Accuracy in Media

In the wake of the missile attacks on Syria late last week, Vox rushed out to assure us the worst was yet to come.

In “The US just bombed Syria. What happens next?”, it suggests in the subhead – “Trump’s Syrian airstrike could escalate dangerously” – how it expects things to turn out. It has concluded that all in all, bombing Syria in response to Syria gassing its own citizens was a bad idea.

The story notes Secretary of Defense James Mattis said at a late-Friday press conference this was not the opening of a broader campaign.

“Right now, this is a one-time shot … designed to set back the Syrian war machine’s ability to produce chemical weapons,” it quoted Mattis as saying.

It then provides its opinion of Mattis’ statement.

“The logic behind the attack is to show that the United States is committed to retaliatory strikes any time the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons,” Vox wrote. “Friday’s strikes are an announcement that US policy is the open-ended bombing of Assad’s forces unless and until he stops using his chemical weapons.

“And that creates a serious risk of escalation and deeper US involvement in one of the world’s deadliest and most dangerous civil wars.”

It then moved toward a refrain of the left has used since the attacks – that this was a pinprick for the Syrians with little long-term effect on their ability to develop and use chemical weapons.

Sky News, which actually reports from the region, did not accept that assessment. It used Mattis’ quote that the U.S., the U.K. and France had taken “decisive action’ against the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons infrastructure.”

It said one strike took out a scientific research center in greater Damascus that was “involved in the development of chemical warfare.”

It said the second targeted a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, which is near the cost. The third destroyed “to the ground” a “chemical equipment storage facility and important command post.”

Sky News estimated damage in the tens of billions of dollars and quoted Mattis as saying, “Important infrastructure was destroyed which will result in a setback for the Syrian regime. They will lose years of research and development, storage and equipment.”

Sky News closed with a Mattis quote: “We were very precise and proportionate, but at the same time, it was a heavy strike.”

It should’ve been heavier, according to Vox.

“Let’s be clear: These limited strikes almost certainly did not destroy the Syrian government’s entire weapons stockpile, let alone seriously set back its ability to fight anti-government rebels.” No one from the administration had made either claim or anything close to either claim.

It said Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “seemed to admit as much” when he said there were “’other targets’ they could have hit related to the chemical weapons program, but that they chose not to because of a high risk of civilian casualties.

“In other words, this was a symbolic strike, designed to signal loud and clear to the Syrian government that the use of chemical weapons would provoke American retaliation, thus hopefully deterring Assad from doing so again.”

This felt a little like déjà vu, Vox wrote, because a year ago, Trump also ordered strikes on Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack.

“The idea was to show Assad that the US would not tolerate such actions and thus deter him from ever doing so again. Clearly, that failed.”

The alternative is the path Obama chose – to do nothing and let Syria proceed as it wished. And every time Trump fails to follow Obama’s lead, “the risk of some kind of disaster grows.”

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