Confirming our report from Friday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis favored a more cautious approach to the Syria situation but was overruled by President Trump as well as other notable neocons interested in an immediate strike - including brand new National Security Advisor John Bolton, administration officials told the New York Times.
Mr. Mattis pushed to get congressional authorization, according to people with knowledge of the internal debate. In several White House meetings last week, he underscored the importance of linking military operations to public support — a view Mr. Mattis has long held.
Mr. Trump, the officials said, wanted to be seen as backing up a series of bellicose tweets with action, but was warned that an overly aggressive response risked sparking a wider war with Russia.
Friday night’s limited strikes on three targets, which lasted under two minutes, were the compromise. -NYT
Bolton and Mattis were said to be duking it out over the Syria strikes on Friday - with Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford reportedly "concerned with managing escalation and preventing blowback on US troops," while John Bolton is known for getting very excited at the prospect of a good ole' fashioned regime change
Bolton and Mattis clashed today on Syria strikes. https://t.co/iXmI8PC4YR— Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) April 12, 2018
In the end, Mattis prevailed in limiting the Friday night strikes to three targets which would avoid hitting Russian troops stationed at various military facilities throughout Syria. Democratically elected Syrian President Bashar al Assad moved fighter jets to said installations before the US-led strike, which also included the participation of the United Kingdom and France to give it an air of legitimacy.
Administration officials say that Trump wanted to hit Syria hard enough to appear aggressive, but not so hard that it would prompt Russia to engage in combat.
“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power — military, economic and diplomatic,” said Trump in a national address while the strikes were underway. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
That said, the Pentagon said no more strikes are in the works. “This is a one-time shot,” Mattis said on Friday after the attack was launched, suggesting that the airstrikes were “a very strong message to dissuade” President Bashar al-Assad of Syria from using chemical weapons against his own people.
“He just wants the big show,” said Obama Admin assistant Secretary of Defense, Derek Chollet. “So Mattis was probably pushing on an open door." More from the NYT:
Mr. Mattis is particularly concerned about overextending the American military in Syria. He does not want the United States to veer from its stated policy of focusing only on the fight in Syria against the Islamic State — and avoid delving into the country’s seven-year civil war.
Russian forces and Iranian militias have helped Mr. Assad remain in power against Syrian opposition fighters who accuse him of a brutal siege against the country.
“The strike was really just enough to cover the president politically, but not enough to spark a war with the Russians,” said two-tour Iraq war veteran Jon Soltz, chairman of liberal veterans group VoteVets. “It was clear the military had tight constraints on the operation, and that everybody in the military seemed to know that except the president.”
As the New York Times points out, Mattis is down one major ally in the West Wing with the departure of former NatSec Advisor H.R. McMaster, who would routinely defer to the Defense Secretary - a retired four-star Marine general. Enter John Bolton - a war hawk and notorious neoconservative who never saw a middle eastern nation he didn't want to bomb - for the most part. Mattis greeted Bolton for the first time by asking him if he was in fact the "devil incarnate."
Mr. Mattis is widely viewed by global leaders as the strongest and perhaps most credible voice on foreign policy in an administration that has been rocked by firings and resignations among senior presidential advisers. The recent exits of both General McMaster and Rex W. Tillerson as secretary of state has focused more attention on Mr. Mattis’s role in the cabinet. -NYT
On Tuesday, Mattis publicly disputed claims that last weekend's limited strikes amounted to little more than a fireworks show.
“The French, the United Kingdom, the United States, allies, all NATO allies, we worked together to maintain the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons,” Mr. Mattis said at the Pentagon. “We did what we believe was right under international law, under our nation’s laws."
“And I hope that this time, the Assad regime got the message,” said Mattis.
Based on images of Syrians dancing in the street after the weaker than expected airstrikes...
At a rally in Damascus today, celebrating their victory in shooting down American missiles. The Syrians I'm meeting are unbelievably friendly.. I talked to a soldier at the rally and when I said I was American, he beamed and said "welcome! We still love you" pic.twitter.com/czqXkuUxNv— Pearson Sharp (@PearsonSharp) April 14, 2018
... and protesting the US-led strikes in Damascus right now, and the fact that the cleanup crew at the destroyed Barzah chemical weapons Research facility didn't need protective clothing to sift through the rubble, the message is loud and clear; the West needs to get it's act together before bombing a sovereign nation based on crappy - or even worse, fabricated intel.
#BREAKING - First footage of destroyed Barzah Scientific Research Facility. No protective clothing was necessary to visit the site as no chemical weapons are manufactured, stored or used in the facility. Destroyed today by #US, #UK and #French cruise missile strikes. pic.twitter.com/qPAwGEM5pv— SURA (@AlSuraEnglish) April 14, 2018
Syrians are just casually walking thru the "chemical labs" destroyed by US missiles! That's how much chemical weapons these places had 😏 False flag wars will go on as long as the masses are asleep & apathetic #Syria #Assad #ChemicalWeapons #CNNSOTU #AMJoy. pic.twitter.com/tm8AQ8JoGt— Trump v. Globalism (@WakeUpB42L8) April 15, 2018
Mass rallies today April 16, 2018 in #Damascus and #Homs for Syrians celebrating the victory of the #SAA against Takfiri terrorism and western terrorism aka the triple aggression against #Syria via #SyriaStrikes pic.twitter.com/j0wNWx9D1I— Marwa Osman (@Osman_Marwa1) April 16, 2018