The editors of the Wall Street Journal are more frank than David Ignatius. They have objectives in Syria beyond eliminating Daesh. They want to rid Syria of Assad, too, because of his use of chemical weapons against his own people:
President Trump sent a powerful early message of U.S. resolve last year when he bombed a Syrian air base after the Assad regime used sarin gas against civilians. He may need to send another because Syria has been testing his red line with multiple uses of chlorine gas in recent weeks.
The State Department said this week that the United States is “gravely alarmed” by reports that the Syrian government has launched six chemical attacks against civilians over the past 30 days. Assad has dropped chlorine gas on his political opponents for years, but who’s going to stop him?
In August 2012 Barack Obama warned of “enormous consequences” if Assad used chemical weapons, dubbing it a “red line.” The next year the dictator killed more than 1,400 people with sarin gas. Mr. Obama responded by signing a deal with Russia to seize Damascus’s chemical arsenal. Chlorine wasn’t included, and U.S. intelligence concluded Assad had retained some chemical stockpiles.
Sure enough, the regime used sarin gas against civilians again last April, killing at least 85 people. Mr. Trump explained his missile launch in response as “in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
I agree that Assad is terrible but it’s not just Assad. It’s the entire Alawite regime. If Assad were removed, he’d be replaced by someone else from his regime who’d do the same things under the same circumstances.
A lot has changed in 25 years. 25 years ago we shrugged as Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq. Now the use of chemical weapons is a red line that demands retribution.
For me it’s a question of priorities. Using chemical weapons is terrible but Daesh is even more terrible. Destabilizing Syria inevitably opens Syria up to control by violent radical Islamists. There is simply no moderating force capable of keeping them down. A stable basically secular Syrian government is better for the United States and for the Syrian people than control by violent radical Islamists but those are the available alternatives.
Unless we’re prepared to occupy Syria into the indefinite future. Or allow Sultan Erdogan to do it. Is an irredentist Turkey really in U. S. interests?