What You Need To Know:
✅ The United States responded to a chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun (Syria) that happened on April 4th, with an air strike;
✅ “Cruise missile strikes against Syria were designed to send Syria a message, which is that the Trump Administration is going to react if Syria uses chemical weapons,”— Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution and Former United States Ambassador to Ukraine (1998-2000);
✅ In 2012, U.S President Barack Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons in Syria constituted a “red line”, but did not to respond to a similar deadly chemical attack that followed in the outskirts of Damascus in 2013;
✅ The Syrian war began in 2011. Two years after it started, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia began funding the insurgents, while Russia and Iran supported the Syrian regime. Without their help, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not last.
On April 4th, the city of Khan Shaykhun (Idlib Governorate of Syria), which is controlled by the Syrian opposition, was struck by a heavy air strike and followed by massive civilian chemical poisoning. Three days later, on April 7th, the United States responded with an air strike, launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a government-controlled Syrian airbase. American President Donald Trump blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the deadly attack that killed and injured hundreds of civilians in the northern rebel-held town. In 2013, al-Assad allegedly renounced his chemical weapons and has denied his responsibility in the attack.
Read More: Untold Stories of the Syrian War
According to Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, “cruise missile strikes against Syria were designed to send Syria a message, which is that the Trump Administration is going to react if Syria uses chemical weapons.”
Does this mean a change in US policy towards Syria?
"I think it was a one-time response to the Syrian Government's use of chemical weapons. At this stage, I don't think we can draw a conclusion whether this is supposed to be broader or not," Pifer told Hromadske.
"The president has a lot of authority as Commander-in-Chief, and I guess I would say that, over the last 60 years, Congress has let its authority be diluted. In the past, Congress has not insisted, so Congress now has a hard time objecting. There is, under the War Powers Act, a requirement for the president to inform Congress when he uses force like this. But over the last 50-60 years, Congress has shifted power to to the presidency. And I think it will be hard for Congress to recover that," he added.
Russia's Response To the Air Strike was 'not very wise'
President Trump’s decision, however, has soured US and Russia relations. The Russians have responded by suspending the agreement between the American and Russian militaries, about coordination of air operations over Syria. "That's a very unwise move, because it raises the risk of miscalculation," Pifer thinks.
After the chemical attack, president Trump gave a speech, where he said that the US will not tolerate such actions. "If the Russians were watching what he said, it shouldn't [the airstrike] have been a surprise," Pifer adds.
A response for crossing the 'red line"
In 2012, then U.S President Barack Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons constituted a “red line”, but did not to respond to a similar deadly chemical attack that followed in the outskirts of Damascus. Pifer says that this was the former president’s biggest mistake: “If you draw a red line and it’s clearly crossed, you lose huge amounts of credibility if you don’t respond.” Pifer adds that the United States, under the Obama Administration, managed to cooperate with Russia to destroy more chemical weapons than any American air strike could have.
Hromadske’s Olga Datsiuk spoke to Steve Pifer Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, Director, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and Former US Ambassador to Ukraine at the Kyiv Security Forum on April 7, 2017 in Kyiv.