By: Ilana Friedman
The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 with pro-democracy demonstrations against the harsh regime of President Bashar al-Assad. In August 2011, then-President Obama called for Assad to step down and also enforced new sanctions on the Syrian government. Allies of the United States — France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — then joined with Obama in asking Assad to resign. Now, seven years later, the existence of conflict has prompted more international actors to get involved which ultimately results in a longer conflict.
On April 8th, 2018, dozens of Syrians asphyxiated on a chemical gas released in Douma, a suburb of Beirut, a city which is primarily populated by rebels. In addition to those who died from the chemical gas, around 500 more showed symptoms that were indicative of a chemical attack, including burning eyes and breathing issues. Still, Syria and its allies, Russia and Iran, denied the alleged chemical attacks and continue to accuse the rebels of fabricating such allegations.
President Trump’s remarks about forcefully responding to the chemical attack came as a surprise to many United States officials, despite the fact that he took similar actions last year. The week of April 7th, 2017, a chemical attack was ordered by the Assad regime and President Trump responded by sending missiles to a Syrian airfield. After the 2017 missile strike began, Russia called a meeting of the United Nations Security Council and demanded to get answers from President Trump regarding the reason for the missile strike.
If what happened last year is any indication as to what could happen again, different actions should have been taken rather than President Trump calling for another missile strike on Syria. The way President Trump went about declaring a missile attack was not the proper way of doing so. According to our Constitution, the President does have the power to direct the military as Commander in Chief but only Congress has the power to declare war. Likewise, the War Powers Act requires the President to discuss sending troops to combat with Congress at least 48 hours prior to deployment. In order for the President to call for an airstrike, it ultimately should be discussed and approved by Congress. If Trump wishes to send troops to Syria, he would need to have a good case for war, and then Congress would need to debate and vote on it. In the past, President Trump has stated he wishes to pull troops out of Syria, but since the recent chemical attack, he wishes to fight fire with fire by sending in missiles. Based on previous actions President Trump has taken, it can be inferred that he acted too quickly and with very little support.
Countries involved in Syria — particularly the United States, Russia, and Syria — need to come to a solution in a peaceful way. President Trump calling a missile strike sets diplomacy one step back, especially because it worsens the relationship between the United States and Russia. US-Russia relations are particularly important to find a diplomatic solution because they are two of the largest powers in the world. Both are also on the United Nations Security Council, which has a lot of power when it comes to foreign affairs. When Russia and the US cannot agree on a solution, it causes a greater issue between powers in the Security Council.
The first step that needs to be taken is to ensure there are no more chemical attacks. The United States should reach out to its allies and ask them to band together against the use of chemical weapons. Then, a United Nations Security Council meeting should be called to discuss potential peace plans or solutions. If nonviolent actions are going to be taken, they need to be taken quickly to ensure the safety of Syrian civilians.