Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. General Tom McInerney suspects any response to apparent chemical attacks in Syria may be on hold while the Trump administration tries to build a coalition for any action.
And he says solving the problem in Syria is much more difficult because partisan sniping over Russia is hampering the U.S. ability to find common diplomatic ground with Moscow.
Earlier in the week, reports suggested a military response could come by the end of the week. On Thursday, President Trump made it clear a more deliberate approach may be in the works.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” tweeted Trump.
McInerney says there is likely a very good reason for a delayed response.
“I think his national security advisers have advised him to get a coalition involved with this, to include the UK, French, perhaps the Jordanians, the Egyptians, Israelis, Saudis and Emirates – a coalition of the willing that can represent a very broad front,” said McInerney.
“When you have a coalition like this, it means they’re all in agreement and they’re willing to use their forces. And you have Arab forces. I believe it’s important to use Arab forces,” he said. “It makes us define the problem more.”
McInerney says another critical element is to confirm the chemical attack actually came from the Syrian government.
“We’ve got to confirm with the most precise accuracy that it was the Assad regime that did this. The reason I say that is because Al-Nusra was looking for chlorine stocks a number of months ago and it would be in their interest to want to keep the U.S. involved and for the U.S. to attack the Assad forces,” said McInerney.
He says there may be an easy way to determine blame in this case.
“Was it an airplane with barrel bombs or was it an IED? Because we know the Al-Nusra forces do not have aircraft,” said McInerney, who adds that U.S.-led surveillance ought to provide critical evidence on whether the attack came from the air, although it may take time to comb through the intelligence.
If Assad is responsible, McInerney favors a big response?
“I think we need to eliminate his air force. Is that difficult to do? Yes, it is, because he has moved his forces on Russian bases with Iranians. I’m not worried about killing Iranians. I think they need to be pushed back and of course the Israelis are very concerned about this Shia Crescent that is sweeping across,” said McInerney.
In addition to the Syrians, Russians, and Iranians, U.S. policy must also consider how any action impacts the Kurds, ISIS, the Free Syrian Army and other groups in the area.
McInerney says the complexity of the issue is immense, and he says it’s now far more complicated because of the ongoing Russia probes here in the U.S.
“Because the Democratic Party laid out this false narrative, this fake news about Russian collusion, it has soured the diplomatic relations with the U.S. and Russia. It’s difficult to communicate with them in a reasonable way.
“That’s why the Mueller investigation must be terminated as quickly as possible. Clearly Russia is a great power. Still, it’s got lots of nuclear weapons which concern us. They are modernizing their nuclear forces, and we do not want to let this get out of control,” said McInerney.
McInerney says the region is also more complex as a result of the Obama administration pulling the U.S. out of Iraq entirely and failing to honor the red line it set for chemical weapon use in Syria.