On Thursday night, President Trump ordered the military to launch 59 missiles into Syria. The U.S. missiles targeted a Syrian airbase. According to U.S. intelligence, the airbase was used to launch a recent chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against his own civilians.
Until now, the United States' strategy had been to avoid a significant military response against the Assad regime. However, the military was already using air strikes to combat ISIS—but not Assad—in Syria, as the group attempts to gain territory and influence there.
President Trump positioned the airstrike as a means to control chemical weapons: "I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread of chemical weapons."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supports Assad with Russian troops and arms, responded harshly against the missile strike, calling it "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law."
Why is it important?
The Syrian war is a both a civil war between a minority regime and a majority of its citizens, and a proxy for an international power struggle.
The stakes are high in Syria for the United States for 3 reasons:
- Iran v. Saudi Arabia. Syria is a part of a global power struggle for economic influence and a dispute between two sects of Islam with tensions dating back to 632 A.D.—Shiites in Iran and Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states. The Shiite Iranian government supports Assad while the Sunni Gulf states back the Syrian rebels.
- U.S. v. Russia. Syria is a proxy for the United States and Russia's fight for economic and military influence. Russia has supported the Syrian government since the Cold War and now supports Assad with thousands of troops, billions of dollars worth of arms, Russian air strikes, and influence in the United Nations.
- Terrorism. Syria is destination for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and, more recently, ISIS. The civil war provides the turmoil necessary for these groups to grow, recruit, and gain territory. As a result, it is a flashpoint for American efforts to combat certain types of terrorism worldwide.
Should the U.S. have attacked Syria?
This airstrike was a poorly thought out half-measure that ignored the extremely high stakes in Syria. To name a few: military conflict with Russia, fanning terrorism, economic oil interests, and nuclear arms treaties with Iran. This strike was not a part of any strategic foreign policy and was unthinkably dangerous.
The risk that this airstrike pulls us into armed conflict in the Middle East is far too high. Bernie Sanders, who has been extremely clear about his view that Assad is a war criminal, understands that we should all be "deeply concerned the strike in Syria could lead the U.S. back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement in the Middle East."
President Trump himself very strongly opposed all intervention in Syria for years: In 2013, he tweeted (in all capitals), "AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA - IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!"
Syria's civil war is not the place for Trump's impulsive actions. Whether or not you believe the United States should escalate its involvement in the Syrian conflict, this emotional decision is not the strategy we need.
It is in the interest of the United States and anyone who defends human rights that we intervene in Syria. These airstrikes were not only justified, they were necessary and good.
This isn't a Democrat or Republican issue. Leaders in both parties agree. In the Senate, 79 Senators support the airstrike, 15 have reservations, and only 6 oppose it. Just hours before launch, Hillary Clinton called for airstrikes exactly like this one: "I really believe we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them."
President Obama's decision not to intervene against Assad in Syria was a mistake. A particularly relevant low point: President Obama declared that chemical weapons was a "red line" and if the Assad regime used them, the United States would use force to compel it to stop. Then, in 2013, Assad's forces killed more than 1,000 people in an area called Ghouta. President Obama backed down, using Congress' disapproval of military action and Russian deal-making as reasons not to engage. Now, with Assad continuing to use chemical weapons against his own people, we are dealing with the consequences of that mistake. We have to intervene.
- President Trump's authorization of missile strikes against Syria:
- "Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."
- Questions caused by President Trump's actions in Syria:
- "Is this a one-off or is there more to come and what would that mean? Was this legal? Does this action by Trump change the prospects for peace?"
- Vox's video explainer on the war in Syria—who is fighting who, and why:
- "After four-plus years of fighting, Syria's war has killed at least 250,000 people and displaced 12 million people. And, though it started as a civil war, it's become much more than that. It's a proxy war that has divided much of the Middle East, and has drawn in both Russia and the United States. To understand how Syria got to this place, it helps to start at the beginning and watch it unfold."
- Hillary Clinton's comments on airstrikes in Syria:
- "Assad had an air force and that air force is the cause of most of the civilian deaths as we’ve seen over the years and as we saw again in the last few days. I really believe we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them."