Why chemical weapons shouldn't be America's red line in Syria

America continues to base its Syria decision-making on the kinds of weapons used to kill people, rather than the fact of their being killed in the first place

 A victim of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syrian city of Idlib.
(Image credit: IHA via AP)

Last week, President Trump ordered the Navy to lob 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase. Apparently $100 million of the very best in remote-guided American munitions was enough to keep the airbase closed for one entire day, after which it resumed its role as a launching point for regime atrocities. The pretext for this ineffectual publicity stunt was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's horrific chemical weapons attack on the village of Khan Shaykhoun that left more than 70 people dead and hundreds wounded. President Trump, parked like an unemployed blogger in front of his television, had apparently seen some footage of "beautiful babies" who had been killed in the chemical attack and decided he had to reverse his administration's stated policies about intervention in the Syrian civil war.

Just days earlier, the Trump administration was willing to let Assad's grotesque government stay in power if it would bring peace to Syria. Backed by the full weight of Russian military power, the Assad regime was poised to end the Syrian civil war the way that so many civil wars have ultimately ended in the past: with one side winning and the others losing. But a single attack on a single village appears to have scrambled this calculus. This continues the curious American policy of basing its Syria decision-making on the kinds of weapons used to kill people, rather than the fact of their being killed in the first place.

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