Why? Because the United States just hit a Syrian airfield with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. This was the same airfield where the recent chemical weapon attacks on unarmed civilians allegedly originated.
Let’s deal first with the fear of a new world war. The only way this would become a war of that magnitude is if we became entangled with Russia. This is a valid fear. Russia is what the military terms a “near-peer” power. Our military and economy are both stronger than that of Russia, but its military is still very powerful and it has a robust nuclear arsenal. If we engaged in even a limited conflict with Russia, we would suffer heavy losses.
That said, the initial reports indicate that we corresponded with Russia and that we did not strike areas where their troops might be located. While Russia will do its usual posturing, it seems that we struck the right balance in this military action: we showed Syria that we mean business, while not unnecessarily provoking the Russian bear.
Like many of you, I keenly remember September 11, 2001. I joined the Army in part because of the infamous actions of the terrorists on that day and the inspiring actions of the first responders. There was constant chatter about WWIII. Of course, war on that scale never materialized. The strikes that just occurred are more akin to President Clinton’s bombing of Iraq in 1998. These strikes are meant to show we mean business without being a precursor to war.
Such gestures are important. Years ago, we talked about a “red line” in Syria. Syria was not permitted to use any form of WMD or they would face retaliatory consequences from the United States. They proceeded to use chemical weapons against civilians (as they did again recently). Our response? We asked Russia to mediate the conflict. They swooped in, secured the Assad regime, and made U.S. action in that region much more risky.
Such gestures invite hostile actors to exploit the lack of U.S. resolve. Russia not only established a stronger foothold in Syria, but continued its menacing actions in Eastern Europe. China continued to expand its (now militarized) faux islands in the South China Sea. Iran continued to work to impede our efforts in both Iraq and Syria. North Korea continued to improve its missile capabilities.
These are the cost of moral equivocation and appeasement. It is bad enough that we sometimes do nothing in the face of globally-significant acts of evil. What is worse is when we threaten action and our resolve peters out. The price for such indecision and inaction is usually paid in the blood of soldiers in later years.
Syria and its rogue president, Bashar al-Assad, now know that the United States means business. We are not the world’s peacekeeper, but we are willing to hold the line against those who would supplant order with anarchy. We will not tolerate those who are willing to wantonly use weapons of mass destruction as a means of attaining or maintaining power (see Iraq).
Such resolve follows years of reticence by the United States. The world will continue to doubt the will power of the United States in the face of rogue regimes. With the recent attack on the Syrian airbase, Syria, Russia, and the rest of world were all served notice: we no longer speak softly and you’d better believe we carry a big stick.
I have a feeling that Syria will think twice before they employ chemical weapons again. If so, then we have made a bit of headway. Syria now knows that we are serious. Hopefully, the Russians understand this now, as well.