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After six years of committing unrestrained and uninhibited violence against his own population, the regime of Bashar Assad experienced the first pangs of justice early Friday morning Syria time, as 59 American Tomahawk cruise missiles struck the strategically vital Al-Shayrat air base in the center of the country. Syrian military aircraft, hardened hangars and refueling facilities were among the targets of America’s first explicit attack on the Assad regime.
This was a justified, proportionate and necessary response for what had been a flagrant war crime committed three days earlier, when chemical nerve agents were dropped by planes from Al-Shayrat onto residential areas of Khan Sheikhoun, a town in Syria’s northwest. As men, women and children alike lost control of their muscles, succumbed to uncontrollable convulsions and began foaming from the mouth and nose, emergency and medical personnel rushed to the scene. They then found their facilities targeted in a series of follow-up bombings, possibly by . At least 87 people lost their lives and more than 300 others were injured. This was merely the latest of dozens of chemical attacks conducted by the Assad regime since 2012, the worst of which killed more than 1,400 people east of Damascus in August 2013.
It was that heinous act in 2013, conducted within eyesight of Assad’s own presidential palace, that famously crossed then-President Barack Obama’s self-declared “red line.” That same attack led to Obama’s subsequent decision to back away from the use of force in favor of an agreement brokered by Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in their entirety, a move that angered America’s Arab allies and effectively ended any potential U.S. efforts to threaten Assad’s rule. At the drop of the hat, overt affiliation with the United States became a politically toxic label that moderate opposition groups sought either to hide or to dissolve.