American obsession, which is rooted in his quest for global power. At home, the costs of the miscalculation of Putin’s grand strategic vision for a return to imperial glory will continue to burden the Russian People. Unable to force Assad to step down from power and Assad offering every reason not to oppose his leadership, Putin is tying his fate to Assad, who is damned.
Furthermore, Trump’s military response to the use of Sarin nerve gas offers a convenient rebuke to critics who fear Trump-Russian collusion. If the Putin government in deed attempted to manipulate the 2016 Presidential Election to ensure a Trump victory over Hillary Clinton, whether or not Mr. Trump sought or benefited from the support of Putin, the benefit appears lost. He must now choose between Trump, i.e. the hope of a reset in US relations, or Assad. Outside of war with the US and NATO, Putin’s strongest punitive measure will be to attack Mr. Trump and his associates on a personal level. If the Putin government actually does have compromising information about Mr. Trump, which has been broadly feared, a taste of Putin-style revenge will be forthcoming. If not, this will help Trump politically. More importantly, it will bolster support for the US in the Middle East, Europe , and beyond, which is what happens when a world power defends the defenseless from brutal attacks. In turn, Putin will be weakened on the international stage and, perhaps, at home as well.
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