U.S. response to Syrian chemical attacks could be disastrous

JOSEPH CANNING | canni001@rangers.uwp.edu

A probable chemical attack was carried out in Syria by President Assad’s forces last Saturday, April 7, in the city of Douma. That city has seen much violence since the beginning of Syria’s still-ongoing civil war in 2011, but the apparent chemical attack has brought unprecedented brutality to Douma. Chemical weapons are banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention; Syria is ostensibly part of that convention, yet it continues to use chemical weapons.

The President talks back

The Syrian government’s actions have garnered international condemnation. U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to voice his ire, claiming “President Putin, Russia, and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad” and also threatening that they would have a “big price to pay.” He has suggested that price may be more cruise missile attacks.


Last year, following a similar chemical attack in Syria, Trump ordered a series of cruise missile strikes against Assad’s forces but did so without warning; however, Trump seems more hesitant to retaliate this time around. Three days after denouncing Assad and his allies, Trump wrote, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” on Twitter. “Not so soon at all” seems to suggest that a response may never occur.

The implications of action

Taking no military action at all for the attack is certainly the best option. There is no reason to believe another volley of cruise missiles will persuade Assad any more than the last time the U.S. did it, and there is reason to believe that a stronger response—whatever that may entail—could put US forces in direct combat against Russian and Iranian troops. Further deterioration of relations with either state could mean disaster for the U.S. and the world.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke on April 12 in the Pentagon, attempting to temper Trump’s words and calling for more deliberation on how and why the U.S. should respond. About the U.S.’s strategy in Syria, he stated that the they were trying to “stop the murder of innocent people, but on a strategic level it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control.” Mattis is referring to the tensions between the U.S. and Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia.

An uncertain future

Mattis has had a long military career and was a major general in the Iraq War, so his advice is informed by much experience. The world is in a dangerous order. Trump even wrote on Twitter, “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.” Trump is trying to say the right thing, but his knowledge of recent history is clearly lacking—the two nations’ discourse has grown increasingly accusatory, but they are hardly aiming ICBMs at each other.

As US military officials are attempting to reverse (or at least delay) Trump’s military response, it is becoming less clear what that response may look like or if it may arrive at all. The UK and France too are weighing military action. One can only hope the West’s leaders tread lightly in Syria.


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