We have now seen that President Donald Trump means business.
On April 6th, the United States launched a missile strike that demolished a Syrian airfield. The attacks were carried out in response to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons in an attack that killed about eighty civilians. The U.S. attack targeted the airfield from which Assad’s forces deployed the banned chemical weapons against civilians in a northern area held by rebels. ABC News reported:
The U.S. strikes hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where U.S. officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off. The U.S. missiles hit at 8:45 p.m. in Washington, 3:45 a.m. Friday morning in Syria. The missiles targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.
The attacks were launched by two warships deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. The ships had been training for this operation over the last two days. President Trump addressed the nation shortly after the attacks were carried out. In his address, he explained the reason for the strike. He said: “It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
He also addressed previous failed attempts to prevent Assad’s forces from using chemical weapons:
There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize threatening the United States and its allies.
The president also called on all “civilized nations” to partner with the United States in ending the “slaughter and bloodshed” in Syria as well as terrorism of all types.
This attack marks a reversal in President Trump’s previously stated desire to stay out of the Syrian conflict. It was when he saw the images of innocent children and civilians who had been brutally massacred by the Syrian regime that President Trump decided to take action.
The obvious question is: What happens now? The strike on Syria could have several repercussions. One concern is the impact on the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. NBC News has reported that the U.S. warned Russia of the impending attack: “A U.S. official said the Russians had been warned before the U.S. launched at least 59 Tomahawk missiles aimed at Syria, NBC News reported.”
Before the attack, Russian envoy Vladimir Safronkov warned the U.S. against taking military action against the Assad regime. He stated:
“We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise”
It is unclear how Russia will respond, but it is possible that the strike could put a strain on the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. However, It is also possible that the United States could alleviate any negative impact on Russian/American relations by stressing the fact that the strike only targeted one airfield. The attack was designed only as a punishment for Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The Washington Post notes;
Trump could mitigate some of those risks by assuring the Russians that the strikes are designed solely to punish Assad for using chemical weapons and not to tip the balance in the broader civil war. It is also possible that the strikes could give the United States added leverage to broker a compromise with the Russians that would end the civil war, some analysts said.
There are also concerns that this strike could drag us further into the Syrian civil war. However, this is not necessarily the case. The strike was a direct response to the atrocity the Assad regime committed against civilians; It was not designed to expand the role of the U.S. in the civil war nor does it obligate the U.S. to increase its military involvement in the region. Previously, the Trump administration has intimated that they are not interested in ousting Bashar Al-Assad. These statements were made before the chemical weapons attack, but there is currently no indication that the administration has changed its position on the Syrian president.
Under the Obama administration, the United States adopted a fatally flawed policy which espoused wishy-washy red lines and broken promises. This approach enabled Russia to take the lead in addressing the situation in Syria. Under President Trump, the United States has shown that it is unwilling to tolerate the Assad regime’s abuse of Syrian civilians. For years, it has been apparent that Assad had no intention of bowing to international pressure to cease the use of chemical weapons. If he will not listen to words, perhaps he will listen to force.