Syrian Catholic leaders criticize U.S. missile strikes, experts question larger strategy

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The U.S. Defense Department said it was a part of missile strike against Syria. (CNS photo/Ford Williams, U.S. Navy handout via Reuters)The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The U.S. Defense Department said it was a part of missile strike against Syria. (CNS photo/Ford Williams, U.S. Navy handout via Reuters)

Just days after it suggested that the world would have to get used to the idea of President Bashar al-Assad as a negotiating partner in Syria, the Trump administration abruptly switched direction on April 6. As images of the aftermath of an apparent nerve-gas attack on civilians in rebel-held Idlib province generated outrage around the world, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that “with the acts that he has taken, it will seem that there would be no role for [Mr. Assad] to govern the Syrian people.” Later that evening the United States launched a punitive strike on the Syrian air base where it alleged the chemical weapons attack originated.

President Donald J. Trump had given the go-ahead for a barrage of cruise missiles, careful to avoid the possibility of Russian casualties, who had been forewarned. The facility was badly damaged; the Syrian government reports the deaths of nine civilians, including four children, when projectiles hit the base and nearby villages. Others were injured.


Two prominent Catholic leaders in Syria criticized the U.S. missile strikes. Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph Younan described the strike as an act of aggression. He told Catholic News Service: “It is a shame that the United States administration didn't wait until an honest United Nations investigation was thoroughly made.”

“Stunning” is how Mr. Telhami describes the president’s turnaround on the Assad regime.

Global media “and the supremacist policy of the USA just want the killing and destroying conflict in Syria to continue, and this primarily to kill whatever attempt to resolve the bloody crisis,” Patriarch Younan added.

Bishop Georges Khazen, who serves Latin-rite Catholics in Aleppo, told the Rome-based Fides news agency that he was baffled by “the speed with which it was decided and carried out, without any adequate investigation into the tragic massacre with chemical weapons which took place in Idlib province.”

He said the attack “opens new disturbing scenarios for all.”

The U.N. children's agency reports that at least 27 children were among the more than 80 people killed in the suspected chemical attack in northern Syria. UNICEF said another 546 people, including many children, were wounded in Tuesday's attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, and that casualty figures are expected to rise.

The U.S. strike is likely to only briefly hold back the Assad regime from the next outrage. The morning after the missile attack, in fact, Russian officials quickly recommitted the Russian Federation to its ally in Syria, accusing the United States of violating international law and promising to repair the demolished air facility and to help the Assad regime beef up Syria’s air-defense capabilities.

Explaining his about-face on Syria to the nation, Mr. Trump said: “Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.

“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” the president said. 

The president’s altered tone in this brief address was noted by a number of media commentators, especially a rhetorical shift appended to the usual end-of-statement boilerplate “God bless America”—the words “and the entire world.”

Even if “it turns out to be the right step,” he said, this is "an impulsive war decision.”

Shibley Telhami does not believe the punitive strike was a good idea—he is fundamentally opposed to unilateral action even against war crimes. But Mr. Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., said he was more concerned about the decision-making process that led up to the U.S. attack.

“One set of questions I’m thinking about is the decision-making here, how an act of war decision is made [in the Trump White House] and the other set of questions concerns the possible consequences with Syria” in the aftermath of the cruise missile attack.

“To be honest the first [set of questions] bothers me a lot more.”

“Stunning” is how Mr. Telhami describes the president’s turnaround on the Assad regime. “We’re in a situation where the president changes his mind within 24 hours, first showing acceptance or at least being tolerant of a regime that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people whether through chemical or conventional weapons,” he said.

“Suddenly after one episode with a few dozen deaths, he shifts completely and goes against everything he said before and does it without any public deliberation or without any consultation with Congress, without even notifying Congress beforehand,” he added, his voice rising.

Even if “it turns out to be the right step,” he said, this is "an impulsive war decision.”

Acts of war, he said, are “something that matters to all of us.”

“We need to have a national debate on these things; it’s not a decision for the president to make in the dead of night.” Especially a president, he added, “who has been as unstable in the way he makes decisions as this.”

The strike may be in violation of international law, according to Mr. Telhami, and defies the U.S. Constitution, which reserves war powers to Congress, albeit a conceit observed more often in the breach than otherwise in recent decades. Mr. Telhami wonders what the decision may say about how the Trump administration would approach other flashpoints around the world as tensions rise with North Korea and a confrontation with China looms over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The decision to strike back at the Assad regime because of the apparent but still unconfirmed use of sarin gas in the Idlib attack was supported by many across the aisles of Congress, though some members complained the president should have brought the matter to Congress for approval before ordering the U.S. military into action. Regional powers Saudi Arabia and Israel also applauded the move, as did al-Qaeda connected rebel factions in Syria via Twitter accounts.

Mr. Assad is unlikely to return to ceasefire negotiations now because he would seem to be bowing to U.S. pressure.

Mr. Telhami wonders what is the strategy for ending the conflict and extricating U.S. forces in Syria, suggesting that if the president has not got a plan, he should put a team together immediately to work on one. As far as the hopes of bringing over six years of conflict to an end in Syria, Mr. Telhami considers the U.S. intervention a setback.

He said Mr. Assad is unlikely to return to ceasefire negotiations now because he would seem to be bowing to U.S. pressure. In the near term, supported by enhanced Russian air defenses, the anti-ISIS campaign being conducted by U.S. forces will become more complicated and riskier for U.S. pilots. In response to the U.S. cruise missile strike, the Russian military has abandoned an agreement to coordinate missions over Syria with their U.S. counterparts, increasing the likelihood of a dangerous collision between the world’s largest nuclear-armed powers.

But beyond the greater risks in the skies over Syria, Mr. Telhami worries that the United States now has no relationship with any party in the Syrian civil war willing to work with it to conclude some kind of cessation of hostilities. Faced with an obdurate Assad regime, would the Trump administration accept withdrawal from the conflict and the U.S. weakness that would project or double down with an escalation of hostilities, a “slippery slope to a conflict nobody wants,” said Mr. Telhami. Worst among a line-up of unintended consequences, how might Russia react if Russian casualties occur in a future U.S. strike? How might the United States react if Russian defenses take down an American aircraft?

Worst among a line-up of unintended consequences, how might Russia react if Russian casualties occur in a future U.S. strike?

Mr. Assad already believes he can complete an outright military victory over rebel forces, some of which have been haphazardly supported by the United States. With greater support from Russia in the aftermath of the U.S. intervention, he may become more convinced the regime can prevail. The United States, of course, cannot reach out to Iran or its surrogate force in Syria, Hezbollah, toward an end to the violence. Mr. Telhami argues that Russia had been the only viable partner in both a campaign to diminish ISIS in Syria and to reach some kind of peace.

The loss of one innocent life is too many, Mr. Telhami said, and the suffering of the people of Idlib on April 4 was hard to watch and contemplate. The use of chemical weapons “is a horrible thing” and shocking to know that President Assad is capable of doing this to his own people.

But hundreds have died each week during the six years of conflict in Syria, he pointed out, and the world has done little to stop it. The United States itself, he said, may have been responsible for an even greater death toll in a bombing attack in Iraq on March 17.

According to Mr. Telhami, one of the few hard things Mr. Trump had seemed to have understood about the Syrian conflict had been the inevitability of seriously engaging with the Russians about finding a way to end it.

“If you want a solution in Syria you are going to have to work with Russia,” he said, pointing out that the Assad regime remained a strong ally and a bulwark against radical Islam, perceived as a major threat in Moscow. With air and naval facilities in Syria, Mr. Telhami believes that the Russians have no intention of walking away from their relationship with Mr. Assad whatever the Trump administration says or however much it is condemned by global opinion. “I remain of the opinion,” he said, “that of all the choices we have in Syria to have an impact on bringing about some kind of settlement that is acceptable and in harmony with U.S. interests, the United States has no choice but to work with Russia.”

What the Trump administration should have been focusing on, he said, was using the Idlib horror to put even more pressure on the Russians to bring Assad to the peace table to end the conflict. That may have been about the only positive outcome that could have emerged from the Idlib attack. Now that option is off the table; which options are left open today is anybody’s guess.

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J Cosgrove
1 year 11 months ago

I think the question that should be asked is what was the effect of the constant and unrelenting beat by the Democrats and their liberal press associates on the evils of Russia and how Trump and his associates colluded with them on the election. Without this nonsense would Trump be making different decisions or must he appear to be aggressive towards the Russians to offset the false narrative put out by his opponents. Without this constant criticism would Trump have been talking with Russia by now and have scheduled a meeting with Putin. Remember how Hillary Clinton said she was running against Trump and Putin.

Reap what you sow.

And by the way, Hillary is all in on bombing Syria.

Carlos Orozco
1 year 11 months ago

Yes, Hillary is all for escalating the war in Syria. Just heard her say so on a CNN clip. She looks like death itself. Horrible.

Too bad Trump is falling into the warmongers' trap. He knows better and should be called out for such a stupid provocation. A gross lack of leadership in search of applause. At least Obama, despite his toxic influence in the Middle East, did not believe his own lies in the quest to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

J Cosgrove
1 year 11 months ago

There is something very wrong with the narrative. The Russians are not stupid so why would they allow the use of a nerve agent for a minimal gain when they knew what world reaction would be? Did they want this reaction?

The second thing wrong with the narrative is sarin gas was supposedly loaded on the planes at the bombed air base. Why then did the US send 50+ missiles knowing that they might be bombing nerve gas supplies with the potential to release them into the neighboring region? Could you imagine the outcry if that were the case? Did they know there was no sarin at the base?

Tom Maher
1 year 11 months ago

J Cosgrove, and Carlos Orozco
Let's not kid ourselves. The military use by Syria of deadly saran nerve agent against civilian populations is a war crime and grave infraction of century old worldwide ban on the use of chemical weapons. Chemical weapons are considered a strategic weapon of mass destruction like nuclear weapons due to their great lethal power that can trigger a limitless escalation of using weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons. A prompt military response against the Syrian airfield from which the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemical weapons were launched was needed to stop continued chemical weapon attacks. Syria had previously use chemical weapons in August 21, 2013 and then under pressure Syria agreed not to use chemical weapons again and to destroy all the chemical weapons it had. Syria broke its promises by its March 30, 2017 repeat chemical weapons attack. It is now time for Syria to be held accountable for its use of chemical weapons which is a war crime.

No one can now doubt that the United States will respond militarily against the use of chemical weapons or any other weapon of mass destruction since it just did. North Korea, Iran or any other country have clear notice of the consequences of using weapons of mass destruction anywhere in the world. It is in the vital interest of the United States that weapons of mass destruction not be used anywhere in the world.

Carlos Orozco
1 year 11 months ago

At least for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the prestige of Colin Powell was used to fool the public. He went to the UN Security Council, lied -presenting false evidence- and ended his political career in the process. Were no lessons learned then about "slam-dunk" evidence provided by intelligence agencies?

Now, in 2017, as the MSM orchestrates hysteria to rush to war, no evidence whatsoever is needed. As a choir, the presstitutes sing that the culprit is, of course, "evil" Assad (the same guy that has protected Christians during the conflict). If one puts the narrative in doubt, then he or she must me working for the Putin/Assad duo.

As I recall, one year after the 2013 chemical attacks in Syria, both UN and MIT reports concluded that those war crimes were most likely commited by the "moderate"/al-Qaeda linked-opposition supported by the Obama administration. So, once again, and more urgently than ever, we must take nothing for granted and start by asking: Where is the evidence?

It's time for Putin and Trump to meet and strike a deal. If that does not happen the conflict can only escalate between the two nuclear powers. That is not an exaggeration, Russia and Iran anounced today that any further attacks on the Syrian government will be responded militarily. We have reached the Cuban Missile Crisis of our days. Enough is enough.…

Tom Maher
1 year 11 months ago

Carlos Orozco and J Cosgrove

The repeat pattern of saran nerve agent attacks by Assad Syrian government have been verified with very high level of confidence and alternate explanations have been ruled out as not viable. The proven repeated use of chemical weapons by the Syria government is now regarded as a pattern which will happen again and again if allowed to.

The public needs to confront the fact that there is a real repeat pattern of the Syrian government using deadly chemical weapons on its own people, killing or severely injuring all men, woman, children babies and animals in the area where the chemical weapons are dropped. This deadly result is very well documented with an abundance of pictures of large numbers of dead or injured human beings and animals.

Yes there was confusion and an abundance of alternate explanations the first time chemical weapons were used on civilians by the Syrian government on August 21, 2013 in the Gouta area of Damascus. The Russian challenged all the early official conclusions that the United States, Britain and France offered in the weeks after the attack in which 1,400 dead bodies were counted of the scene of the attack. The United Nation did its own several month investigation and report which was issued in January 30, 2014 which concluded deadly saran nerve agent delivered by unguided rockets was used by the Syrian government to cause the mass civilian casualties observed.

Since the truth matters we must disgard speculative beliefs not supported by verified facts in favor of the definitive facts that are available to explain a mass casualty event done during day light hours.. The war crime of the use of chemical weapons can readily and completely be determined. There are no factual mysteries of the who, what, where determining the use of chemical weapons. What there is an abundance of are easily discredited propaganda by gadflies and by governments such as Russia seeking to protect their client the Syrian government from the truth that the Syrian government has committed war crimes that they should be held accountable for as the January 30, 2014 UN report concluded.

Given the definitive fact that Syrian government has a pattern of using chemical weapons on its civilian populations in its civil war it is important of the United States in its efforts to defeat ISIS in Syria to clearly and forceful separate itself from the Syrian government's war crimes and uses of chemical weapon, a weapon of mass destruction and directly insure during the fight for Syria disallow all further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.

The Russian have failed their negotiated agreed to obligation and duties of 2014 of accounting for and eliminating all chemical weapons and the means of production of chemical weapons. The United States must now directly respond to all further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and to separate itself from recognizing the Syrian government and Syrian government disregard of war crimes.

The recent repeat use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government has necessitated the United States to significantly alter its policy in Syria to require that the Syrian government be held accountable for any further use of chemical weapons -- a war crime -- and the Assad Syrian government no longer be supported in any peace settlement in Syria. The United States continues its policy of defeating ISIS in Syria as its main goal.

J Cosgrove
1 year 11 months ago

My problem is twofold. First, I don't think we are being told the truth about the use of chemicals weapons in Syria or at least who did what to whom. It does not make sense that Syria would risk so much for a nothing gain. Or st least the Russians wouldn't.

Second, the opposition is far worse than Assad so defeating him is not a victory in any sense of the word. Assad is a puppet who was installed only because of his name. Remove Assad and another puppet will be installed.

The problem is that Assad and the Russians are in cooperation with Iran and they are just as bad as the so called rebels who are essentially al Qaeda. There is no moderate as in Jordan or Egypt.

There is no good solution anywhere which is a problem for Trump. He will now be blamed for whatever happens.

ed gleason
1 year 11 months ago

Assad did not tell Putin about chem attack..? Assad is really bold for puppet. ? Russians were pre-warned too.Trump collusion? I say maybe.

Tom Maher
1 year 11 months ago

The collusion thing just does not work. Trump colluding with the Russians to steals the election is ridiculous. Not the slightest evidence has ever been produced to show any collusion or even that the Russians had any direct or significant role in the election. Russian public opinion was strongly against Hillary but that had nothing to do with the elections. MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Lawrence O'Donnell irrational suggesting yesterday that the Syrian airbase bombing by cruse missiles was coordinated with the Russians to make Trump look good is giddy hack propaganda. More fake news to misinform the public what is really going on. The real news is Hillary lost the election all by herself. She was a poor candidate that even with her 1.3 billion dollar campaign fund she lost the election. She did not attract enough voters by her personal style or by her policies.

The mainstream media failed to accurately tell the public that she was actually behind Trump in the polls before the election not ahead of Trump. No one knew what was really happening in the election until the day after the election when all the results were in and were completely the opposite of media election forecasting. Everyone was shocked and still is. But the Russians are not to blame for Hillary poor performance as a candidate.

Trump does not need to stage anything to show he is working for America's interest and not working for the Russian as Hillary and many elected Democrats have continue to wildly claim without any basis in fact. The Russian thing is a fringe view held ty die-hard Democrats who still can't believe they lost the House , the Senate and the Presidency to Trump against all odds.

ed gleason
1 year 11 months ago

Tom, yes Hillary lost. That's over. Say hello to Flynn, Manafort, Russian billionaires hiding money in Trump investments because bankrupt people can't get bank loans. , and ALL the coverup lying. Trump is being blackmailed is my 90% guess. Cautious people ought to wait for sworn testimony in upcoming investigations.

Tom Maher
1 year 11 months ago

Minimum standards of due process are missing in the accusations that the Russians influenced let alone stole the election. Even worse is the weirdly illogical association that somehow because Trump did business with private real estate deals in the United States with a few Russia citizens over ten years ago somehow makes Trump under the influence of the Russian government. That makes no sense at all These ridiculous speculative scenarios are innuendo that do not meet minimum levels of probable cause. Trump doing ordinary real estate deals with a foreign national is completely above suspicion and ultimately has no potential for foreign governments influencing of the U.S. 2016 elections.

I know from my conversations after mass that their is a weird but strongly held religious and class folklore that wealth, business, business deals or investing must indicate criminality. One poor soul whom I had known and talked to for years after church whom I happened to mention I invested in a stock transaction and made within a few months $1,500. became extremely upset over the idea of investing and walked away without a word and I have not seen him since for years.

Investing in stocks or bonds is rare something I might once or twice every ten years. The Idea of making $1,500 in a few months on a banks stock that was undervalued from the last recession is an unusual surprise to me which is why I mentioned it in a after Mass conversation on a can you imagine this basis. But the mere mention of investment gain was extremely upsetting to the man I had regularly conversed with for years. This information so upset the person that he very rudely without a word walked away and have not ever seen him return after more than five years. Amazingly in a wealthy nation like the United States and the state and county I live in there are other people act like feral cats on the mention of investment gain which millions of people in America do all the time. Some part of most people retirement of course are invested for the very purpose of gaining a rare $1,500 gain once in awhile for their retirement. Sadly there are people are people in even wealthy parts of America have who are completely ignorant of what investment and business is and are surprisingly and irrationally very upset by the very idea of investment gain as if investment or business dealing are inherently bad.

Your worry about Trump doing business with Russian billionaire sounds like another poor boy's worry which has no basis in reality -- it is what real estate business people like Trump do all the time very legitimate business transactions which are beneficial to society. Your worry about Trump lying, cover ups, being blackmailed by the Russians. You like other can have no credible details on the who, what, where, why and how Trump would be blackmailed. This sounds to me like a personal bias without basis making judgements on things you have no knowledge about and no understanding of what an ordinary real estate transaction is like. You present no facts to show probable cause or connection to any crime. If you don't have probable cause you are wasting everyone time on nonsense witch hunts trying to find witches which do not even exist. It is mass psychosis that the 2016 Presidential race is being investigated without basis in fact was stolen from Hillary Clinton by Russia or Trump was colluding with the Russians or blackmailed by Russians to steal the race. This is the demagogic big lie technique of saying something that is ridiculously impossible is possible due to spooky circumstances that are never explain and are just magic. The concept of the Russian government having the magic ability to somehow stealing a U.S. election or influencing tens of millions of voter across 30 states that Trump won is fantastically not possible especially without any plausible sketch on the details of a plan for who, what where, why and how the Russians actually stole or even significantly influenced a United States Presidential election. Trump being blackmailed by the Russians is a wildly speculative contrivance without supporting facts or examples.

ed gleason
1 year 11 months ago

Tom,, You have a lot of words w/o hearing one session of sworn testimony. Wait till you hear from the Brits James Bond named Steel. and Yates former AG. I agree that the Russians did not steal the election but ALL intells agree that they successfully influenced the election. {about 70 thousand votes in three swing states. Trump son has said "we get a ton of money from Russia' in 2013. [post bankrupcy] Wait for the Congressional hearings and FBI investigation is over and Trump tax returns are exposed,

Tom Maher
1 year 11 months ago

There you go again. Another cynical misinterpretation of ordinary, necessary and legitimate business transactions, as somehow sinister, highly suspicious and worrying that something must be very out of order for Trump son to say "we get a ton of money from Russia". You find troubling that Trump business make a lot of money is ridiculous. Trump businesses doing such things high-end Manhattan or Florida real estate transactions have routinely made lots of money for more than four decades. Hello, high end Trump business are supposed to make a lot of money. It is completely unremarkable for people in business to make money including selling Manhattan and Florida real estate to foreign nationals such as from China and Russia. It is routinely what Trump businesses do. For example at campaign rallies Trump mentioned how he sells numerous luxury apartments in Manhattan to Chinese nationals living in the United States. Manhattan has numerous foreign individuals supporting diplomatic delegations to the United Nation or diplomatic consulates in New York or conducting financing foreign currency transaction in Wall Street business or interacting with New York's large publishing and world communication centers. Their is an abundance of high level foreign individuals stationed in Manhattan, New York who need a place to stay in Manhattan so they can do their job. Trump sells tons of luxury apartments to foreign individuals so these foreign people have a place to stay. There is nothing suspicious or incriminating and in need of being investigated about Trump's son's quote "we get a ton of money from Russia". Trump is in businesses where he routinely gets tons of money from foreign customers.

I am indeed following all the investigation very closely and have found after months of investigation have admitted they have not found any Russian involvement in American election or collusion with Trump. These investigation as Trump has said are witch hunts that remind people of the Salem witch trials. They exist for political reasons without frivolous causes attempting to find without factual basis how the Russians may have somehow caused Hillary Clinton to lose the 2016 Presidential election, a ridiculous partisan proposition for which no credible evidence has been found or will be found.

The "James Bond" investigation was the paid partisan opposition research which all reputable publishes and even most Democratic leaders find has no credibility.

There is no credible finding by intelligence agencies that Russia influenced the election that is being investigated and so far no such determination has been made.

In the mean time what is also being investigate is the "deep state" leaking to the press of highly sensitive and classified information such as the President Trump's conversations with foreign heads of state such as the President of Mexico and Australia's Prime Minister used to under the new President. Intelligence gather is being abused to serve political ends even against the President of the United States sensitive communications. The political use government intelligence gathering being used on candidate Trump's political plans and strategies during the election is also being investigated by the Senate. so far it is known that Susan Rice, President Obama's National Security did widely unmask most Trump campaign individuals and widely distribute this data among intelligence agencies without valid national security basis. Government political surveillance of candidate Trump by intelligence agencies may have abusively gathered and distribute private political information of the Trump campaign.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 year 11 months ago

You state "....ALL intelligence agencies agree they (Russians) successfully influenced the election...."
That statement is on its face erroneous and misleading!
James Clapper speaking for those agencies stated they could not measure the effect of the Russian activities and that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians . That, Ed, is quite a different result than your insertion of the word "successfully" in the argument.
You state a conclusion that was specifically disavowed by the source of your own argument.
So to take you at your own point I suggest you not jump to, or misrepresent a conclusion which is contrary to all the evidence developed over the past six months of investigation by the very intelligence agencies you are relying on.

Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago

Trump likes to be seen as tough, decisive. He likes to follow his gut. I'll bet you he is an "8" on the enneagram. He thrives on confrontation. According to enneagram experts, (and Jesuits figure significantly in the study and spread of the insights of the Enneagram), an 8-personality's redemption will lead him toward becoming more open-hearted and caring.

Is that what we heard when Trump expressed horror at seeing the photos of dying children? Or when he added the blessing "... and for the whole world" after the obligatory "God bless America"?

I'm praying for Trump's conversion. Lord knows he's due.

More on the Enneagram 8 personality:

Read it and tell me it doesn't fit Donald Trump to a T.

Am I vainly looking for hope in a world where violence is so casually accepted as the "solution" to violence?

Vince Killoran
1 year 11 months ago

"What the Trump administration should have been focusing on, he said, was using the Idlib horror to put even more pressure on the Russians to bring Assad to the peace table to end the conflict."

I am not a Trump supporter but what, exactly, would constitute "pressure" on the Russians?

What a mess.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 year 11 months ago

Mr Telhami seems to regret that "Hamlet has left the building."

So with all his inaction, dithering and thoughtfulness and discussion exactly "...what relationship with any party in the Syrian civil war ...." did President Obama have that would help to conclude the hostilities?

So now after five years of inactivity and jawboning , the result is 500,000 deaths and the re-emergence of a full blown Russian presence in the Middle East.........absent since the Sadat era. And the Obama engagement with Russia to remove "all the chemical weapons" turns out to have been a farce and demonstrable deception by Russia.
The suggestion by Mr Telhami that the Trump drone strike has now burned all the bridges to any parties to compel a settlement is just ridiculous.......The question is : Just what bridges is he referring to?
The liberal line has been that Trump Is naive to think he could do business with the Russians or that he has actually been colluding with them. Now suddenly he is accused of burning the only bridge to Russia which is the only party in control of Assad.
Telhami's suggestion that using the horror of the Idlib gas attack would work to bring pressure to bear on Russia to force Assad to the negotiating table is frankly disengenuous.

Kevin Murphy
1 year 11 months ago

How could Trump's action make it an even worse situation? Pressure the Russians? That really worked under Obama. This article was simply meant to slam the President, which is the standard America formula.

J Cosgrove
1 year 11 months ago

My guess is that if Hillary was the president and did the same thing, you would have seen a very different article than the one above.

rose-ellen caminer
1 year 11 months ago

God bless Donald Trump. His Islamophobic base who elected him must be having conniptions; Muslims killing Muslims, let Allah sort it out, has been their hateful mantra regarding the holocaust taking place in Syria against Sunni Muslims.[ Perhaps demoting that anti Muslim propagandist Bannon, has cleared Trumps head as much as the reality on the ground in Syria, has moved him to rise to the responsibility as a US president with command of military bases all over that region!]. He has enough moral fiber to be moved by the suffering of Sunni Arabs! That was not supposed to happen. His base never saw this coming. Neither did Russia, and most importantly neither did Assad! That in the blink of an eye he [and his entourage] could go from saying that Assad is practically our buddy, in this war against isis, to saying Assad is a problem, shows that he is morally intelligent. It should be obvious to anyone not blinded by islamophobia that Assad and isis terrorists are in a symbiotic relation; one needs the other to justify their existence.
We already have the military in Syria; so if this action was Un Constitutional then having troops there is too. The congress were not protesting before. To say that Syria is a sovereign country and respect for sovereignty take precedence over any other moral infringements, after 5 millions civilians have fled, causing a crisis for the west, after the government has engaged in mass killings of defenseless citizens, is to deny the inherent rights of Syrian citizens. Its an expression of American privilege; If an institution here abuses its citizens, we say that that institution has lost its legitimacy ;the DOJ enters, activists protest using civil disobedience , riots may break out, and actions are taken to regain legitimacy of the institution . In Syria , there is no mechanism for the people to stop abuses of the state. But Syrian Sunnis have the same human rights as Americans inherently. So that state itself has lost its legitimacy, and the outside world need not hold the principle of respect for sovereignty as absolute , as above the rights of the citizens who as we see in Syria are today and for 6 years now defenseless targets of horrific human rights abuses!
That Assad is good to Christians , is not a moral argument for the west to stand by as men, women and children get attacked by a military because they are Sunni who oppose a dictatorship! There is a holocaust against Sunni Syrians going on before our very eyes. To do nothing , to allow it to continue, is to be complicit.
[ I am descended of Syrian Christians from Aleppo, and I do not buy into this religion -as -tribe, narrative the anti Muslim propagandists here in the west , as much as the radical fundi Muslims over there are pushing .My faith is universal. All men and women are my brothers and sisters in Christ, inherently. Anyone who is suffering at the hands of an unjust regime is my brother and sister. If Assad is good to Christians but bad to Sunnis, then it is the same as being bad for Christians. The safety and security of Christians cannot be at the expense of a Sunni Syrian man woman or child!

Gabriel Marcella
1 year 11 months ago

Some facts: The Catholic population of Syria is nearly 370,000, 2% of the total population. Some interpretation: The Church is doing heroic work, trying to survive and attending as best as possible to the 2 million plus refugees, under enormous pressures of violence. Given the lack of security it seems very reasonable for the Bishop and the Patriarch to remind us of the value of the just war doctrine. Both are calling for an alternative path to violence to bring peace. While in terms of jus in bello the Tomahawks were precise, discriminating and proportionate, it is not clear that according to the jus ad bellum criteria all other means had been exhausted. Moreover, jus ad bellum requires the state conducting military operations to provide reasonable assurance that more good than evil will result from the use of violence. The Trump administration has not made the case so far, nor does it have an effective strategy to deal with the complex equation in Syria and its relationship to all the other players in the region. Dazzling kinetics is not strategy. We should applaud the Bishop and the Patriarch. They are trying to bring peace in the best way churchmen can.

Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago

When it comes to war and peace, the sins of omission are often worse than those of commission. The US-UN led invasion of Iraq to end the cruel dictatorship of Saddam Hussein resulted in the death of 174,000 Iraqis over the 10-year period 2003-2013 (see the Iraq Body Count project). This compares with nearly 465,000 deaths in Syria (2011-present) as well as the unprecedented refugee crisis that has embroiled Europe, and the rise of ISIS. This is due in large part to the decision of the Obama administration to be passive.

A similar comparison can be made between President HW Bush’s Gulf war (292 coalition deaths and 20-35,000 Iraqi deaths) and the inaction of President Clinton, both in the Middle East (resulted in the rise of Al Qaeda) and Rwanda (800,000 killed in 1994, 2 million displaced).

The Trump Administration was right to send a lethal message to the Assad regime for using chemical weapons – something Obama promised but again failed to do. It was measured (proportional, minimal loss of life) and likely will deter further obvious uses of chemical weapons. It also sends a message to Russia, Iran and North Korea that the US abdication of world leadership has ended. It will not end the Syrian war or topple Assad but that was not the intent and the American people have no stomach for such a large undertaking. It also might result in something worse than Assad.

The Trump strategy seems clear: 1) deter the use of weapons of mass destruction (both in Syria and Korea), 2) focus on finishing off the ISIS caliphate (a huge psychological victory that will have worldwide benefits), 3) go after all Islamic jihadi terrorists (including ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab...), 4) work through the UN regarding weakening/toppling Assad (hence Nikki Haley’s different emphasis over the weekend), 5) support military action of other Arab nations in going after Assad and ISIS on the ground in the Middle East, 6) use the UN and NATO to deter Russia (mostly by sanctions, troop positioning & anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe) and bring them to the negotiating table, 7) focus the US military & Chinese discussions on the much more immediate nuclear threat in North Korea (by far the most dangerous situation in the world at present).

I hope a “NATO-like” defense alliance between US, Japan, South Korea and China can be established to end the North Korean regime, even if all Korea become a non-aligned region or the UN can support China taking direct control of North Korea.

The irony for Russia is that Trump (with his very strong clear-eyed cabinet) is proving a much stronger and smarter opponent than Obama-Clinton. The mainstream media will have a hard time admitting this. In their naïveté or carelessness, they demand to know what the US gov't plans to do next. Keep them guessing.

Carlos Orozco
1 year 11 months ago

With respect to the Iraq and Syria wars, I have always been much more inclined to side with the opinion of the Christians of those countries than with that of neocon ideologues in Washington. Christians in the ME are trying their best to survive, and I have never heard testimonies from them about anything postive coming from the purposeful destabilization of their countries. Meanwhile, neocons concentrate on endless wars in order to achieve global full specturm dominance. And if, as consequence of their wars, Christianity in the ME nears the brink of extinction, than so be it.

1) Where is the evidence Assad did the chemical attacks on the Idlib province of Syria? Have the lessons about the lies that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq been forgotten?
2) Agreed.
3) Agreed. But also stop funding them. The rebel "moderates" in Syria, with ties to al-Qaeda, come to mind. That includes the so-called Free Syrian Army.
4) The Russians and Chinese learned the lessons of the Libyan "success" story: a no-fly zone was used as an excuse to go on the offensive and bring down a mostly secular dictator, creating chaos and allowing radical Islamic groups to fight to these days over the spoils of that country. Although, and I guess we need to praise NATO for it, the precious Libyan light oil was able to be rescued and exploited by forces of freedom and democracy.
5) The Arab monarchies of the Gulf are the main financial supporters of radical Islam. How is their invasion of Syria going to solve anything?
6) Seat Russia in a negotion table to what end? Surrender Syria -and their only warm water port outside of Russia- to American proxies? Not going to happen. BTW, Putin just drew his redline yesterday and the MSM have not reported on it: there will be retaliation for any further attacks against the Syrian forces. That is no joke.
7) Agreed.


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