It has been six days since the United States and its allies learned of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s alleged chemical weapons attack on innocents in the city of Douma. And for the past six days, American decision-makers have been contemplating what to do in response.
Now, the question has become: Has the clock run out on an effective response to the attack?
Some have made the case that the best course of action for President Trump is to take out the Syrian Air Force, which has been responsible for committing countless chemical weapon attacks on innocents inside the country.
Proponents of such a plan argue that it is a low-risk, high-impact strategy that could effectively mitigate the chance of Assad continuing to deploy devastating WMD attacks from the skies. It would also level the playing field that has tilted towards the Russia-Iran-Assad axis in the ongoing civil war inside Syria.
More cautious observers contend that the move would be dangerous. They point to Russian, Syrian, and Iranian air defense systems deployed inside the country that can potentially shoot down U.S. air power.
Contradicting that narrative is the state of Israel, which has proven through over 100 alleged strikes inside Syria since 2012 that it is indeed possible to operate in the skies over Damascus, hit critical targets successfully, and return to base safely.
The clock is ticking. Reports appear to suggest that much of the Syrian Air Force has departed for Russian and Iranian bases in the region. While the White House continues to deliberate, Assad appears to have secured his air force from the possibility of harm.
BREAKING: In past 48 hours, #Syria|n Air Force has relocated all of its airworthy & operational combat aircrafts from #Dumayr, #Shayrat & #Tiyas / #T4Airbase to safe locations while the none-airworthy examples are transferred out of the bases & are covered by camouflage nets. pic.twitter.com/kJsE3STN81
— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) April 12, 2018
Assad has moved his aircraft to Russian airbases, a strike at this point is a meaningless face saving gesture and a win for Iran, Russia, and Assad.
Mattis and Dunford are against any escalation in Syria unless it's Russia, Iran, Assad, or Turkey doing the escalating.
— Michael P Pregent (@MPPregent) April 12, 2018
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Assad “has moved key aircraft to the Russian base near Latakia, and is taking pains to secure important weapons systems.” The element of surprise is no longer on our side.
But at the same time, the U.S. can still do immense damage to Assad’s more permanent infrastructure, such as its airfields and chemical weapons facilities.
Meanwhile, the discussion of when — or if — we should strike the Assad regime continues.
The president continues to hold his cards close concerning the timing of such a strike.
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
Defense Secretary Mattis headed to the National Security Council Thursday afternoon to discuss military options in Syria. From there, he and national security adviser John Bolton were to “take forward options” to President Trump.