The Attack on Shayrat-A Feel Good Move

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Mike Luckovich

The dust is settling on Thursday’s air strike on Shayrat Military Airfield. The initial battle damage assessment is sketchy. It appears the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles (costing about $1.4M each) impacted at 3:45 am local time hitting command and control facilities, bunkers containing fighter aircraft (many which appeared to be down for maintenance), and a fuel depot. There were 7 fatalities. The two runways were not attacked and remain undamaged and useable.

It has also been reported the US gave the Russians warning of the attack to allow their military to seek cover. Who would be so naive to think the Russians would not warn their Syrian allies. Even if they had not, certainly the Syrians would have figured out what was going on when they saw their Russian allies bugging out. These 59 cruise missiles were armed with 1000 pounds of explosives. As someone who has controlled aircraft dropping 1000lb bombs, in a close air support mission, I can tell you these are awesome weapons. Even being thousands of feet away from these bombs when they explode, I can attest how devastating they are. How did 59,000 lbs of explosive cause only 7 fatalities? The answer should be self evident.

The warning we gave the Russians allowed the pilots who dropped chemical weapons on their fellow countrymen, including women and children, to escape to safety. These war criminals, the ground support crews and their Russian enablers, were not held accountable for their heinous acts.

So what was the purpose of this strike? It was militarily well executed. The Navy did what it always does- carries out the orders of the Commander and Chief with the professionalism that makes all Americans proud. Failure to bomb the runways was likely a political decision. No competent military planner would attack a military airbase and leave the runways untouched. The reason you have an airbase is to allow military aircraft to carry out missions. Leaving the runways intact does nothing to prevent the Russians from replacing the destroyed aircraft by merely flying in more modern equipment. The Syrians will be able to use the runways for future attacks on their own citizens.

I would submit 45's attack was a feel good tactic. He is down in the polls, his administration is in disarray and every day we see one debacle after another. He is visual. It is clear from his comments, 45 was deeply affected by the horrific images of dying children who had been gassed by their fellow Syrians. Who wasn't. Again and again, before his campaign, he tweeted that President Obama should not become engaged in Syria. He attacked his opponent because she wanted to take on Assad. Now he is doing precisely what he said should not be done.

So where are we? Some claim he sent a message. A shot over the bow to Russia, Iran and North Korea. But what is the message? A strike that is so militarily ineffectual to merely show the United States has the ability to launch a low cost attack ? What comes next? His effort was all show and no go. And these murderous thugs, Assad and Putin ( as well as the mad hatter in North Korea) know this. A "one off” that feels good, rallies the American people around the President and that is about all it was worth. It certainly is not a strategy to bring down Assad nor win the war with ISIS.