The U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria, following an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government on its own people, means more war in a country that has seen nothing but for the last seven years. The strikes violate both the United Nations Charter and the U.S. Constitution, and they are a show of force that will accomplish nothing. Flouting legal norms under the guise of humanitarian concern, they are a worrisome indication that the United States could grow more involved in a conflict that has created millions of refugees, with far-reaching consequences, and has cost the lives of an estimated half a million Syrians.
Far from helpfully addressing the purported use of chemical weapons, the strikes by the United States, France and the United Kingdom complicate the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. A team of experts from the OPCW was on its way to Syria to ascertain whether a chemical attack had taken place, and if so what chemicals were used, when the missiles were launched. Questions about the timing of the strikes can be added to concerns about their legitimacy, purpose and efficacy.
The strikes violate both the United Nations Charter and the U.S. Constitution, and they are a show of force that will accomplish nothing.
Syria today is one of the most dangerous spots on the planet, a place where the world’s two largest nuclear powers are contending for power and influence along with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel. Just a few days before the alleged chemical weapons attack on April 7 on rebel-controlled Douma, a suburb of Damascus, President Donald Trump said U.S. troops in Syria would be coming home “very soon.” (Some 2,000 U.S. soldiers are in Syria fighting ISIS.) The response to Trump’s March 29 statement was an outcry by pundits, politicians, generals, and other members of the defense and foreign policy establishment. After a disastrous failed war in Iraq, another failing war that continues in Afghanistan and a ruinous military intervention in Libya, the appetite for military intervention seems unchecked among many of those most responsible for the United States’ 21st-century wars.
The Assad regime has largely won the Syrian civil war thanks to assistance from its allies Russia and Iran. Having backed the Syrian rebels and lost, the United States seems loath to give up the game and inclined instead to obstruct efforts by the Syrian government and its allies at stabilization and reconstruction. This in order to play the part of the spoiler, depriving Iran and Russia of influence in Syria.
The United States seems inclined to obstruct efforts by the Syrian government and its allies at stabilization and reconstruction.
Spite is not a noble emotion, nor is it a strategy or a solution. The United States has no vital interests in Syria. Its arming of the Syrian rebels stemmed from a desire to see the overthrow of the Assad regime—a desire that goes back long before protests began in 2011. WikiLeaks cables, statements by the French foreign minister Roland Dumas, and reporting by The New York Times and other publications have documented that the United States and Britain were involved in efforts to sow sectarian tensions and undermine the Syrian regime several years before the Arab Spring arrived in Syria. Indeed, the United States’ long history of wanting to determine Syria’s government goes back generations. The first CIA-organized coup in Syria is alleged to have taken place in 1949; another certainly did in 1956-57.
With hundreds of rebel groups on the ground, it was always uncertain what would happen if the Syrian rebels succeeded in defeating the government. Like people in any nation, they deserved the effort to try. But as time has gone on, Syrians have become pawns in other countries’ wars, many of these countries willing to fight to the last Syrian.
The United States, which has had Syria in its sight lines for its resistance to U.S-Israeli hegemony, has behaved no better than other nations. U.S. participation in the civil war, funding rebel groups, some of them little different from Al Qaeda, has been irresponsible and frivolous. Its continued insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be removed from power has doomed efforts at a negotiated solution and drawn out the course of a long and bloody war.
The president is right in not wanting a permanent role for the United States in Syria. We are not going to rebuild that country, and it is best to leave it to those who will—the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies. ISIS grew in the vacuum created when the Syrian government withdrew from eastern Syria to fight rebel forces. Rather than creating obstacles to reconstruction that will feed instability and terrorism and perpetuate the flow of refugees, we should act on the knowledge that a stable, prosperous Syria is in our own best interests as well as those of the Syrian people.