On Thursday, the eyes of the world were again on Syria. Earlier in the week, strongman Bashar Assad incensed decent human beings everywhere when he apparently used nerve gas on his own citizens. The New York Times reported that attack killed at least 86 people in the rebel-held province of Idlib.
Unlike a previous attack in 2013 — when Assad crossed the “red line” of chemical weapons usage and President Barack Obama did nothing — U.S. reaction this time was swift. On Thursday, a U.S. missile strike almost totally destroyed the Shayrat air base in Syria, where the nerve gas attack was launched, according to Fox News.
“It is in this vital national security interest of the U.S. to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said in a speech after the strike. “There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.”
The strike was launched at Syria, but the real message may have been directed at North Korea.
Much like Syria, North Korea is plenty used to crossing red lines and getting away with it. During the Obama administration, missile test after missile test, nuclear test after nuclear test, the North Koreans would flout basic rules of international law and get away with it every time.
The administration has changed, however, and so has the message toward North Korea. The Trump administration has said that a military option is on the table when it comes to Kim Jong Un’s regime.
“We are working diplomatically, including with those that we might be able to enlist in this effort to get North Korea under control. But right now it appears to be going in a very reckless manner,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said on a visit to the United Kingdom in March, according to Newsmax. “That’s got to be stopped.”
After Pyongyang’s most recent missile test, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a terse statement that showed the Trump administration meant business.
“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” the statement read, according to CNN. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
However, what happened in Syria Thursday could definitely be considered further comment. When Syria and North Korea crossed red lines under Barack Obama, they received nothing but a strong warning from the administration.
While the administration said that Thursday’s attack was a “one off,” it crippled one of Assad’s largest air bases. It showed that there would be very real consequences for flouting international law.
And perhaps most importantly, it showed that the Trump administration was willing to stand up to those that would shelter Syria — namely, Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
In North Korea’s case, China has been the one often urging moderation on the North Korea issue. China’s president, Xi Jinping, is currently meeting with Trump down at the Mar-a-Lago resort down in Florida. Before the meeting, Trump told interviewers that “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
Now, Kim Jong Un knows that isn’t an idle threat. Xi Jinping knows it, too.
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