Ask The Experts

Experts disagree over implications of recent U.S. airstrike in Syria

Lucy Naland | Presentation Director

Some experts at Syracuse University have differing stances on how the airstrike will impact U.S. relations in the coming weeks.

Experts are at odds over the effectiveness and repercussions of a recent United States airstrike in the war-torn nation of Syria that was ordered by President Donald Trump.

Trump ordered the strike in response to a chemical attack that occurred in northern Syria in early April.

The strike has affected the United States’ relations with regional powers in the Middle East such as Iran, and has escalated tensions with Russia. Some experts at Syracuse University have differing stances on how the strike will impact U.S. relations in the coming weeks, as the six-year conflict in Syria continues to drag on.

The use of chemical weapons is banned under international humanitarian law because once the weapons are released on the battlefield, there is the possibility civilians can indiscriminately be killed along with targeted combatants.

Some see the airstrike Trump ordered as a step in the right direction because it is retaliating against chemical attacks, said Corri Zoli, an assistant professor of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Since World War I, international law has condemned the use of gas in warfare, Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science from the Maxwell School, said in an email.

“In 1919, the Versailles Treaty forbade the use of poison gas; in 1925 the League of Nations approved the Geneva Protocol which bans the use of chemical and biological weapons,” Elman said.

This is the U.S.’s first direct military strike against the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime. Experts agree that the lack of direct military action until now might be due to decisions made by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Zoli said the previous administration had a foreign policy aim of retreating from the Middle East. Even though atrocities were also being committed during that time, Obama had preferred to not intervene against a sovereign state in the region, she said.

Even though Obama had previously said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would lead to serious consequences for the regime, no meaningful actions were taken against the regime, Elman said.

Elman said this lack of enforcement from the Obama administration was seen as a sign of weakness around the world. It also contributed to the erosion of international laws and norms because people stopped believing that members of the international community would put restraints on chemical warfare, Zoli added.

Zoli said rather than more direct military attacks in the future, she expects to see more work done behind the scenes to get local governments in the nation to help put the “Syrian pieces back together.” She added that the possibility of resettlement for Syrian civilians driven from their homes might more of a priority in the future.

On the other hand, Elman said in response to other “crimes against humanity” in Syria and the violation of international laws, she does expect to see more military strikes against the Assad regime.

“Indeed, Defense Secretary (James) Mattis has already publicly intimated that further chemical weapons use by the Assad regime would trigger yet another U.S. military response,” she said.

Experts also disagree over the impacts the U.S. air strike will have on the relations with nations that have investments in Syria, such as Iran and Russia.

Zoli said it seems as if the U.S. wants to “put boundaries around Iran’s mobility in the (Middle East),” because Iran is trying to create their own hegemonic force within the region. While this could upset Iran, she said, it will be in the interest of U.S. allies in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

She added that Russia is pushing the boundaries of its involvement in the Middle East, in an effort to replace U.S. security hegemony in the region, and that the airstrike serves as a reminder for other countries that are intervening in the region that there is a new attitude regarding American involvement in the Syrian conflict.

However, Elman said that even though the airstrike shows that the Trump administration will not hesitate to use military force in retaliation for human rights violations, the airstrike itself doesn’t show a significant change in U.S. policy in regards to Syria. The airstrike, Elman said, was meant to primarily “punish Assad for his latest war crime.”

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