Airstrikes message to many

Syria was not the only, or even the most important, target in Friday’s attack on chemical weapons facilities in that country. The focus was on deterring use of such fearsome armaments by any nation.

Bashar Assad, Syria’s murderous dictator, has used chemical agents on his own people in the past. He has employed chlorine gas and nerve agents as terror weapons in his attempt to stamp out rebellions against his regime. Now, emboldened by Russian and Iranian support, including military presence, Assad has decided he can resume use of such armaments.

It is natural that many Americans would be skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community’s confirmation that Assad used chemical weapons in an attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians, including children, several days ago. But that assault has been confirmed by others, including the French government.

It happened.

Assad has slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people in attacks using conventional weapons, including bombs and rockets. What makes the chemical attack more objectionable?

Simply this: Chemical agents can be used as weapons of mass destruction. Many of the substances used cause terrible suffering among victims.

For decades, including during World War II, major powers foreswore use of chemical agents. Some did so not out of ethical concerns, but solely because they feared retaliation in kind.

Assad has chosen to break that informal truce. His decision could prompt others to do the same.

It was critical, then, that powers such as those involved in Friday’s attack — the United States, England and France — send a message of deterrence to Assad and others. That, not just punishing Assad, was the purpose of the assault.

Without expanding U.S. involvement in Syria, President Donald Trump had no option but to mount the mission of deterrence.

Let us hope it has the desired effect.