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Foreign Policy Brief #38

April 21st, 2018


Just before dawn on April 14th, The United States, United Kingdom, and France launched a joint missile attack against two Syrian chemical weapon storage facilities and one research center. The strike was described by the western governments as a retaliation for a chemical attack against a rebel held Damascus suburb, Douma, on April 7th. The White House and its allies have identified the Syrian government and its sponsor, Russia, as culpable for the chemical attack, which reportedly has killed 70 people. Both Russia and Syria have denied responsibility, with Russian state media claiming that the attack itself was staged by pro-opposition actors. US officials were apparently not completely certain of the culprit and thus launched a more restrained attack than what was available to them. After being delayed by Russian military police, a team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons finally reached Douma and are awaiting results on evidence divulged from the site.

This series of events comes almost exactly a year after a nearly identical exchange, although this time the US fired over twice as many missiles and are leaving the door open for further actions. At this time the Pentagon has stated that they are not aware of any civilian casualties and the Syrian government has stated that three civilians were injured. The Pentagon also stated that the attack was a complete success, with every missile hitting its target, while Russia and Syria have contested that the majority of missiles were intercepted. The attack, which President Putin called “an act of aggression” was not certified by Congress as the Constitution requires. General Mattis reportedly attempted to push for congressional approval prior to striking, but was turned down by Trump who hoped to back up his previously tweeted threats.


The joint strike was not described by the aggressors as an attempt to influence the civil war which has raged for seven brutal years, but rather to draw a red line with regards to the use of chemical weapons. Multiple Israeli officials have complained that the strike does not meet this goal, and that Assad remains equally able to commit further chemical attacks. As The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald recently argued, the US’s support of a number of regimes which use chemical weapons strongly undermines the suggestion that the attack is intended to send a humanitarian message.

The Trump administration has not been clear about their plan for Syria, and have wavered considerably throughout the past year on the fate of Assad. The American military apparatus is noticeably less eager for regime change as they were in the lead up to the Iraq war. At this point the possibility of deposing Assad is far less likely than it seemed in the early years of the war as Russia has continued to support him, his forces have won considerable territory, and the rebels have proven themselves to not be the champions of democracy and secular freedom that the west hoped for. While General Mattis declared the attack a “one-time shot”, Trump announced that our military is “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents”. The most likely explanation for our government’s plans for Syria is that they are pushing neither for regime change nor the eventual victory of Assad’s forces. A rebel victory could lead to the quandary of a power vacuum, as we saw in Iraq and Libya after American intervention. An Assad victory would allow for regained stability for a Russian and Iranian ally. As long as Syrian is a drain on resources for Russia and Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia are protected and our government’s interests in the Middle East are advanced.

Engagement Resources

  • Support the Answer Coalition: The Answer Coalition was founded just after 9/11 as an opposition to the developing imperialist ambitions of the Bush administration. They have maintained that struggle through the years, and have been involved with anti-war protests in response to the Trump administration’s recent actions in Syria. You can donate on their website.
  • Orient Yourself to the Basics of the War in Syria: This video, produced by Vox, is an introductory explanation of the actors involved in the Syrian war and its progression of events.

This Brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this Brief please contact Colin@usresistnews.org.


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