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President Donald Trump’s missile strike against Syria will enable him to declare victory and applaud his own resolve.

But the attack won’t have much effect, because it isn’t connected to a clear, coherent strategy.

Doyle McManus mug

Doyle McManus | Los Angeles Times

The missile strike will accomplish one narrow goal: It will reaffirm the international norm against using chemical weapons. That’s a good thing.

But it won’t change much on the ground. It won’t alter the course of Syria’s seven-year war, which Bashar Assad is winning with help from Russia and Iran. It won’t even protect Syrian civilians from future chemical attacks. It’s mostly about us — and mainly about the president’s irritation that his “red line” has been ignored — not about them.

At the most basic level, Trump’s missile strike will be aimed at punishing Assad for dropping chemical weapons on a neighborhood full of children, and deterring him from doing it again. But the Syrian president, “Animal Assad” in Trump’s tweets, is willing to absorb the punishment. He proved that after the U.S. missile strike against a Syrian airbase last year.

That attack was intended to deter, too, but Assad resumed using chlorine gas after a few months. For the Syrian leader, the chance to eliminate pockets of opposition and demoralize his enemies by suffocating their children is worth the risk.

An effective deterrent would require a much larger action than last year’s pinprick strike. Trump would need to promise that future attacks will be met with a continuing, escalating campaign against Syrian military assets.

But that would draw the U.S. more deeply into the Syrian war, a step Trump has resisted, just as Barack Obama did. In 2011, Obama declared that Assad must go, but he never found a way to enforce that wish at an acceptable cost. It was his greatest foreign policy failure.

Then, as now, the U.S. had clear interests in Syria’s fate, well beyond the war’s terrible cost in human lives. Assad’s brutal rule has helped spawn terrorist opposition groups, including Islamic State, which briefly ruled much of Syria and Iraq. An Assad victory could turn Syria into a permanent base for Iranian military units on Israel’s northern border. (The country is already a base for Russia’s navy on the Mediterranean.)

Now it’s Trump’s turn to grapple with a no-win situation. American interests haven’t changed, but there is one new factor: About 2,000 U.S. troops are in eastern Syria, finishing up the war against Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

The U.S. military is wrestling with a problem: Once Islamic State is defeated, what happens to the desert territory that pro-American forces have gained?

Last year, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a strategy of sorts. U.S. forces will remain in eastern Syria to help those local forces establish a provisional government, in a de facto American protectorate.

“What we are going to do is hold that territory and get it back in local leaders’ hands,” Mattis said a few weeks ago, “and assure that ISIS 2.0 doesn’t rise in the middle of all of that and derail everything we’re fought for.” At that point, he said, it will be up to the United Nations to restart its sputtering Geneva peace negotiations and produce a “post-conflict plan for the way ahead.”

But there’s a flaw in that strategy: President Trump doesn’t like it, especially if it means a long-term commitment. “I want to get out — I want to bring our troops back home,” Trump said recently. “It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS.”

Trump reportedly told Mattis that U.S. troops could stay in Syria for now — but only for “months, not years.” Meanwhile, he ordered the State Department to halt reconstruction aid to the area.

That’s not going to work. Trump has suggested that Saudi Arabia or other Arab governments could take the mission over, but the Saudis are inexperienced and unready. The Assad regime will do its best to undermine any effort to establish a competing government in its eastern provinces. And the United Nations has been trying to negotiate a peace agreement without success since 2012.

Just as Obama found, there are no easy choices in Syria, let alone easy victories. Trump will declare his missile strike a win, but don’t believe it. No strategy, no success.

Doyle McManus wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

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(27) comments

Buggs Raplin

Just a reminder: I no longer read or respond to the comments of oldhomey. He repeatedly has said I smoke doobies. I don't. I favor the legalization of marijuana, but I don't smoke it. Until oldhomey identifies himself, I will ignore him. I will not read his comments, nor respond to them.

oldhomey

Gosh. I am just devastated at this turn of events. But I shall soldier on, continuing to point up all of Buggs lies, misinformation and faulty logic. I know. I know. It is a fruitless gesture, but I am just that kind of guy. And please: No civic dinners held in my honor for my remarkable, selfless dedication. I don't like being singled out from the crowd, as Buggs can attest.

Cassandra2

I'll say it, too: Chippy smokes doobies. (Now perhaps he'll just go away and delete his account.)

new2Lax

Getting North Korea on their knees begging to denuclearize, China buckling on trade tarriffs, Russia’s failure to protect their Syrian regime, ridding the world of ISIS, lowering taxes for countless numbers of Americans, lowering the unemployment rate to a point not seen in 50 years, this includes the best unemplyment numbers for the black community, latino’s and women. Finally seeing the GDP at a 3 percent level after the Obama’s pittiful attempt’s to reach 1 percent. Building the military to a strenght never seen before, securing the Southern border after years of promises to do so. One would think for a year in office, not bad and their just getting started. It is wspecially amazing when you think of the constant obstructionism on the left and with 91 percent negative voice from the left wing media, unreal to think these accomplishment in a year. Next week or two more than likely solving the countries infrastructure problems. I would mention straigtening out all the unfair trade issues but there is no need to boast because everyone knew this is a for gone conclusion.
I would expect with the IG’s report coming in May, criminal charges will be flying against the FBI and the DOJ’s participation in conspiriatorial conduct and more heads will role.
Also we will finally get Hillary in an orange jump suit for the Clinton Foundation,s pay tp play, the Urainium One coruption and of course the mishanding and direlection of duty by James Comey andof course the coverup. I also think the IRS is not off the hook as well as they are still under an investigation. So much to get excited about, but hey what did you expect, after all we now have unprecented leadership.

oldhomey

Yes, new2, the Japanese are SO grateful that North Korea is on its knees begging to de-nuclearize that the Japanese prime minister is back, trying to figure out just how stupid and rash Trump is, and whether or not he is going to give away the store to Kim for a cheap, empty promise.

Russia is now high-tailing it out of Syria, so scared witless by the recent bombing by allied forces of three sites in Syria, at least by your estimation. ISIS and radical Islamic forces are now deeply buried in history, thanks to Trump's incredibly clever, nearly bloodless (for Americans) maneuvers in Syria and Iraq, according to your brilliant analysis.

Countless numbers of already wealthy Americans are basking in Trump's tax reductions as the elderly, needy and young pick up their bills for them. Obama's pitiful turnaround from the worst recession in the national history to eight consecutive years of healthy recovery had nothing to do, as Buggs Raplin likes to put it, with the economy today. Absolutely nothing. You are, however, a bit premature on "The Wall", new2.

While Trump's base loves to shout "Build the wall", it appears the vast majority of Americans, including their elected representatives --even the Republican ones -- are not interested in paying for what is clearly an unneeded $50 billion white elephant.

Meanwhile, we have a president who is the darling of the supposedly pious religious right while he is desperately trying to shut up doxies he had been cavorting with in the past. We have a president who campaigned on "cleaning the swamp", but who has brought in the biggest cast of corrupt opportunists any president has ever surrounded himself with.

We have a "business" president who has broken with all of the nation's trading partners and has businesses, farmers and corporations lining up to beg him to not start a disastrous trade war that he says would be easy and effective. In fact, we have a president who takes to his idiotic tweets to attack specific American businesses and corporations, he is so business friendly.

We have a president who is SUCH a law and order man, he is going through lawyers like peanuts, shucking their empty shells on the floor by the time he is done with them, trying his damnedest to duck the fact that nobody, including presidents, are above the law of the land. There may well be a connection to Trump and orange prison jump suits in our future, but not the one, I believe, that he connects up with his Hillary straw dog.

Quite a year we have gone through with Trump, I agree, new2. It is up to the Republicans now if they want to go through another full year of this. As a leader, I agree, Trump is unprecedented, but not with precedents that we can applaud. They are precedents that I believe will sooner or later lead to Trump being un-presidented.

oldhomey

And here we see Buggs transition into a brilliant political analyst. Why, yes, indeedy do, the Democrats will go wild for Trump if he embraces a couple of their positions, because liberals, you know, have even less scruples or ethics than even Trump. They'd love to get behind an immoral lowlife like him. Right. And, dear Ricky, how do you feel about Buggs joining the "Gang", as you so ardently like to call anybody who disagrees with you?

Buggs Raplin

Hillary is untouchable. She's untouchable, and Trump is ,just another war criminal president. No truth, no justice for all the sins of American leaders. Not in this world, at least. If Trump wants to survive politically, all he need do is end the border wall thing, endorse the global warming hoax, and call for more gun control. He'll then turn into an Obama like person, and be thus acceptable to the Deep State.

Cassandra2

"...lowering taxes for countless numbers of Americans..." Countless? Seriously? You clearly aren't paying attention. The majority of tax cuts went to the ultra-wealthy and corporate tax cuts were used to buy back stocks or fatten offshore accounts. Very little of that benefit went to the workers who actually create wealth.

Rick Czeczok

Where's the rest of the "gang" of nitwits.......

kingman10

right above ya rick, there' s new2 and buggs and snow job waiting to come aboard into your gang of nitwits!

oldhomey

I dunno, Rick. Where IS the gang? You lookin' for some action? I hear Buggs is doin' doobies at his pad.

Cassandra2

Czkrkzyzk, how did you learn idiomatic American English terms like "nitwits"? Were you trained in the US before taking your job as a Russian internet troll?

awol2009

tRump showed absolutely no humanity for refugees from Syria attempting to flee Assad this past year or prior to the election. The quagmire of turmoil in Syria with different sects fighting each other makes a nearly impossible task of foreign, peaceful intervention. The $250,000,000 we spent in bombs last Friday night could have gone a long way towards humanitarian needs of innocent civilians affected in this civil war. Whether to help them flee, provide food and shelter, help them reestablish elsewhere in a free country. So we blew up some buildings and made some more new craters, allegedly chemical plants or storage facilities. Gee, if this were true, where was the chemical cloud from the said bombings and how many more died from that? I stand by my "Wag The Dog" theory. John Bolton is tRump's new NSA and a war mongering liar, who in past decades, helped create the problems in the Middle East, unresolved to this day, in fact, made things worse.

new2Lax

If Obama had acted in Syria as he should have by all accounts, there would have been hundreds of thousands saved, so tell me some more about compassion and the Democrat party. You can clearly see where you are viewed as an idiot, can't you. It is apparent someone with backbone like Bolton scares you, facing up to problems is what real leader's do and you will eventually figure this out. Empty threats is an invitation to escalation with these folks.

Buggs Raplin

What bullsh*t. We have no right to intervene in another country's civil war. We have..I repeat.. We have NO, moral authority to govern the world. Got that? We have no moral authority. We lost that a long long time ago. The world would be such a better place had America not interfered in the affairs of countries since the end of WW2.-Chip DeNure

Cassandra2

Chippy, I daresay that you wouldn't enjoy your current comfortable life with your oil-fired air conditioner and gas guzzler and a million other benefits of the American Empire had the US NOT been meddling in the Middle East for decades. You and Hoaxer are continually beating the purity test drum against anyone who favors clean energy. I challenge you to give up everything that you have that is the result of American Imperialism.

awol2009

tRump showed absolutely no humanity for refugees from Syria attempting to flee Assad this past year or prior to the election. The quagmire of turmoil in Syria with different sects fighting each other makes a nearly impossible task of foreign, peaceful intervention. The $250,000,000 we spent in bombs last Friday night could have gone a long way towards humanitarian needs of innocent civilians affected in this civil w Whether to help them flee, provide food and shelter, help them reestablish elsewhere in a free country. So we blew up some buildings and made some more new craters, allegedly chemical plants or storage facilities. Gee, if this were true, where was the chemical cloud from the said bombings and how many more died from that? I stand by my "Wag The Dog" theory. John Bolton is tRump's new NSA and a war mongering liar

kingman10

In this never ending civil war in Syria, it seems clear that Assad used chemical weapons and killed innocent people. that is against international law. Assad has also used many other weapons and bombs that kill indiscriminately, and has done it for years, and that is against international law I presume. So what is the difference if these innocent people are killed with conventional or chemical weapons? Dead is dead, no matter the method or the innocence. I know the situation there is much more complicated than any of us know. But giving Assad a pass on killing innocent people with conventional weapons doesn't make sense either. And we are letting Russia arm and help that monster without consequences too. Syria is a total mess and cleaning it up will be a monumental task that the international community will be responsible for.

johnnybragatti

"Mission Accomplished" was a duping in progress, by Trump"s so called administration.
Nothing was taken out , nothing even slackened.
Trump said the U.S. would leave Syria "cos his butt buttey : Putin wants Syria , even more than he wanted the Crimean or Ukraine.
Putin knows what he wants criminally,
Trump doesn"t know what he wants criminally.
He needs to contact his best friends in the New Jersey Mob and find out.

Buggs Raplin

A wonderful job at incoherence johnny; keep it up

Buggs Raplin

This situation ought to give everyone the jitters. The obvious desire of the Deep
State is to oust Assad. That desire is being expressed to the people by the propaganda media, which is their true function. The fly in the ointment for the grand plans of the Deep State is Putin. It appears he will NOT tolerate anymore bullsh*t from Trump on Syria. If that's the case, and the US presses ahead with an attempted regime change, I think we're looking at World War III.

Buggs Raplin

In an authoritarian society, the leader says we're going to war, and the people go to war. In a democratic society, the people have to be fooled into going to war. We saw that in Vietnam with the Gulf of Tonkin false flag; we saw it with Iraq with the WMD false flag; and we're seeing it now with the 'Assad used chemical weapons' false flag. I ask: Where are our leaders on this? Won't anyone stand up and tell the people the truth? Ron Kind? Tammy Baldwin? Governor Walker? Bernie Sanders? President Trump is guilty of a criminal act launching a missile attack. If the Dems want to impeach him, they should do it on that fact.

oldhomey

Tell us some more, Buggs, about your understanding of "realpolitik", which, as I recall, is what you advocate.

There is no doubt that Vietnam and the Gulf War were major mistakes built on the misleading of the public to get us to go into them. They were the cause of millions of lives lost, the waste of our national treasure, the rupturing of our domestic politics, the loss of international prestige and moral high ground. Total disasters.

With other political systems, our form of government might not have survived, but we have a system that got us through those disasters by painfully recognizing our mistakes, making course corrections and reasserting the principles of our governance.

You call Assad's use of chemical weapons a false flag? It was, is and always will be a crime against humanity. It was right to make some gesture of protest now with the bombing, even though it likely will not stop the practice on Assad's part.

Given the situation we face, it is not worth going further by risking WWIII, but it does, however, mark Assad as an international criminal, and he will have to face that charge eventually.

Meanwhile, we need a cool-headed, purposeful, realistic leader to negotiate these explosive times in the Middle East. Do we have one? No, we have the hot-headed, narcissistic ignorant fool that you voted for and continue to argue for and protect. Thanks, old buddy. And no, because of his rabid band of followers -- 89 percent of the self-identified Republican voters -- it would be best that he not be impeached. He needs to be thrown out of office with disgust by voters in 2020 so that there is no argument that he has any claim of leadership. Unless, of course, the impeachment charge is led by Republicans with clear support from Republican voters.

awol2009

A week prior to the latest alleged chemical chlorine attack, tRump announced the US was done there and planned to get our troops out . Enter the old war-monger and liar John Bolton, as tRump's new National Security Advisor, and a week later, we're sending in sea to air missiles? John Bolton is the ba$tard father of ISIS. His lies and actions that led to the invasion of Iraq, claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian deaths (US military war mongering collateral damage, a cold term used by war mongers). ISIS was born after years of our interference in Iraq. The latest Syrian scenario was a weak, calculated "Wag The Dog" moment for tRump, and it has John Bolton's fingerprints all over it. tRump needed a diversion for the Mueller investigation and the Syria situation was invented to try and do just that. Assad's civil war there is almost over. tRump's "Mission Accomplished" speech is a joke. What has transpired in Syria the past several years is tragic, I am not trying to minimize real atrocities that occurred in the past few years. Their complicated and multifaceted civil war is tragic, however, ending. They are a sovereign nation, we can't police the world, especially based upon questionable "Wag The Dog" false intelligence with John Bolton as our NSA. Various reports from Syria show civilians stating the areas hit near Damascus were vacant buildings or some holding industry other than chemical manufacturing. How does an alleged chemical manufacturing plant get destroyed ( near a major city) by a bomb without the chemicals poisoning the entire area? I think we're being duped, bigtime.

Buggs Raplin

Well said. I'd only add that all civil wars are nasty. Certainly ours was with Sherman's march to the sea.

Buggs Raplin

What a liar. The strike was a criminal act without any proof. Only a gullible fool would think Assad would so such a thing considering the fact he was winning the war. Of course, the propaganda media is working overtime now to obfuscate this criminal act by Trump. The Deep State has wanted regime change in Syria for 20 years. This column by this bullsh*t artist is just a plea for direct US intervention like we did in Iraq.

oldhomey

Yes, Buggs, the Deep State Video Company that so successfully faked the footage during and after the Las Vegas shootings, the Florida High School shootings, the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings and many others by your estimation was sent to Syria to fake this latest round of chemical weapons used against civilians. WHY and WHEN will the world ever begin to see the REAL world as it is according to Buggs Raplin???

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