Sunday, April 9, 2017

The legality and morality of the Shayrat Airbase attack

These gentlemen knew what they were doing.
(Wikipedia/Junius Brutus Stearns)
In the previous post, I talked about how the Trump administration's airstrike on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria was wasteful and ineffectual. I withheld, or tried to at least, my own opinions on the matter. First off is the legally of the strike itself. The President of the United States has the authority to order a military strike as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. I believe they have to inform Congress prior to the attack, which the White House did. So on that front, the airstrike was legal. However, I still have problems with it. It's my own personal belief that unless there is an immediate danger to the United States or one of our formal allies, the President should not launch a military attack such as the one on the Shayrat Airbase without Congressional approval. Seeing as how the Syrians lack the capability to launch an attack on the United States and Bashar al-Assad is not fool enough to launch such an attack on the U.S. or any of our allies (like say, Israel or Turkey), then there was no reason for President Donald Trump to order the attack without seeking approval from the Congress. There are those who can and will undoubtedly make the argument that waiting for approval would have both tipped our hand to the Syrians and taken what they would see as an exceedingly long time as members of Congress debated and dragged their heels over the matter.

There's two problems with that argument: 1. The Syrians already knew about the attack before it happened. Like I pointed out in the previous post, their Air Force had the base back up and running hours after the attack. They knew because the White House had to inform the Russians, who then warned the Syrians. 2. Debating and the dragging of heels is exactly what Congress should be doing if the President were to ask for their approval for a non-essential attack on another country. Congress is not meant to be a rubber stamp legislature and one of the best services they can provide to this great country of ours is to reign in the excesses of the Executive Branch. It's called Checks and Balances and the Founding Fathers put them there for a reason.

Moving on to my second point, is the morality of the airstrike. Or rather, the immorality. The supposed justification for the airstrike was the poison gas attack the Syrian Air Force launched on a town called Khan Shaykhun. If the motivation was really to avenge the casualties and prevent further chemical attacks, then why just a single attack on one airbase? Why not cripple the entire Syrian Air Force? Because that wasn't the point of the attack. As I said before, this attack on Shayrat Airbase was little more than an attempt at diverting the attention of the media and American public away from the seemingly endless scandals that have awashed President Trump and his administration since taking office. To invoke the 70+ victims of that tragedy to justify a diversionary tactic is a heinous vulgarity and Donald Trump and the rest of his administration ought to be ashamed of themselves for it.

But to be clear, I'm not playing the apologist for the Assad regime. What they did at Khan Shaykhun and elsewhere for the past five years is a far grosser vulgarity and I would love nothing more for the civil war there to end and Bashar Assad and his cronies to stand trial for all of the crimes against the Syrian people that they've committed.

Missile barrage as smokescreen

Let's not beat around the bush, folks because that is exactly what the missile attack on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria on Friday was supposed to be: an attempted smokescreen to divert media and public attention away from the seemingly endless cascade of scandals affecting the Trump administration. The Syrian government's prior poison gas attack on its own citizenry provided just the opportunity the administration needed and they exploited in their usual fumbling way.

There goes almost two million dollars.
(Wikipedia/Robert S. Price)
And let's be clear here, this attack was both wasteful and about as effective as a one legged man in an ass kicking contest. A quick check of Wikipedia shows that Tomahawk cruise missiles cost $1.87 million each (and the article cites the Department of Defense comptroller for this number), which means that it'll cost $112.2 million to replace the sixty used in the attack¹. I don't know about you, but spending over $112 million on a political diversion is a wasteful expenditure to me. Think about what domestic projects that could money could have funded.

The attack was ineffectual in that launching a missile strike on a single military base in "retaliation" for a gas attack doesn't make sense. The Syrian Air Force has many other bases that it can just as easily use for future chemical attacks as it would from Shayrat. Speaking of which, the attack was an exercise in futility because according to The Telegraph, the SAF was able to launch aircraft from it hours after the attack.

Syrian warplanes took off from the air base hit by US cruise missiles yesterday to carry out bombing raids on rebel-held areas, in a defiant show of strength.

Just hours after the al-Shayrat airfield was bombed with 59 US Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from warships in the Mediterranean, aircraft struck targets in the eastern Homs countryside, according to a monitoring group.

What does the Trump administration do now? Is the White House prepared to escalate things and target the entire Syrian Air Force for destruction? That certainly would be drastic...and not as successful as one might think. If such a step were taken, I can imagine the Syrian Army taking over the chemical attacks. What then? Target the Syrian Army for destruction too? Because I'm pretty sure that would require the deployment of our own ground forces and an invasion of Syria is not something that I personally would like to see. Nor would the American people, I suspect.

But no, it probably won't escalate that far because not even Trump would so foolish as to launch another potentially prolonged and open-ended war in the Middle East when his poll numbers are already so low. No, I think once it becomes clear that the missile attack did have the results they were looking for, the White House will move on to the next diversionary tactic.

¹ While media reports set the number at 59, those were just the ones that actually hit the airbase. Apparently the 60th was a dud and crashed into the sea after launch.