Last Friday, President Trump launched his first directed military attack on the Syrian airbase responsible for a chemical assault that killed civilians earlier in the week. The decision to retaliate against the Syrian state was made by an outwardly shook Trump:
“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact. It was a horrible, horrible thing. I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it does not get any worse than that.”
According to Idlib’s opposition-run health authority, 89 people, including 33 children and 18 women, died as a result of the nerve agent in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday. The wartime use of chemical weapons was banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925, and the signing of the international Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 initiated global disarmament as almost every nation joined the pact.
As one of the few solitary nations that did not sign, Syria raised concern when it fell into civil war in 2011 and chemical weapons were repeatedly used in the conflict. When Russia and the United States came to a preventative agreement in 2013, a UN security council resolution called for the Syrian government to surrender chemical weapons under the supervision of the Russian government.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson blamed Russia of being either ‘complicit’ in the sarin attack or ‘simply incompetent’ in getting Syria to obey the 2013 resolution. He traveled to Russia earlier today for a heated meeting with Kremlin leaders.
So — complicit or incompetent? The answer seems clear: Russia sends troops, armor, and aircraft to Syria and is the primary supporter of the Assad administration. Additionally, Russia’s foreign ministry released a statement condemning the retaliatory launch of 59 Tomahawks as an “egregious and obvious violation of international law that cannot be justified.” Putin continues to unilaterally support Assad in the wake of both events, which makes the success of Trump’s Friday strike so strange — Russia must also have been “complicit or incompetent” in the American response in order for missiles to pass into Syrian airspace.
The United States alerted Russian military thirty minutes prior to the airstrike. Trump used dated weaponry (first used in 1991) that could have been combated by defense systems in Syria: Assad’s military operates modest S-200 surface-to-air missile systems, but is backed by Russian forces, which have more advanced S-300 and S-400 missiles. Those systems have better radar and fly faster than older surface-to-air missiles — and are easily able to take out Tomahawks.
Tomahawks, although geographically advantageous in this case, were an awful choice of weaponry under the circumstances. They were chosen specifically by Trump, who, at least until the election cycle began, publicly owned a significant share of stock in the company that makes Tomahawks, Raytheon.
Raytheon saw a three percent increase the day following the attack, and the shares of other missile and weapons manufacturers each rose as much as 1%, including Lockheed Martin, which partners with Raytheon on the Javelin missile launcher system. Weapons manufacturers collectively gained nearly $5 billion in market value as soon as the day began — even as the market fell.
The company has a reliable customer in the Department of Defense, who have asked for $2 billion over the next five years to buy 4,000 Tomahawks for the U.S. Navy. Trump is not the first to profit from the Presidency: Lyndon B. Johnson was known to openly steal money from the public treasury, and war being a big business is not news either. The American military prefers costly demonstrations of power, and with the Syrian airbase reportedly back in operation the following day, it was a symbolic gesture worth $93,810,000 — each Tomahawk billed at $1.59 million to the Defense Department.
On his first attempt at engaging internationally, Trump sent fifty-nine missiles that he partially owns to the world’s most likely target. That is patently Trump, predictably Trump. Because of a name, Trump used an inadequate weapons system while initiating an offensive conflict. His military strategy is calculable and has made Putin more dangerous.
Putin is playing to Trump’s weaknesses as a bullheaded businessman and inexperienced Commander in Chief. Putin knew the nature and timing of the Syrian attack, predicted American retaliation, and allowed both to happen. The Russian dictator wants to see how much our President can disrupt the Middle East, and as long as Trump has public financial entanglements, his actions can be easily anticipated.