In a statement that directly referenced Barack Obama’s infamous and ineffective “red line” on Syria from 2013, allies of the Assad regime joined forces in condemning the U.S. missile strike of last Thursday.
“What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines,” said a statement from the shared operations room that includes Russia, Iran, and militias supporting the Assad regime. “From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well.”
This statement was accompanied by a report from Syrian state media, which said that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani referred to the U.S. strikes as a “blatant violation” of Syria’s sovereignty. And Assad himself is accusing the Trump administration of supporting “terror groups” inside Syria. The dictator, of course, calls all opposition groups terrorists, so take that for what it’s worth.
“Both sides noted the inadmissibility of aggressive U.S. actions against a sovereign state in violation of international law,” the joint statement said. “Vladimir Putin and Hasan Rouhani spoke in favor of an objective, unbiased investigation of all the circumstances of the chemical weapons incident on April 4 in the Syrian province of Idlib.”
Both Russia and the Syrian government have gone out of their way to thumb their noses at the U.S. in recent days, using the very airbase that was bombed to launch a number of additional – and conventional – attacks on the city of Khan Sheikhoun. This was the city that was blasted with the chemical strike last week.
The Trump administration has sent mixed signals in the wake of the strikes; some officials have said that the missile attack does not represent a significant change in policy while others have begun hinting that Trump now wants Assad out of power in Syria.
In the meantime, Republicans are just as divided about what to do next. Some in the party want the U.S. to send another 5,000 troops into the region with the goal of toppling Assad and destroying ISIS. Others say the president has already exceeded his constitutional authority, to say nothing of breaking his promise to back away from Middle Eastern conflict.
But other than a few war hawks in the Senate, there is no appetite in Washington or in the U.S. electorate for another prolonged war in the desert. Syria, Russia, and Iran know this, and they are taking full advantage of the predicament.
That said, we’d be surprised if they were to launch another chemical weapons attack. When it comes to red lines, Trump has drawn his clear and bright. The missile strikes won’t end the civil war in Syria, but they will at least let our foes know where the boundaries are. We doubt any of the three are willing to cross them again.