Nearly three days after the United States, France, and the United Kingdom joined forces to attack alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria, little is known about the impact of the attack.
The three targets — associated with the government’s alleged research, development, and deployment of chemical weapons — were struck on Friday night in Syria, near Damascus and Homs, in response to a chemical weapons attack a week earlier that left scores of civilians dead.
President Donald Trump called Friday’s strikes “perfectly executed.”
A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2018
The Russian military, meanwhile, claims to have struck down a majority of the missiles.
There have also been no reports on casualties or the extent of damage done to the facilities. Nor is there any indication that the strikes will deter the regime of President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons against civilians again.
In April 2017, in response to images of another chemical weapons attack in the Syria, President Trump ordered a missile strike on an airbase that resumed functioning just one day after the attack , and does not seem to have deterred other chemical attacks from taking place.
According to Human Rights Watch, chemical attacks — what President Trump referred to as a “red line” — have been deployed dozens of times since 2013 by both state and non-state actors.
That red line has been crossed several times between the two chemical attacks in April 2017 and 2018 that triggered a U.S. military response.
Kori Schake, deputy director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday that “this is a problem that you’re going to have to keep paying attention to, because every time Bashar al-Assad needs a battlefield victory that he can’t achieve by conventional forces, he employs chemical weapons to terrorize the rebels into submission.”
When asked if there was a more effective way to discourage Assad from using such weapons again, Schake replied, “Yes, you could take Bashar al-Assad out of power.” Failing that, she suggested that rather than strike at chemical weapons facilities, that the United States and it allies destroy Assad’s conventional weapons and military capabilities.
But that would imply that the Trump administration has a strategy Syria, or sees a role there for the United States beyond the defeat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which it does not.
While the generals surrounding Trump had insisted that the United States will have to remain in Syria indefinitely, the president himself declared in March that U.S. troops will be out “very soon.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, however, on Sunday told a French television network that he had “convinced him that it’s necessary to be there…we also convinced him that the strikes had to be limited to chemical weapons capabilities.”
Another big unknown is how Russia will react to Friday’s strikes.
Russia’s response thus far has been a mixture of indignation and threatening posturings. It has called the chemical attack a hoax perpetrated by anti-Assad rebels and claimed to have shot 71 out of 105 missiles aimed at Syria in Friday’s strike out of the sky (a claim the Pentagon disputes).
Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, tweeted on Friday that “such actions will not be left without consequences.” He did not elaborate on what those consequences would be.
Statement by the Ambassador Antonov on the strikes on #Syria:
A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.
All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris. pic.twitter.com/QEmWEffUzx
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) April 14, 2018
On Sunday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. told CBS’s Face the Nation that additional Russian sanctions “will be coming down” on Monday and that they will be targeting “any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use.”
On Monday, the White House walked back her statement and said that it has not yet made a decision on sanctions on Russia.
UPDATE: President Trump has, reports The Washington Post, “put the brakes” on new sanctions against Russia. According to administration officials, it is “unlikely Trump would approve any additional sanctions without another triggering event by Russia.”