Because the use by the Syrian Government of President Bashar al-Assad of chemical weapons is among the ugliest aspects of the ongoing Syrian civil war, there may be a tendency to think about them as two parts of the same package.
But for a variety of reasons, the American Government of President Donald Trump is doing its best to keep them separate.
The American-British-French air strikes against 3 targets in Syria have eloquently demonstrated how important it is to those 3 countries to the US, the UK and France to stand against a tyrant’s use of banned chemical weapons to kill dozens of his own civilians. Not very.
It also shows how much it cares about the wider war, except, perhaps, as it involves trying to wipe out the forces of the Islamic State. Even less.
The allied missile and bomb attack on 2 chemical weapons facilities outside the Government-held city of Homs, and one more, near the capital, Damascus, was a loud and violent shout of protest against what human rights monitors say was the use of chlorine gas, and perhaps the nerve agent Sarin to kill more than 40 civilians in the town of Douma.
But shouts are short-lived, and this one was carefully limited so that it had no effect on the civil war or on the Assad Government’s chief allies — Russia and Iran. Not only was there no follow-on attack after the one-night, 105 missile spanking, the guidance from American security and military sources has been not to expect anything more.
And the concentration of the attack, 76 American missiles on the 2 Homs facilities, 29 American, British and French bombs on the Barzah Research and Development Center near Damascus prevented any endangerment of Russian and Iranian forces.
The message was clear, the Trump, May and Macron governments oppose the use of chemical weapons, but they will not take the military risks inherent in actively opposing Russia and Iran’s support for the chem-weapons killer and outlaw Assad.
Even the idea of sanctioning Russian companies who help the Assad government obtain its illegal weapons of mass murder, announced at the UN by American Ambassador Nikki Haley, was pulled back, apparently at the insistence of the President himself.
Haley has been the most consistently anti-Russian voice in the whole Trump Administration, but it is unlikely she dreamed up the sanctions threat on her own.
Reportedly the wider sanctions were approved by most of Trump’s national security team. Then the blustering Boss got cold feet.
He still seeks, his spokesperson says, better relations with Russia and its Boss, Vladimir Putin. Does make one wonder, as does James Comey, whether Putin is Trump’s Mafia Boss as well.
As if to underscore the price of Russo-American reconciliation, Putin’s military, along with Syrian troops were denying UN chemical weapons investigators access to the scene of the crime, even as the White House was sounding its sanctions retreat.
Charles Glass is a broadcaster, journalist and writer, who began his journalistic career in 1973 at the ABC News Beirut bureau with Peter Jennings. He covered the October Arab-Israeli War on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. He also covered civil war in Lebanon, where artillery fire wounded him in 1976. He was ABC News Chief Middle East correspondent from 1983 to 1993. Since 1993, he has been a freelance writer in Paris, Tuscany, Venice and London, regularly covering the Middle East, the Balkans, southeast Asia and the Mediterranean region. He has also published books, short stories, essays and articles in the United States and Europe. Just last year he published Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe.