Monday, April 10, 2017
Trump sent a message to a lot of people- in the US and across the world!
Weekly Opinion Editorial
SYRIA IS A STICKY WICKET!
by Steve Fair
Last week, the US launched a missile attack on Syria after a reported chemical attack on civilians, including children. President Trump announced that 59 tomahawk missiles were launched targeting a Syrian airbase. While the action sent a message to Syria there is a new sheriff in town, the base’s airstrip was back up and running in just days, so infrastructure damage was not significant enough to permanently disrupt. Russia and Iran said they would ‘respond with force’ if the US crossed the ‘red line’ again in Syria.
Trump’s action immediately drew both praise and criticism. Senator Bernie Sanders, (I, VT) said that while Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad must go, it should be done unilaterally. Senator Rand Paul, (R-KY), said that strike wasn’t in the U.S.’s national interest and the president didn’t have the right to order the strikes without approval from Congress. Paul called the action an ‘inappropriate way to start a war.” Senator Ted Cruz, (R-TX), said the strikes were in the nation’s national interests, but that Trump should make a case of further military action before proceeding. Both of Oklahoma’s US Senators, Lankford and Inhofe, issued statements supporting the President’s actions. Syria is a sticky wicket and here is why:
First, President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, Syrians dictator, is brutal. Assad, who inherited the presidency from his father in 2000, is an ophthalmologist who speaks fluent English. He is married to a British citizen, who is of Syrian origin. They met when he was studying medicine in Britain. They have 2 sons and a daughter. Assad appears to be very westernized, but he is far from it. He has killed thousands of his own people since the civil war started in 2011. He is aligned with Iran, North Korea and Russia. Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people.
Second, the civil war in Syria is a proxy battle between Russia and America. The reason the US is involved in this conflict is because the removal of Assad strengthens the US position in the region. When the rebel movement developed in 2011, the US was all too happy to support it with money and weapons. Syria has long been a close Russia ally. It goes back to the cold war. Russia funded and built the modern Syrian army. They have financed Assad’s efforts to defeat the rebels($3-4 million a day). Like a chess match, Syria is a key piece on the board and the US didn’t want to miss the opportunity to move Syria into the western camp.
Third, the Syrian rebels are a diverse group. Some rebels are Sunni Muslims who disagree with Assad’s secular government. They favor a theocracy, not unlike what was in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It is estimated that up to 25% of those rebels are members of Al-Qaeda. Some rebels are more moderate and favor free elections, democracy and would accept religious diversity. But there is no clear cut leader in the rebellion. Many of the various groups hate each other and in order to get them support, the US has to write checks and deal separately with each group. It remains very unclear who would come to power if Assad was ousted and if they would be an ally or an enemy of the U.S. Therein lies the problem- do you ignore the conflict and let Assad kill his enemies and strength his position in the region or do you intervene? It’s hard to discern who the good guys are in this conflict.
Fourth, right or wrong, the U.S. is involved in the conflict. To walk away now would send a signal to Russia and Iran that US foreign policy is no different than it was under Obama. Trump’s action sent the message that he means what he says. There is no doubt Putin will pull the trigger on some retaliatory action against the U.S. He knows if Syria falls into Western hands, Israel is strengthened and Israel is America’s closest ally. Putin won’t like that happen without a fight.
Finally, getting involved in the civil war in Syria was not Trump’s choice. President Obama made that decision in 2014. Up until Trump’s action, the U.S. efforts were largely financial,(US taxpayers have spent $11.5 million dollars a day supporting the rebels) and it appears little difference has been made in the civil war. Assad has consistently beat back the rebels by using chemical weapons and terrorizing his own people because he didn’t fear any nation calling his hand. Trump called his hand. Trump’s action got more than Assad’s attention. It sent the message in the US and around the world that Trump is not singularly focused on the economy.