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Gresik: With airstrikes, Trump fulfills Obama’s broken promise in Syria

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President Donald Trump — in step with coalition partners — has made good on the promises President Barack Obama failed to keep.

Around 4 a.m. local time Saturday, the skies of Damascus, Syria, erupted with the screams of passing rockets and flashes of exploding shells. Blasts also rocked the city of Homs, as the much-anticipated Western retaliation against the Assad regime’s alleged most recent use of chemical weapons had arrived.

Halfway around the world, President Trump made an appearance on live television to announce the operation aimed to target specific chemical weapons capabilities of the Assad regime, carried out in conjunction with French and British forces.

In total, 105 missiles were launched. They targeted the Barzah Research and Development Center, which the Department of Defense says was a main chemical weapons production facility, and the Hims Shinshar chemical weapons storage site.

Regime forces responded by firing numerous surface-to-air missiles. But when the dust settled and the targets had been destroyed, there were no reports of civilian casualties or damage to U.S. or allied military apparatus.

On Aug. 20, 2012, in response to questions from reporters on possible United States military intervention into the Syrian Civil War, President Obama responded: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is when we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

In the early morning of Aug. 21, 2013, rockets exploded in the Free Syrian Army-controlled areas surrounding Damascus. This time, they contained the chemical agent sarin. In a White House news release, officials stated, “A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children.”

Bashar al-Assad had crossed the line. Yet, Obama wavered. No military response was launched. And the Syrian people, needing an international response, were forgotten.

On Friday, President Trump made the difficult decision to commit American forces, but in doing so, he contributed to the restoration of worldwide confidence in the value of American promises. This recent strike will set back Syrian production, development and deployment of chemical weapons for years to come, according to Department of Defense estimates.

More importantly, the president has made clear to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad that he will be held accountable for his actions. And to Assad’s backers, Russia and Iran, Trump stood strong where Obama faltered: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.”

From a military perspective, the confined strike allowed the U.S. to respond without full-scale intervention in the civil war. While almost double the size of the 2017 Tomahawk strikes, which destroyed nearly 20 percent of the Syrian Air Force, these strikes surgically targeted chemical weapons production and storage facilities.

However, a long-term, clearly defined strategy for resolving the Syrian conflict remains a necessity. Millions remain internally displaced or have fled as refugees. Remnants of ISIS still control territory, even while the Free Syrian Army is losing its hold. The humanitarian crisis and the total defeat of the Islamic State must be addressed if Trump wishes to truly deliver on Obama’s promise.

Wendy Pearlman, NU political science professor and author of “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria,” recently said in a Chicago Tribune op-ed, “We should use all leverage at our disposal to work with international partners to halt (Assad’s) onslaught and get humanitarian aid to those on the verge of death.”

President Obama promised action to stop the slaughter of the innocents, and he did not deliver. Assad was able to cross the Obama “red line” with little repercussions. This past weekend, President Trump took a calculated and effective step to combat the use of banned weapons in Syria and demonstrate that his red line means something.

Dylan Gresik is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at dylangresik2020@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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