December 12, 2018
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No ‘mission accomplished’ in Syria

Hassan Ammar | AP
Hassan Ammar | AP
Damascus sky lights up with service to air missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus early Saturday. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons.

Shortly after he announced Friday that the U.S., along with France and Britain, had launched missiles against Syria, in retaliation for its government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians, President Donald Trump triumphantly tweeted: “Mission accomplished.”

This is a non sequitur.

What was the mission? Regime change? Bashar al-Assad is still very much in power and a barrage of missile strikes won’t change that.

An end to the Syrian civil war? Sadly, it is still going strong. Shortly after the airstrikes, Assad’s forces redoubled their attacks on rebel forces and took control of rebel-held territory.

To punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons? If history is a guide, he’ll do so again.

Dying by chemicals weapons is certainly horrific, but dying from conventional weapons is terrible as well. Tracking the death toll is Syria is difficult, but reliable estimates put the number of Syrians killed near 400,000 since the civil war began in March 2011. Nearly 20,000 of them were children.

Ending the civil war in Syria will require a long-term diplomatic strategy and commitment, something Trump seems incapable of. Earlier this month, he was saying the United States needed to end its involvement in Syria. The came the airstrikes, which Trump had announced on Twitter days earlier, giving Syrian and Russian forces time to prepare.

This all leads a cynic to believe Friday’s action was meant to distract the American public’s attention away from a week of bad news for Trump. This is a classic “wag the dog” scenario.

The president says he was prompted to act by the suffering of Syrian children. The lives, and deaths, of children in Syria are unthinkably terrible. Yet, U.S. policies are forcing children and adults to stay in the war-ravaged country.

More than 5 million Syrians have left the country, which has been nearly destroyed by more than seven years of fighting. More than 12,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in the U.S. in 2016. So far, this year, 11 Syrian refugees have been allowed into the country.

Shortly after taking office, Trump initiated a travel ban that temporarily barred all arrivals from Syria. His administration has also slashed the number of refugees allowed into the country.

Certainly not all refugees from unstable, violent countries, can come to the U.S., Canada or Europe. But by refusing to accept refugees, especially from Muslim countries, the U.S. is sending a message that it does not truly care about their plight.

The strikes against Syria also raise serious questions about what should be a president’s limited ability to start new military missions. Trump is not the first president to launch airstrikes or to take military action without congressional authorization. But if there are to be broader operations in Syria, Congress must be involved.

“Congress must take on a larger role in this decision making, as it is incumbent upon our nation’s legislative body to authorize the use of military force,” Sen. Angus King said in a statement Friday night. “As we move forward in the days ahead, I will continue to push for a more comprehensive strategy in Syria – as I did with the Obama Administration – and urge the current administration to work closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and our partners around the world to help resolve this troubling conflict.”

The Syrian civil war is a terrible conflict that must be brought to an end. The weekend airstrikes, however, brought the world no closer to a resolution. No mission was accomplished. To truly do that, the U.S. and its allies must engage in a much more meaningful and consistent way, especially on the diplomatic front.

There must first be a clear strategy before there are any future missions. This will demand focused, sustained attention from the president, something he has so far been unable to deliver.

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