President Trump announced Friday, April 13 that the United States is joining forces with France and Great Britain to attack Syria in response to recent chemical weapons attacks in that country.
“Bottom line, this is a strong statement against the reintroduction and normalization of chemical weapons as a tool of warfare,” General Barry McCaffrey told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show. “Chemical weapons used against the US armed forces are only marginally effective. It turns warfare into a misery. But not many casualties.”
“When these weapons are used against civilian targets, who don’t have protective gear, early-warning capability, medical capability, they are just ferocious,” he said. “This is the right thing to do, but it will be a very risky operation. There are Russian air defense — four S-400 air defense batteries there — if they get engaged, we are going to have to eliminate that capability. So a very troublesome situation.”
General McCaffrey has three purple hearts, two distinguished service crosses, two silver stars, and spent 32 years in the Army. He commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm. When he retired in 1996, he was the most decorated general serving in the military. He currently lives in Western Washington.
McCaffrey said that the president’s announcement was well-crafted and straightforward. It is fortunate the US has Great Britain and France as NATO allies taking part in the air strikes, he said. According to the general, those strikes will likely include manned aircraft — not just “standoff weapons” — there are two US Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean that are likely involved as well.
“Probably most importantly, the president said these would be ‘sustained’ operations targeting the chemical warfare capability,” McCaffrey said. “I’m sure right now the target list has a military strategy trying to go after delivery systems, chemical stockpiles and probably the command and control which releases these munitions.”
There is no political will to put American troops on the ground in Syria, McCaffrey said. There are too many “warring belligerent parties” such as Turkish units, Russian forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and the Assad regime to name just a few.
“We can’t put Syria back together again,” McCaffrey said. “By the way, Assad is about to win and dominate his country again. Peace for the Sunni Muslim majority may well be worse than the war.”
“There won’t be any victory in Syria,” he said. “All we can hope for is such a painful strike at the Syrian chemical warfare capability that they decide it’s not worth it again. But there are others we are communicating with. We don’t want the North Koreans — who have a huge biological, chemical, and nuclear capability — to think we won’t respond.”
The general added that the only way to verify that the chemical weapons have been taken care of is to have U.N. inspectors on the ground. He doubts that will happen.
“One can only hope that the president understands we have to be prepared for the day after,” McCaffrey said. “I don’t think we know yet what the Russian or Iranian response would be. We have the potential to be on an escalation ladder here very rapidly in the coming week.”
Russia and Iran
President Trump called out Russia and Iran for their support of the Syrian regime during his Friday announcement, saying “To Iran and Russia I ask, what kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.”
McCaffrey has previously said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is “basically a KGB thug.”
“The President has been oddly unable to confront Russian aggression,” McCaffrey said. “They are showing up in Afghanistan. We just killed a couple hundred Russian mercenaries a couple weeks ago inside Syria; Ukraine/Crimea; blatant threats to the Baltic states … we got to remind ourselves that Russia has an economy that is 1/10 that of the United States, never mind NATO with its massive economic power. Putin is out there on a limb. He’s on the wrong side of the Shia / Sunni Muslim conflict. And he’s got terrible economic constraints on Russia now so the economy is in a tailspin. Poverty is widespread. He’s leading his country down a hole.”
A Russian official called Trump “Hitler No. 2” shortly after the Syrian strikes began.