Unless your head has been in the sand, you might have noticed that Syria has been on the front page of your newspapers lately. I guess in this day and age, it would be more appropriate to say it is at the top of your news feed. This past week, the tinpot dictator Bashar Assad unleashed more chemical weapons on civilians in the town of Douma killing more than forty people. In addition to the normal noise and fury of protestations from the international community, bombs were dropped in retaliation. France, the UK, and the US have all bombed various targets in Syria in retaliation. According to Trump we can declare “Mission Accomplished” but was it really? Has anything at all been accomplished? What were the goals of this retaliation and have they been met?
I have been trying to get the numbers on how many bombs have been dropped since Trump has come into his office. I do know that he has tripled the rate of bombing in Afghanistan, that the number of strikes in Somalia have greatly increased, and that Obama dropped over 26 thousand bombs in at least seven countries in 2016. Twenty-six thousand bombs. Is our world a better place because all of those incendiaries have been unleashed? From Vietnam on forward to the present, has bombing ever been an effective deterrent against the “bad guys”?
About a year back, Assad unleashed chemical weapons against its own civilians. The world was outraged and Trump unleashed a fury of bombing in retaliation. Well, the calendar has rolled over but has there been any other change? Did his strike work then? Will it work now? Does anybody really truly believe that Assad will not be doing the same thing again? The internet loves to quote Einstein as saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Are we all insane?
The recent strikes by coalition forces were targeted on three main sites: a scientific research center, a chemical weapons storage facility, and a command post also believed to be storing chemical weapons. According to the talking heads, Syria has lost years of research data, specialized equipment, and agents needed in the creation of more chemical weapons. Supposedly, we have significantly cut back their ability to wage chemical warfare.
I’m sorry, but I am not buying that hype. Back in 2013, we were said to have taken away Syria’s ability to engage in chemical warfare. At that time tons of nerve agents and mustard gas was handed over and its capability to make more was supposedly dismantled. Yet from 2014 through 2017 the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) states that chemical weapons were still used by Syria on a regular basis. After one such highly publicized case about a year ago, Trump responded with a bombing that supposedly “significantly set back their ability to engage in chemical warfare”. Yet here we are again. How long will it be until the next time this terrorist dictator will use more chemical weapons? Days? Weeks?
Let’s just imagine, however, that he never does use any more chemical weapons. Does that mean we truly have accomplished our mission? Are we saying it is OK for him to use conventional means to destroy his population, just not chlorine? Are we saying that the other crimes he commits, and the many rebel factions who have the same intent but lesser means, are fine just so long as they stay on the other side of some imaginary line? Is that what we have accomplished?
At what cost? So far there have been no reports of civilian casualties. Part of the reason for that is because we let them know ahead of time exactly where we would be bombing. What I don’t know if how far in advance that warning came and how much from those facilities could have been relocated in advance. Even still, there have been other times where we have reported no, or very few casualties only to find out weeks later our a very different reality. To date, we have acknowledged 841 civilian deaths from American and coalition actions in Syria. Nonpartisan third-party sources will throw out numbers much closer to 6,000-8,000. Compared to the numbers Assad and some of the rebel groups are putting up, this is stellar. But what have we gained from all our actions resulting in so much collateral damage? Is Syria any better today than it was when we first started dropping bombs by the bucketload? Will it be any better this week because of the bombs we have dropped over the weekend?
According to one media activist on the ground, not a chance. He says, “The US and the world don’t actually care about the Syrian people. All they care about is their political interests. We, the Syrian people have been attacked by all kinds of weapons, including chemical weapons. The missile attack on Saturday was only a way for the US to save face.” Well, Trump has rattled his sabers. Face has been saved. “Mission accomplished”.
Now, perhaps it is time to get some real work done. This article has asked a lot of questions. That’s because I don’t have good answers. Nobody does. What will it take to bring a semblance of normalcy to Syria? What is needed to happen before so many of my friends and neighbors can safely return to their homes and begin to rebuild for a better future? I don’t know. But one thing I do know, it is time to drop the bomb. That strategy isn’t accomplishing anything.