Foreign Policy Experts Praise Trump's Decision to Strike Assad Airbase

'This strike was long overdue … for the last six years we have had a policy of paralysis'

US Launches Airstrikes Against Syrian BAse
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter fires a Tomahawk land attack missile / Getty Images
April 8, 2017

The American military strike on a Syrian government airbase Thursday was lauded by foreign policy experts as a necessary and proportionate response to Syrian leader Bashar al Assad's chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians earlier in the week.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Friday the Pentagon's order to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the base came after 72 hours of deliberation by President Donald Trump, his national security team, and cabinet members.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the attack against Syria's Sharyat Airbase marked a "positive step" that showcased the administration's preparedness to take military action against the Assad regime.

"This strike was long overdue in that for the last six years we have had a policy of paralysis in Washington with regard to the ongoing slaughter and mass human rights abuses in Syria," Schanzer told the Washington Free Beacon. "The attack [Thursday] was limited, it was proportional, and I certainly don’t expect this to be the beginning of a longer campaign."

Spicer declined to detail Trump's next steps and refused to confirm whether the strikes were a one-off attack or part of a larger campaign. Trump's military strategy in the region has been opaque due to the president's assertion that publicizing concrete steps would tip off the enemy.

Schanzer said it appears likely the administration will pursue a diplomatic strategy to force Assad out of power with the support of the international community.

He predicted that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will play a key role in compelling her foreign counterparts to pressure Assad out of power.

Haley warned Friday the United States "is prepared to do more" in Syria to respond to Assad's aggression against civilians. Haley condemned Russia's support for the Syrian regime and called on members of the U.N. Security Council to demand a political solution in the country. Schanzer said he expects the United States also will enact new financial sanctions on Assad and his "enablers," including Iran and Hezbollah.

Christopher Kozak, a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, agreed the strike was a necessary development toward reestablishing U.S. deterrence, but stressed that the administration needs to persist in deterrent measures to reap lasting results.

"The key point is that outside actors are going to be perceiving that this is a world where the U.S. and the White House will be willing to use military force in order to assert itself in a way that the U.S. has not been doing for quite some time now," Kozak said in an interview.

"But if this isn't followed through with a larger strategy to achieve our national security objectives, if it's not followed through with sustained pressure on Assad and his backers, then it really accomplishes little and may even be counterproductive depending on the reactions its provokes from other actors," he added.

Kozak and Schanzer emphasized the need for the administration to take on Syria with a two-pronged strategy that addresses both the Islamic State and the Assad regime. Kozak said the administration will fail in its fight against ISIS unless it deploys diplomatic and military action to strike a negotiated settlement between the Syrian government and rebel groups.

"The problem is the rise of ISIS is really just a symptom of the regional disorder we've seen that's spurred in part by the Syrian civil war," Kozak said.

"My advice would be to keep widening the aperture in order to come to a clear vision of how we're going to get from here to a negotiated settlement that ends the bloodshed, prevents these atrocities from occurring again, that will allow us to have the sustained defeat of both ISIS and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria and that will help quell some of this regional upheaval that we've seen."