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False hopes? U.S. attack on Syrian airbase raises expectations

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson steps out of a plane upon arrival in Moscow’s Vnukovo airport Russia Tuesday. Tillerson is due to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday

Russia's Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov also warned of "negative consequences" from the USA military action, which he described as a "doubtful, tragic enterprise". The message was unmistakable: "Step aside please while we do our own thing here". If the US -led coalition relies on the heavily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces to take Raqqa, it will likely defeat the Islamic State but then cause a new war that will result in the rise of a new terrorist group to oppose the Kurds, the opposition contends. In the Rose Garden Wednesday, Trump spoke of Assad crossing "many, many lines."

Mr Miliband led a rebellion in 2013 against then-prime minister David Cameron's plans in response to chemical weapons attacks against civilians. Perhaps nothing. Assad, chastened, might learn his lesson, and pursue his military agenda using more conventional (though still devastating) means.

Domestically the Kremlin will redouble propaganda efforts by its massive state TV machine to convince the population that Russian Federation is in the right and that the Americans are once again out to get it.

The swift action is likely to be interpreted as a signal to Russian Federation, as well as to countries such as North Korea, China and Iran where Trump has faced foreign policy tests early in his presidency, that he is willing to use force.

"God willing, these strikes will be a clear warning to Bashar al-Assad, to tell him: Bashar, enough killing and injustice against these people", said Abu Ali, a man in his 40s.

Some of his far-right supporters feel betrayed by a man who promoted himself as a non-interventionist who would not draw the United States into foreign conflicts.

"Moscow has had a really good run in Syria since Fall of 2015, largely because they are the one large player on the field", he explained.

On Wednesday morning, military advisers said they knew which Syrian air base was used to launch the chemical attack and that they had tracked the Sukhoi-22 jet that carried it out. It is not the opening of a new front in a war against Assad.

Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, told Friday's session in NY the U.S. military's "illegitimate" missile strikes had encouraged "terrorists" in Syria.

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The decision to launch five dozen Tomahawk missiles against an Assad regime airfield scrambled partisan lines.

He even suggested the global coalition might act to remove him, but it's not clear what he meant.

That same afternoon, he appeared in the White House Rose Garden and said the "unspeakable" attack against "even attractive little babies" had changed his attitude towards Mr Assad.

And Tillerson spoke of a long-term goal that would come after the defeat of ISIS and within the context of a political process. In fact the administration does not appear to have a fully formed policy on Assad yet, or even on Syria. Russian Federation stood by in Syria as Assad deployed chemical weapons against civilians, so pressuring Russian Federation to reduce support for the Syrian leader will not be easy.

Which suggests that underneath the outrage they might be prepared to respond with a dose of realism.

A key test of whether the relationship can be salvaged comes next week when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson becomes the first Trump Cabinet member to visit Russian Federation.

The strikes could cheer Assad's enemies, after months when Western powers appeared to grow increasingly resigned to his staying in power. So have key Congress people on both sides of the aisle. While applauding the professionalism of the strikes, members of Congress expressed wildly divergent positions on the way forward in Syria.

If these signals mean what they appear to mean, last night's attack will be a Clintonesque pin prick: Lob a few missiles, appear to act forcefully for USA public consumption, but achieve nothing while emboldening our enemies - convincing them that we are impulsive, unserious, and united on neither a commitment to fight nor an objective to be achieved.

For those of us who have argued for years against Syrian intervention (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here), the situation has not changed.

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