After seemingly impulsively authorizing an airstrike on the Syrian airfield which facilitated a chemical weapons attack, President Donald Trump left lawmakers and citizens with a lot of questions.
On April 6, Trump reacted in the wake of heartbreaking photos depicting the aftermath of the chemical strike, which American intelligence and human rights groups believe was ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, by launching 59 Tomahawk missiles on the base. But other than this hasty response, Trump has not revealed his strategy moving forward. Given that the president has radically shifted his policy toward Syria from nonintervention to airstrike almost overnight, it's plausible that Trump has no overarching plan in the war-torn region.
During his campaign, Trump was adamant about not intervening in Syria. It's important to note that citizens of that country have faced multiple human rights atrocities which have caused thousands of civilian deaths for many years before April 2017's chemical gas attack. Even before he was campaigning, Trump had strong opinions about the United States military's potential involvement in the civil war - he tweeted about it regularly, but here just a few explicit posts:
Don't attack Syria - an attack that will bring nothing but trouble for the U.S. Focus on making our country strong and great again!
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2013
AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA - IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013
If Obama attacks Syria and innocent civilians are hurt and killed, he and the U.S. will look very bad!
- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2013
Here's what we do know about America's future involvement in Syria as it relates to the Assad regime (the military has been conducting support missions against ISIS in the region since 2011). On April 9, while appearing on ABC News, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson maintained that the United States' priority in Syria was fighting ISIS, and he was ambiguous about Assad's future.
"We are hopeful that we can work with Russia and use their influence to achieve areas of stabilization throughout Syria and create the conditions for a political process through Geneva in which we can engage all of the parties on the way forward," Tillerson said of Assad's fate. "It is through that political process that we believe the Syrian people will lawfully be able to decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad."
However, Nikki Haley, the newly sworn-in United Nations Ambassador, was more explicit with her opinion. Addressing Assad on CNN's The Lead, Haley said, "Getting Assad out is not the only priority. So what we're trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out."
"If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad," Haley added.
While the airstrike has been described as "targeted" and "limited," Trump has offered no indication of how the military will proceed, other than to say it will intervene "as necessary and appropriate." Trump is technically permitted by law to attack a sovereign nation under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, but he must provide convincing evidence to Congress within 60 days for him to continue military action in Syria.
We might not have a clear picture of America's strategy in Syria presently, but Trump will be forced to relay one soon. However, as many pundits and military experts have assessed, having no strategy is not exactly ideal. Retired General John Allen, who led former President Barack Obama's anti-ISIS efforts, cautioned Trump's policy in an interview with Vox. "Using military force without a broader strategy is a pretty empty gesture," Allen said. "It's actually quite dangerous."