Day after Syria strikes: Does Trump have a long-term plan?
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson has said that the US strategy may be guided “by how we see Syria’s reaction”.world Updated: Apr 09, 2017 20:12 IST
The Donald Trump administration on Friday signalled it was “prepared to do more” on Syria, depending on the response of the Bashar al-Assad government to its missile strikes. However, this has led to questions on whether the US has a broader, a long-term strategy.
“One strike doesn’t make a strategy,” William Cohen, defence secretary to former President Bill Clinton, told CNN, echoing a view rapidly gaining ground among foreign policy exports and lawmakers of either dispensation.
What if Assad retaliated, hitting a US target in the region, either directly or through proxies backing him such as the Lebanese Hezbollah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards?
Secretary of state Rex Tillerson told reporters the US was watching Assad closely. “We will monitor Syria’s response to that strike in terms of whether they attack our own forces or coalition forces, or whether we detect that they are considering mobilizing to take additional chemical weapons attacks. And I’d say at this point the future will be guided by how we see their reaction.”
Trump’s envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, who has quickly developed the image of a tough-talking diplomat, delivered a similar message to the UN Security Council: “The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary. It is time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution.”
But has the Trump administration prepared for the eventuality of getting sucked in and getting involved in not only replacing Assad but also his Alawi allies running the country while also dealing with the maddening mix of rebel groups?
And, as Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out in a statement, while it was noble for the president to punish a regime that’s gassing its own people, was he prepared to give refuge to Syrians fleeing that life?
In his first executive order on travel bans that ran into trouble with courts, Trump had proposed to indefinitely bar Syrian refugees from entering the US, which he dropped from his subsequent executive order, which is also caught in courts.
Pressure is mounting on him to do more, and as part of a strategy. Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham want to see a strategy that involve taking out the Syrian air force responsible for the chemical weapons attack and others.
And commending President Trump for the strikes, an editorial in The Washington Post urged him now to “devise a Syria policy that responds to this week’s events”. It added that Trump “has created an opportunity for the United States, and for his presidency, in Syria. Its ultimate value will depend on how well he follows up”.
In an editorial headlined “Trump’s Syria opportunity”, The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Every military operation carries risks but this one could also have major political and strategic benefits if Mr. Trump follows the air strike with some forceful diplomacy.”