Did Trump choose right?

Apr 27th, 2017 | By | Category: 2016-2017, News

Country torn by response to Syrian chemical weapons

By Jessica Weiss
Staff Writer

On the evening of Thursday April 5, Americans received a shocking news update that redefined American foreign policy on a major global issue. Donald Trump ordered the launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles (59 to be exact) on a Syrian government airfield. This was in response to substantiated reports of a chemical weapon attack in the Syrian province of Idlib, where traces of sarin were found. The death toll was 86, including 26 children, and images of parents holding their lifeless children circulated the internet, sparking another round of international criticism in the six-year conflict that leaves around 450,000 dead and counting.

The Syrian government has denied the use of chemical weapons, however Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed that the United States has “a very high level of confidence” that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley stated that the United States “took a very measured step” but “we are prepared to do more,” in the case that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad were to use chemical weapons again. She also claimed that both Iran and Russia had “heavy responsibility” for the attack, either by being complicit or “incompetent” in their oversight of their ally.

Russia responded with a statement by the Kremlin saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin regards the strike as “an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.” On Friday, the country said it was suspending a communications channel used for minimizing risks of in-flight accidents between the U.S. and Russian aircraft.

In Syria, tones were equally as conflicted. President Bashar al-Assad’s office claimed the strike was “foolish and irresponsible,” promising to ramp up efforts against rebels. Rebels welcomed the strike and called for more, with a member of the Army of Islam faction of the rebels tweeting “Hitting one airbase is not enough, there are 26 airbases that target civilians.”

In the United States however, an outpour of critical opinions and support characterize the torn American public on the issue. While the missile strike represented the moral outrage of the violence committed by the Syrian government and the inability of the United States to stand by and watch, many expressed concern with the lack of congressional approval on the strike. The attack also dealt a blow to the Obama administration, as U.S. action against chemical weapon use in Syria is not a new concept. Before leaving office, President Barack Obama confessed that Syria was his biggest regret, with many in the American public criticizing him for his inaction leading to a power vacuum, which was eventually filled by the Islamic State when there was a potential for a unified “moderate” opposition.

The White House coined the now infamous term “red line” over the use of chemical weapons in Syria in August 2012, claiming that if the Syrian President were to cross it, severe action would follow. When reports showed chemical weapon use by Assad in March of 2013 near the city of Aleppo, Obama claimed it was a “game changer,” however no action followed.

Now that military action by the United States has been used directly against the Assad government, the future of American foreign policy in Syria has been reshuffled. With the U.S. showing its willingness to act and continue acting, the dynamics of the conflict become less and less certain. All stakeholders, from the Syrian government, to Russia, to the rebel groups, must reevaluate their strategies to reckon with an invigorated United States.

 

jweiss@willamette.edu

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