By: Kara Haselton
For nearly eight years, Syria has continued to make its way into the news with accounts of war and suffering. For nearly eight years, Syria has been caught in an internal battle that is slowly becoming more and more of an external battle. There are a lot of facts, statistics, speculations, opinions floating around about this issue, so let’s clear some things up.
The last saturday of Wake County’s #SpringBreak2k18 was a day that some families in Syria will remember for the rest of their lives. On April 7th, Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons to attack his own people.
Let’s back up for a moment and discuss what chemical weapons are and why they’re so significant for this timeline.
Chemical weapons were first used in World War I by the Germans against the Allied powers. They’re considered “weapons of mass destruction” and can be categorized as any weapon that uses toxic chemicals. Many common chemicals used as weapons are soman, sulphur, and nitrogen mustard, chlorine, hydrogen chloride, and so on. Even if you’re unaware of what half of those words are, what you need to know is that they all have deadly and harmful side effects. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, there are four different categories of chemical weapons: choking agents, blister agents, blood agents, and nerve agents. These agents attack the body in various ways and lead to, at the very least, severe pain and deformity of skin–and at the very most, death by suffocation. Chemical weapons are not okay and their use has been banned by the UN. It’s important to realize the significance of using chemical weapons because it sets the scene for the sincerity of this issue.
As a result, reports indicate that at least 70 people have died by suffocation. Entire families died in their homes.
Now, what about Bashar al-Assad? What kind of leader is he and what has his impact been?
Bashar al-Assad has been the president of Syria since 2000, after he was able to assume leadership following his father’s death. He is a president, so he does get elected into office; however, the Syrian parliament also has a lot of influence. That parliament changed some of the voting laws that allowed Bashar to succeed his father as president, but he was also voted in by more than 97% of the votes.
At the beginning of his reign, he stated his intentions to promote political reform and economic and social changes.
In eighteen years of his being in power, there have been very few political, social, or economic changes. In fact, the climate of Syria has gotten much worse.
People grew tired of his lack of action. Starting in 2011 with the Arab Spring, protests broke out as people started “demanding political reforms” and asking for more laws providing civil rights, stated Aljazeera News. Assad didn’t respond in favor of the protests—he acted against them. Aljazeera also noted in an article about Assad’s background that he claimed the protests occurred because of outside influence. Thus, he didn’t take his people’s wishes and concerns seriously.
To further paint a picture of Bashar al-Assad, he also commented when asked about the suffering of his people that deaths are simply a part of war, and he can’t do anything about it.
The war in Syria is between the government and rebel forces. So the chemical attack was launched by Bashar al-Assad in order to harm the rebel forces, but as it usually is in war, mostly civilians were hurt in this instance.
“According to Human Rights Watch, in 2009, Syria’s human rights situation was one of the worst in the world, and it had ‘deteriorated further’” and the Syrian president hasn’t done anything about it.
Now that we know more of the backstory, let’s get back to the WHEN.
After Bashar al-Assad’s attack on April 7th, President Trump met with Congress and his advisors to discuss a consequential attack on Syria. His reasoning was that America needed to show Assad that “we mean business” and take chemical warfare very seriously. Trump had warned Syria that if they acted uncivilly, America would react uncivilly.
This is where it gets sticky.
Typically, the president is supposed to make decisions based off the Constitution and what is deemed by Congress and the House of Representatives to be a wise and appropriate decision. In this case, however, that seemed to have slipped his mind. According to The Atlantic, “88 members of Congress sent him a letter to remind him of his legal obligations” stating things like “We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering additional use of U.S. military force in Syria.” And that “strikes ‘when no direct threat to the United States exists’ and ‘without Congressional authorization’ would violate the Constitution’s separation of powers.’”
WHEN (also WHERE)
Saturday, April 14th, President Trump ordered military air strikes on Syria.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, and the UK’s prime minister, Theresa May, also backed up Trump’s attack against Assad and his army. The airstrikes were intended to hit bases for chemical weapons and government facilities.
President Trump’s reasoning behind this attack was good—to “punish” Assad for using such inhumane weapons as fear tactics against his own people. Several prominent world leaders and countries such us Germany, Canada, and Turkey, approved of his actions and praised him for keeping his word against Syria’s government. However, there’s a lot of arguments against Trump’s actions and concern about what this could mean for America.
Because of Trump’s lack of permission for declaring an attack that could be seen as an “act of war,” and the severity of that consequence, many people, his administration included, are very angry. While, again, Trump had cause that wasn’t totally unwarranted, “the strikes that are being carried out are being done without an authorization from Congress, which is unacceptable,” stated Senator Bob Casey, according to The Atlantic.
The first argument, as already stated, is that Trump went in without approval. When the US government was founded, certain laws and regulations were put into place so that no one person has too much power. The President of the US is the highest power, but he still can’t do anything without congressional approval. Merit or not, the action that Trump took was wrong because it went against the most foundational regulation that our country was built upon.
Additionally, people argue against Trump’s action because of the fine line he walked. Syria is not alone—they have support from other countries. So any wrong we make against Syria could come back to haunt us through ghosts named Russia and Iran. The fine line that the US had to walk when making the decision about bombing was “too narrow a strategic window to be truly effective,” as The Guardian analyzes in an Editorial. They made this statement when considering how difficult it would be for the US to effectively punish Syria without making the attack seem too much like an “act of war,” causing Russia to then attack us in response. Not only did Trump not wait for congressional approval, but he also didn’t take much time to consider all the possible consequences of an airstrike, which is quite unsettling and paints the attack in an additionally negative light.
Many people have made comments that fall on both sides of the spectrum. There are people in government that are both happy and unhappy with Trump’s decision. There are civilians who both approve and disapprove of our involvement in Syria. But the most important opinions in this situation are not ours, but theirs–the opinion of those actually being affected by this eight-year war, chemical weapon attacks, and airstrikes.
Are we listening to what they have to say?
But another important thing to consider when viewing the Syrian issue is, as The New York Times wrote, Syria is back to the war just as it was. Nothing has changed because of the airstrike.
Was it worth it?
If you are interested in finding out where I got my information or if you would like to do more research for yourself, check out the following articles: