On Saturday 7th April, in the Syrian City of Douma, a key stronghold for rebels with opposition to the regime of Syrian Dictator Bashar Assad, activists from the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) reported that the Syrian Air Force had deployed the use of chemical weapons on two occasions, once at 16.00 and another at 19.30. These attacks are believed to have left 40 people killed and over 500 injured according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) Douma: What we know . This is not the first time the Assad Regime has used chemical weapons. In February, the Assad regime was believed to have used chlorine gas in Idlib Province, near Saraqib. Most notably, in August 2013, the Assad regime is believed to have deployed sarin gas on rebel forces on Ghouta, near Damascus, with the death toll widely believed to have exceeded 700.
This incident, alongside Russia, a staunch ally of the Assad regime, opting to veto a UN inquiry into the use of chemical weapons in Syria and President Trump’s recent tweet warning that Assad and the Russian President Vladimir Putin that a “Big Price” will be paid, has led to wide expectation that Trump, alongside the U.K. and France, will react with Military Force. However, in my opinion, when taking into account the various political, situational and economic factors, Trump will carry out a prolonged missile strike on Syrian and Iranian Military Assets, similar to the 1998 bombing of Iraq.
To begin with, a missile strike on Syria will serve to distinguish the foreign policy of the Trump Administration from that of the Obama Administration. This is because, in his Sunday 8th April , Trump listed Barack Obama as a figure of blame for this incident, stating that “If President Obama had crossed his stated red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended a long time ago” Trump blames Putin, Obama for Assad. This is shown by Obama’s inactive foreign policy towards the Assad regime, with President Obama setting out a red line and threatening action against Assad. However, when Assad used chemical weapons in August 2013, Obama was widely seen as having failed to back up his threats of action against Assad, thus emboldening him. Therefore, missile strikes against Assad will serve to highlight to both the American people and indeed to Russia and Syria that the Trump administration will deliver on it’s promises, having warned of a “Big Price” to pay, as well as, in his most recent tweet today, his description of US missiles as “Nice and new and smart”, a comment aimed towards Putin.
Furthermore, a missile strike against Syrian assets, such as areas suspect of harbouring chemical weapons, will serve as a firm signal to both Assad and Putin that the United States and the UN will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons or Russia’s aggressive foreign policy. This in regards to both the Crimea and in regards to the Salisbury incident on the 4th March, in which the Kremlin is almost certainly responsible. Therefore, joint American, British and French missile strikes will serve to damage Russia’s main ally in the Middle East, as well as indicate to Putin that it is necessary for him to control Assad. In addition to this, a missile strike on key Syrian assets will also serve to undermine another key ally of Syria: Iran. This is because Iran is widely viewed as a rogue state of the Middle East, backing the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, alongside continuous support for the Assad regime. This comes despite the Iran nuclear deal, a deal that President Trump has described as “Disastrously flawed” Trump on Nuclear Deal. Therefore, a missile strike will both result in significant damage to a key ally, as well as make it more difficult for Iran to provide support to terrorist groups in the region.
However, I believe that President Trump will stop short of sending ground forces into Syria to topple the Assad regime. This is due to the fact that both the American people and the Western world has become significantly more cautious and hesitant regarding military action in the Middle East following the Iraq War, fearing that mistakes made then will be repeated in Syria. And the process of rebuilding the country after a possible removal of Assad will take time and require significantly more capital. This is something that many Western governments will find difficult to consider, both due to the divisiveness this will cause, alongside the rising national debt levels across Europe and the United States, with the national debt in the United States currently standing at 105% of GDP US: Debt to GDP. Therefore, it is likely that many Western nations will not aid the United States. However, as a joint missile strike will be much less costly and divisive, especially when taking into account the possibility that this will not need parliamentary approval. Is parliamentary approval required ?
Moreover, a ground invasion by the Trump administration could also be damaging among Trump’s swing voters. This refers to voters in the swing states of Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, who viewed Trump as an anti-establishment figure and an atypical Republican compared to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who is seen as being a career politician. Therefore, a ground invasion would be seen as a throw back to the Bush-era, being compared by many to the Iraq War and being largely viewed as establishment behaviour. This would cost him voters in these states, who typically back Democratic candidates, with Michigan being a democratic state since 1988 Electoral Map 1988. Despite this, many of these swing states backed Trump due to his promise to return jobs in the steel industry and in the automotive sector to the United States, but his anti-establishment persona served as a leading attraction to Trump.