Mattis: "This is a one time shot"
- These weren't the sweeping strikes Trump wanted early on. Clearly Russian warnings were taken seriously
- Every indication the strikes were heavily "deconflicted" with the Russians beforehand
Mattis: “We used a little over double the number of weapons we used last year.”
120 cruise missiles have been fired at three sites and it's over. In other words the sweeping, sustained strikes Trump wanted initially did not happen. President Mattis prevailed and the Russian warning they would fire back if put at risk was taken seriously.
So things took the turn I also thought was the most likely. Trump carried out his promise he would attack Syria but kept his strike limited enough that Russians weren't at risk and the damage to the Syrian war effort will be practically nil.
Also there are indications to believe the strikes were heavily "de-conflicted" with the Russians:
Chief of Staff Dunford says the Russians were not pre-notified of the strikes and target locations, but that likely just means it was handled differently this time. It seems there was no need to inform the Russians because unlike in 2017 the Pentagon limited itself to sites where Russian troops wouldn't be present anyway. Dunford spoke of hitting a "research facility" and a "chemical weapons storage facility". It isn't clear if any military base was hit, it seems not.
The Russian Ministry of Defense claims Russian air defenses were not involved in repelling the attack. If true that is as much as a confirmation that there was some kind of American-Russian understanding in place for the rules of the strike beforehand. Otherwise there is no reason at all for the Russians not to at least use passive counter-measures (electronic interference). Perhaps the Americans assured the Russians no military bases would be hit and they would be coming for only a few sites anyway, but in return asked the Russians not to interfere with their attack. Actually that is the most likely explanation given everything we know so far.
Now that the (former?) reality TV star has saved face, arranged for some funerals and weeping mothers in a far-away land he is utterly ignorant of and deluded about, the Syrians are now free again to bury their dead and go back to the business of putting their nation back together -- until the next western media hysteria over a staged atrocity with good Youtube footage courtesy of UK-funded shysters at Al-Qaeda Productions.