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On the fourth of April, the Assad regime attacked civilian targets in Syria. A doctor in a hospital near the attack told CNN, “Today around 7:30 a.m., about 125 … arrived to our hospital. Twenty-five of them were already dead, 70% to 80% of the wounded people were kids and women.” He went on to describe symptoms indicative of a sarin gas attack. More than eighty-six people died in the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a small town in Syria. The main hospital in Khan Sheikhoun was bombed as well. Neither of the attacks seemed to have any counter-terrorism purpose. In response, Trump fired fifty-nine missiles at the air base responsible for much of Assad’s bombing in Syria.
In 2013, a similar attack by Assad happened with very different results. Over a thousand people were killed in a sarin attack by the Assad regime in 2013. The attack was investigated by the United Nations and was a human rights scandal even though Assad had attacked his citizens with chemical agents before in much smaller attacks. In Syria’s six-year civil war, Assad’s regime has been accused of torture, sieging cities and starving innocent citizens, chemical warfare and other war crimes. Assad’s government is in a fight against rebel groups that include ISIS but is also an oppressive regime that has repeatedly targeted civilians instead of rebel groups and terrorists. Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, even conceded that Assad’s regime used chemical warfare. America’s previous policy did include removing Assad from office, but Trump’s air strike was the first American attack on the Assad regime.
Because it is backed by Russia and stands between ISIS and complete control of Syria, attacking the Assad regime could lead to a disastrous international fallout. This is why Assad has been able to use chemical warfare on civilians without fear of being attacked by a superpower. By attacking Assad, Trump attacked an ally in the fight against ISIS. America has supported rebel troops trying to overthrow Assad while Russia has supported Assad claiming that ISIS will take over Syria without his leadership. Opponents of Russia’s viewpoint claim ISIS has taken over much of Syria because the Assad regime was not stable enough to fight back well. If America continues to attack and possibly overthrow Assad, it would be up to the rest of the world to create a stable government fast enough to stop ISIS from taking over. It is also worth noting that citizens may be less likely to join ISIS or Al-Qaeda if they feel the West is doing something to stop the bombing and terror that comes with daily life in Syria.
Russia has already responded to the attack on its ally in a joint statement with Iran that says, “What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well.” This means if America attacks the Assad Regime again it might start a war with Russia and Iran. Once again the world may be teetering on the edge of a world war. But at the same time, how can America and the rest of the free world continue to allow a brutal and repressive government to abuse its people?
Trump added more frightening dimensions to the story by not getting congress’s approval before issuing the air strikes. This could be illegal and shows he is willing to attack countries without going through the necessary diplomatic steps. When Obama considered bombing Assad in 2013, he got congress’s approval, yet Trump neglected to go through the fundamental procedure. Trump has been criticized for his flippant statement on nuclear weapons while on the campaign trail; he even asked why we were making nukes if we weren’t going to use them, demonstrated minimal to no knowledge of the nuclear triad, and refused to promise not to nuke Europe. He also said we had to be unpredictable with nuclear power and said he was okay with countries such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia getting nuclear power. In some cases, he even encouraged it. He has also been criticized for suggesting that America should torture the families of terrorists and commit other war crimes. Because of these statements, it is especially worrying to see him bomb Assad without going through congress, in a move that can be seen as having little foresight. Next time, he may decide to drop a bomb on a city instead of an air base. Also, the decision has been criticized because it makes little sense strategically in that it did little more than anger Assad. Planes started taking off from the airbase America bombed less than 24 hours after it was bombed. Comedian John Oliver had made a joke, saying, “Delta passengers experience more significant delays on a daily basis.”
Thomas Friedman had said, speaking of the Syrian crisis, “If there were a good, easy solution it would have been found already.” The decision to fight Assad or let him do as he pleases without fear of retaliation is foreign policy at its most treacherous. Both choices have a very real human cost and a million repercussions, but to some extent, they also come down to how much Americans care about Syrians being slaughtered and living in terror. Enough to risk the lives of Americans? Enough to let them into our country? Enough to send money and aid?
As for the air strikes, many human rights advocates are just thankful a foreign power is finally standing up for the civilians of Syria. These people are being attacked by ISIS, other rebel groups and their own government in a brutal civil war. They face a perilous and often deadly journey to a refugee camp if they decide to leave. Whether you agree with Trump’s retaliation or not, keep the people of battle torn Syria in your thoughts.