Missile Strikes Are Not a Syria Strategy
It bears emphasizing that the recent US, British, and French missile strikes were not designed to undermine Bashar al-Assad's regime. Thanks in large part to Russian and Iranian support, Assad is firmly in control and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.
NEW YORK – “A perfectly executed strike…Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished.” So tweeted US President Donald Trump just hours after more than a hundred American, French, and British cruise missiles hit three sites in Syria believed to be associated with chemical weapons production.
The mission that was “accomplished” was to deliver the message that using chemical weapons would not be cost-free for those responsible. Ideally, punitive strikes such as these would deter Syria’s government, or any other, from ever using chemical weapons again in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
But it is far from clear that Trump has achieved that deterrent effect. The somewhat smaller strike undertaken a year ago failed to change Syrian behavior, and the latest attack is no more likely to do so. What Bashar al-Assad’s government achieved with chemical weapons – gaining control of rebel-held areas in Douma and eastern Ghouta – outweighed the price it paid. And it is a near-certainty that the Syrian government continues to possess chemical weapons, and could produce additional supplies without detection.