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A “Big Price to Pay” for Syria

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


The Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad has – yet again -- used chemical weapons on its own people. This comes at a time when President Donald Trump is considering a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Sadly, keeping the situation in perspective, two Coalition members – U.S. Master Sgt. Jonathan J. Dunbar and UK soldier Sgt. Matt Tonroe – were killed in Syria last month. In response to the latest gas attacks, on Twitter, Mr. Trump promised there would be a “big price to pay” as a result.

Just how many chances does the “animal” (as Mr. Trump says) Assad have? This is not the first time Mr. Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, nor the second; this sick, demented regime has routinely used horrific gas on its own people as a means to expedite the capture of specific cities; all the while, it typically refuses to let humanitarian workers visit these cities to care for the victims – many of whom are women and children.

The Syrian government must face some serious penalties. The United States should pause any thoughts of a troop withdrawal for the time being. Though an unpopular option, the Assad regime certainly cannot be trusted to govern in a humane fashion. The United States should also consider missile strikes on military targets – even if just symbolic -- in Syria as a tangible and visible penalty. 

While Iran should take a lot of the blame, Russia is the main culprit. Russia is using Iranian proxy forces and private Russian contractors to combat the Islamic State terror group, and the U.S. backed Syrian rebels. Russia has become increasingly complicit in keeping the Syrian regime in power, shielding it from every pertinent United Nations Security Council Resolution.

The United States should look to undermine Iran and Russia. Whereas economic sanctions on both countries are a good idea, the United States has a responsibility to increase its lethal support to Ukraine to counter Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists’ gains. The United States should also increase military assistance to the Saudi-backed government in Yemen to dilute Iranian military support (while influencing the recognized Yemeni government to rein in lethal operations which brutally target civilians).

Holding all these countries accountable is critical to ensure the Syrian regime is deterred from any further gas attacks in the future. Syria is simply a pawn in a much larger and very lethal chess game played by both Iran and Russia. No one should seek a continuation of war, but these countries don’t seem to care too much for peace. These actions would be so fitting; they could just be considered "big" even by Mr. Trump's standards.

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and an Iraq War veteran.


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