Making Sense of Our Attack on the Syrian Airfield

What we think we know:

Chemical weapons were used against a rebel-held town in Syria this week. Up to 100 people were killed and hundreds were injured. The attack was probably launched from a military airfield used by the Syrian government and their Russian allies. DT ordered an attack on the airfield, so the Navy launched roughly 60 cruise missiles. It isn’t clear how much damage was done. The airfield was being used again within 24 hours.

In October 2012, DT predicted that President Obama would attack Libya or Iran in order to raise his poll numbers:

UntitledDT’s approval rating has been remarkably low for a new President. Based on multiple polls, the 538 site says 40% of Americans approved of him this week while 53% disapproved.

We told Russia about the attack in advance in order to minimize its effects. It isn’t known whether the Russians told the Syrians, allowing them to move people and equipment away from the airfield before the cruise missile arrived.

Cruise missiles are often used to “send a message” from a safe distance. They aren’t the weapon of choice when attacking an airfield. 

Russia did not attempt to intercept the cruise missiles, either because their defenses wouldn’t have been effective or because they decided not to interfere.

The attack was warmly received by members of Congress, including Republicans who had warned against Obama doing anything similar.  

News coverage of the attack has been extremely (I’d say ridiculously) positive. Fox News even went so far as to tell their viewers that the airfield suffered “massive damage” and was “almost completely destroyed” (despite being operational again a day later).

The Syrian government is once again bombing the town where chemical weapons were used.

Russia has criticized the American attack and taken a few steps in response.

The DT/Russia Connection; the Republicans’ failure to change the Affordable Care Act; DT’s continuing violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses; and power struggles in the White House aren’t leading the news, because DT replaced those stories with this one. His poll numbers are sure to rise.

This chain of events might lead one to be skeptical about DT suddenly becoming a serious person, even “presidential” as one talking head put it (the last time people said DT was suddenly “presidential” was when he was able to read a speech from beginning to end). I mean, this is DT we’re talking about. That’s why there could be more to the story. Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC raised that possibility in the first three minutes of a video that is no longer available. Here’s what he said:

It’s perfect. Just perfect. I wish it wasn’t. If, if, if Vladimir Putin masterminded the last week in Syria, he has gotten everything he could have asked for.

Vladimir Putin was essentially the man in charge of making sure that Syria got rid of all its chemical weapons under a deal with the Obama administration. And so it makes perfect sense to question whether President Bashar al-Assad would have checked with his most important patron, Vladimir Putin, before using chemical weapons that Vladimir Putin was supposed to have helped get rid of. It would be terribly embarrassing to Vladimir Putin if president Assad had exposed Vladimir Putin failed to get rid of those chemical weapons. You wouldn’t want to be Bashar al-Assad in a conversation with Vladimir Putin after that.

Unless you had a conversation with him before that. Unless Vladimir Putin said I have an idea. ‘Go ahead. Do a small chemical attack. Nothing like the big ones you have done in the past. Just big enough to attract media attention so that my friend in the White House will see it on TV.’ And then, Donald Trump can fire some missiles at Syria that’ll do no real damage. And then the American news media will change the subject from Russian influence in the Trump campaign, and the Trump transition, and the Trump White House.

It’s perfect. It doesn’t just change the subject. For most of the news media, it changes the conventional wisdom about the dynamic between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. President Trump has finally dared to do something that Vladimir Putin doesn’t like. It changes everything. As long as you never question whether Vladimir Putin wanted all of this to happen this week. And when you question that and you look at what has happened, it’s always worth remembering that if Vladimir Putin really does have ways, known or unknown, to influence Donald Trump, then every day that is a good day for President Trump, is a good day for President Putin.

Now not one word that I have just said could possibly have been said about any President prior to Donald Trump. Don’t you miss those days when if there was a chemical attack in Syria you could be absolutely sure that President Assad and President Putin did not do that in order to help the image of the President of the United States. That is the world that Donald Trump has given us.

Finally, political cartoonist Mike Lukovich of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution weighs in:

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