This is my last Morning Jolt until April 17, and in the meantime, Jack Fowler will be taking over. Have a happy Passover, blessed Easter, and just a good week.
Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Air Force Had a Blast Thursday Night
On the orders of President Donald Trump, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from US warships in the eastern Mediterranean. The missiles were directed at the Shayrat airfield, believed by the US to be the base for warplanes that carried out the chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib on Tuesday.
Syria said six people were killed in the strike.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis:
The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars. As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.
The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4. The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.
Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.
We are assessing the results of the strike. Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.
One of my big disagreements with Trump during the primary was his quasi-isolationist views, although in fairness, Trump’s foreign-policy comments could be contradictory, boasting that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning one moment and insisting “we should take the oil” the next. Sometimes he would argue, “Let Russia take care of ISIS,” and sometimes he would pledge to “bomb the s*** out of them.”
This morning, we finally have one big change to U.S. foreign policy that you have heard me yearning for, month after month: There is now a consequence to using chemical weapons. Not an all-out war, not an invasion, not even a full effort at regime change, just… consequences. And just maybe, the Syrian military will decide to leave the sarin and the chlorine on the shelf in the next battle.
Oh, and we ended up getting much closer to a Marco Rubio foreign policy than anyone ever expected.
“Tonight’s actions show that the days of being able to act with impunity are over when it comes to Bashar al-Assad,” Rubio said. “There is now an American President prepared to do what it takes to ensure that [Assad] does not have the capability, or that his capability to conduct these sort of heinous war crimes is diminished and that he’s held accountable.”
An interesting point from Andrew Exum:
Poor John Kerry was left to bring about [Assad’s exit] in the last years of the administration with very few carrots and no sticks at his disposal. President Obama did not want to strike the regime, understandably uneasy about where such strikes might lead and not wanting to take everyone’s eye off the ball with respect to the Islamic State.
That did not stop the administration from pursuing quixotic and ultimately humiliating negotiations with the Russians throughout 2016. With the use of force off the table, we were forced to engage with the Russians over the fate of East Aleppo, in particular, as if the Russians were genuine partners for peace and not in fact enabling the very deliberate, brutal regime offensive that brought the last stronghold of the moderate opposition in Syria to its knees. We initially offered up carrots—such as increased military and intelligence cooperation with the Russians against Islamist extremists—if they would help us remove Bashar al-Assad from power, but by the end, we were practically begging the Russians to just let humanitarian aid shipments into East Aleppo. As one of the U.S. negotiators, I found the whole experience degrading.
You know what’s degraded now? Shayrat Airfield.
The World Reacts to America’s Strikes on Syria
Hey, remember when everyone said we were electing a Putin stooge? Man, somebody did not get their money’s worth out of their election meddling.*
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the US strike against a Syrian government airbase as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that it plans to bolster and increase the effectiveness of the air defense system in Syria following the attack.
Russia complaining about you dropping bombs in Syria is like Kim Kardashian complaining you’re overexposed.
The Iranian government declared that it “regards this unilateral measure as dangerous, destructive and a violation of international law.” Tell ya what, fellas, every time you claim the United States is violating “international law,” why don’t you go file a complaint at our embassy in Tehran?
Meanwhile, around the world:
The Turkish deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, has backed the US strikes.
Speaking on Turkish Fox TV, Kurtulmuş said he hoped the operation would contribute to achieving peace in Syria, and said the international community needed to maintain pressure on Assad.
A spokeswoman for United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The UK government fully supports the US action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.”
Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he “strongly supports” the US military strike on Syria’s al-Shayrat airfield, calling it a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response to the Syrian regime’s “shocking war crime”.
He said Australia was in close discussions with its allies about the next steps, but said the airstrike had sent an important signal that the world would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.
France and Germany declared Assad had it coming to him:
“President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development,” Merkel and Hollande said. “His repeated use of chemical weapons and his crimes against his own population had to be sanctioned.”
The Russians and Iranians are furious, and our traditional allies are cheery. It’s a good day for America.
* It’s also an odd day when President Obama’s ambassador to Israel retweets you making this joke.
Meanwhile, Back in Washington…
Over in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley makes the compelling case that this is Mitch McConnell’s finest hour:
The Garland nomination was described widely at the time as a maneuver to put Senate Republicans in a box. The Democrats bet that Republicans would wave through Mr. Garland to avoid President Hillary Clinton appointing someone to the left of Sonia Sotomayor.
It must have been a shock when Mr. McConnell took that bet and waited for the results of the 2016 election to decide the future direction of the Supreme Court. He won. Mr. McConnell deserves great credit both for holding his ground then and for holding his caucus together on breaking the filibuster Thursday in the face of a cynical Democratic narrative about their “stolen” Supreme Court seat.
Doesn’t this earn McConnell a break from the cries of “RINO sellout!” for a while?
ADDENDA: On this week’s pop culture podcast, Mickey and I talk about the supernova-level inanity of that new Pepsi commercial; the unjust pain of Oakland Raider fans; big-grossing bad movies, or movies that are terrible but beloved by most people anyway; Alicia Keyes’s Tweet about the Muslim ballerina and the difference between the world as it is and the world as we wish it to be, and the unique candies of Easter season.