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Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Trump’s Incomprehensible Strategy in Syria
Over the course of April 5th through the 7th, the Trump administration achieved one of the strangest turnabouts in modern political history, doing a complete reversal with its policy towards Syria. Not too long ago, Press Secretary Sean Spicer promised that the United States would accept the "political reality" in Syria, meaning that we would not seek to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. And on April 7, the U.S. Navy fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets controlled by the Syrian government, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised to forge an international coalition to remove Syrian president Assad from power. If the Trump administration does not wish to sacrifice its principles any further, it should halt any new involvement in Syria. There are several reasons why Trump's intervention in the region would be a huge mistake.
What supposedly prompted this rapid change in position by the Trump administration was the horrendous murder of civilians by chemical weapons, allegedly perpetrated by the Assad regime. While these actions must of course be condemned, we must not rush to judgment and allow rampant emotionalism to cloud our rational judgment. Some key questions must be asked before we proceed with another policy of failed regime change in the Middle East.
The first question that must be addressed is what will happen to these chemical weapons once we remove Assad from power? Judging from our past interventions in Libya, it does not seem too out of the question that radical Islamic jihadists could get their hands on these weapons; a prospect far worse than their being in the hands of the Assad regime. There is already evidence that ISIS has used chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq, and would not hesitate to use them again. Once the Assad regime is removed from power, can we be sure that these chemical weapons would not fall into the wrong hands? Chemical weapons cannot be disposed of by bombing them out of existence; they need to be dismantled under supervision. Are we going to trust the Syrian rebels, also accused by the UNof using chemical weapons, of disposing of these weapons? There would need to be some monitors in place to make sure these weapons are properly decommissioned or destroyed. There was already a deal in place, orchestrated under former Secretary of State John Kerry, for Syria to have disposed of these odious weapons. The possibility of these horrific weapons falling into unknown hands is perhaps the gravest threat of Trump's intervention in Syria. It seems unlikely that a UN delegation would able to supervise the destruction of the chemical weapons in the middle of a war zone.
A second question that most be considered is who will control Syria once the Assad government falls? From our experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, you would think we would have learned by now that removing these regimes creates power vacuums that invite civil war and terrorism. Already within the opposition there are splinter groups vying for control of the rebellion, with some factions having links to terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. Does the administration think that the removal of Assad is worth the risk of Syria falling into the hands of terrorists? This president campaigned on obliterating ISIS, yet his very actions in Syria stand to potentially strengthen Islamic terrorist groups in the region. We have seen how radical Islamic groups have filled the voids left behind by American military intervention in these nations. We cannot be certain which group, or if any group, will emerge from the ashes of the civil war to lead a united Syria, if a united Syria is even possible.
Thirdly, we must look at how our intervention will affect our relationship with other international actors, such as Russia. We have a real chance for a rapprochement with the Russian Federation, and the civil war in Syria should not stand between this easing of tensions. Assad is a Russian ally and Russia would not tolerate the fall of the Assad government. Within twenty-four hours of the start of U.S. operations in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin had already described the American military action as a "significant blow" to U.S.-Russia relations and Russian warships then moved into the vicinity of the U.S. Naval vessels that launched the attack on the Syrian government. Is the destruction of the Assad government worth the price of escalating hostilities between the United States and Russia? It seems totally incomprehensible to me why we should provoke the Russian Federation when we have a real chance of repairing relations with that nation. I hope that in these wider diplomatic crises that cooler heads will prevail, but I do not understand why we need provoke the Russians in the first place.
And finally, with the escalation of right-wing populism across Europe and an increasing hostility to Muslim immigration at home, does the administration want to take actions that will only exacerbate the refugee crisis? Removing Assad will only make the civil war much worse and will only lead to more civilians seeking to leave Syria. Assimilating Syrians into European life is already difficult enough, and removing Assad will only open the floodgates for more refugees to enter Europe and other Western nations. Western nations play the humanitarian intervention card selectively. While Assad gasses his people, the United States has directly aided the Saudi government in its brutal war in Yemen, yet that conflict hardly receives the same amount of media attention as the civil war in Syria. Whenever the premier of China, itself a brutal totalitarian regime, comes for a state visit we do not chastise him with the same fervor as we do Assad.
This article is not to be read as an apology for the Assad government's actions; any civilized person must now recognize that decisions made by his government before and during the Syrian civil war are barbaric. He will go down as one of the 21th century's most brutal dictators. Yet this does not mean that the United States has to imprudently rush into the conflict; reflexively acting without thinking about the consequences of its actions.