On Thursday, President Donald Trump sent a Twitter message stating that a US missile attack on Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack in the city of Duma on April 7 could come very soon or significantly later.
"If a direct military conflict with Russia is to be avoided, deconfliction with Russian forces would need to happen," Kwiatkowski said. "The more time that passes allows the Russian military in Syria to take positions that will complicate any deconfliction and reduce the US targeting options."
In appointing former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as his new National Security Adviser, Trump had selected a figure who believed in approving military strikes before waiting for considering intelligence assessments, Kwiatkowski warned.
"I have little doubt that Trump is being advised by his new National Security Adviser Bolton to strike immediately," she said.
Bolton continued to consistently advocate such rapid measures publicly, Kwiatkowski noted.
"Bolton just last month had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal advising preemptive strikes on North Korea, justified in his words by saying that ‘given gaps in intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute,’" she said.
Bolton may believe that advocating an attack on Syria very quickly might reduce the dangers of a Russian reaction by giving Moscow less time to prepare any response, Kwiatkowski suggested.
"Syria is not a nuclear power, but Russia certainly is, and I’m not completely sure Bolton’s reasoning won’t come into play here as well. An attack on North Korea means war with China; an attack on Syria exceeding a certain level could mean war with Russia," she said.
"The Russian strategy may be to precisely and quickly complicate this matter knowing that 99.9 percent of the American population does not believe that events in Syria they are not even paying attention to are a worthwhile rationale for World War III, or for that matter, acceleration of the stock market correction and even higher gas prices," she said.
If Trump fulfills his threat, the most likely targets for attack will be Syrian military or government facilities, Kwiatkowski predicted.
"I would expect that is the President continues to believe that the Syrian government or army conducted the chlorine gas attack in Duma, close to Damascus, that the targets will be military and government facilities near or in Damascus," she said.
The attacks would also be probably designed to weaken the Syrian government and create conditions in which US policymakers could again hope for its overthrow, Kwiatkowski noted.
"The President indicated in a tweet that the bombs would be ‘smart’ and the response a major one. This kind of targeting is consistent with the former (and possibly present) neoconservative objective, once criticized by Trump, of unseating or destroying the Assad regime," she said.
The sending of the nuclear aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman to the region would increase US striking power, but also gave US policymakers more time to consider and plan their options, Kwiatkowski observed.
"I see waiting [on the arrival of the Truman] as the option that gives Trump more options, to allow better information to come through on the nature of the attack, and the nature of the Russian response to the situation," she said.
The US government is still assessing the intelligence on the alleged chemical attack in Duma and still does not have hard evidence that chemical agents were used, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told members of Congress on Thursday.
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