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Why and how Trump should retaliate if Assad uses chemical weapons in Idlib, Syria

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 9/12/2018 Tom Rogan
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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

If, as is highly likely, Syrian President Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons against civilians in Idlib province, Syria, President Trump should order significant military retaliation against his regime. That retaliation should not seek regime change, but rather Assad and the world's education of American intolerance of weapons of mass destruction being used against civilians.

First off, it's worth questioning whether Assad will again use chemical weapons. This bears consideration in light of some individuals who are buying ludicrous Russian propaganda reports that any chemical attack in Syria will be staged by the West. Because the abundant evidence points to both tactical and strategic understandings (heavily influenced by Russia) why Assad is highly likely to use chemical weapons in Idlib.

That in mind, what should any U.S. retaliation to another chemical atrocity look like?

I would suggest the near-annihilation of Assad's air force — that which is used to launch these weapons — and the destruction of his chemical weapons depots, launch points, and production labs. Some of these facilities are openly identified, and others are classified but confidently identified as part of Assad's chemical weapons capability. In addition, Trump should order limited strikes on command and control facilities in Damascus. That action is necessary to show Assad that no target will be off-limits. Fortunately, when it comes to Syrian command facilities, there are a good number of targets to choose from. The one below, for example.

Yes, it's true that this kind of action would represent a marked escalation from the Trump administration's two previous strikes targeting Assad for his previous chemical weapons attacks. But what's also true is that the escalated action would be necessary to deter Assad and other global actors from further chemical attacks. A variation of the suggested action would also be necessary if the U.S. is to substantially degrade Assad's remaining chemical attack capability. And let's be clear, there is no doubt that the U.S. can destroy Assad's targets even in the unlikely event of Russian interference.

And let's not delude ourselves here: If Assad uses these weapons again, American credibility will again be on the line. If Assad is able to use chemical weapons again without facing serious military reprisals, Trump's credibility in deterring other international adversaries such as North Korea, Russia, and China, will be fundamentally undercut. Remember, MH-17's disintegration and the destruction of Aleppo didn't take place in a strategic vacuum.

Those disasters were cultivated by former President Barack Obama's August 2013 red-line impotence. If we want to resolve North Korea's nuclear threat peacefully, for example, Kim Jong Un must know to take Trump at his word.

Nevertheless, this military action need not take place by American forces alone. Multiple media reports suggest the U.S. is now discussing a joint military operation with Britain, France, and Germany, if Assad acts as is feared. There is now even a small possibility that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey might also participate in any action. This coalition would send a tangible manifestation of military power in pursuit of upholding a critical norm of international order: the prohibition against biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear attacks.

Ultimately, I recognize the countervailing sentiments against action. But as I suggested to Tucker Carlson following Assad's first breach of Trump's red line in April 2017, the U.S. has an exigent national security interest in deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction. Assad cannot be allowed to win the chemical showdown.

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