The successful allied air strike on chemical-weapons facilities in Syria has given President Trump a victory — but not a mission. The victory against Bashar al-Assad is a well-deserved response to his use of weapons of mass destruction against his own people, as Germany and the Saudis recognize, in addition to Britain and France.
What’s missing is a clear idea of our role in the broader conflict, and why we still have 5,000 troops in Syria. Our intervention in the Syrian civil war began with President Barack Obama’s ill-fated decision to assist the Syrian rebels in their efforts to topple Assad. That was a fiasco, but the mission was subsequently extended to the fight against the Islamic insurgency, which itself arose because of Obama’s decision to remove our forces precipitously from Iraq.
The fight against ISIS is nearly won and no longer provides an excuse for a strong US military presence in the region. The Trump administration has also signaled that it has given up on regime change in Syria. Assad is a thug, but it’s not our business to try to change that.
So what are our interests in the region? Just one. To oppose Iran.
Tehran has a made a puppet state out of Syria, more like Iran’s 32nd province than an independent state. In Iraq, the pro-Shiite government has agreed to the construction of a Tehran-Baghdad highway that would ferry the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps across the Middle East, and especially to Lebanon, whose government has partnered with Hezbollah.
Iran is what the Soviet Union was before the fall of Communism — an expansionist, ideological enemy. It seeks to be the dominant regional player in the Middle East and its tentacles have spread to Latin America. In Yemen, its Houthi proxies launch missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, while in Lebanon its Hezbollah allies seek the destruction of Israel.