The New Yorker:
In August of 2013, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad fired rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin at the Eastern Ghouta area, just outside Damascus. Within minutes, more than fourteen hundred civilians, including hundreds of children, began convulsing, choking, and foaming at the mouth, then died, of suffocation. President Obama reacted to the atrocity—which not only crossed but obliterated his self-described “red line” for taking action in the Syrian civil war—by having the U.S. military draw up a plan to destroy Assad’s small Air Force. Then, after deliberating with his inner circle, Obama called off the attack, citing a lack of congressional authorization and of international support. He later said that he was proud of having defied the pressure to look strong.
Unfortunately, the subsequent deal struck by the United States and Russia to remove Assad’s chemical-weapons stockpiles was full of loopholes, weakly enforced, and ultimately circumvented by Syrian and Russian deception. The lesson that Assad seemed to draw from Obama’s lonely act of self-liberation was that the West would not interfere the next time he gassed his own people. Last April, Assad used sarin on Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in northern Syria, killing at least seventy. President Trump’s advisers found it difficult to focus his attention on the enormity of the act, until his daughter Ivanka, after seeing pictures of dead children with foam around their lips and nostrils, spoke to him. The President ordered fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles to be fired at the base from which the gas attacks had been launched. It was the first direct American strike against the Assad regime since the start of the war, in 2011, and Trump was widely praised. The next day, Syrian planes took off from the same base and bombed more civilians. Trump never followed up, and the war went on.
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