The President’s strategy toward Syria has two critical defects. First, there is no strategy. Second, President Trump has never sought congressional authorization for use of force in Syria — something that many have argued made his previous missile attack against Bashar al-Assad unconstitutional and makes any future unauthorized plans precarious at best. This is no way to deal with a complicated and deadly conflict that could spin out of control, especially if the United States intentionally or inadvertently engages Russia’s military.
It is important to first acknowledge that the use of chemical weapons is horrific. Assad’s suspected chemical weapons attack shows he is willing to go to barbaric lengths to hold onto power. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 500 people — including children — were potentially exposed to toxic chemicals that can cause respiratory failure and nervous system damage. These reports underscore yet another heinous act in the long, calamitous conflict in Syria. In the seven-year war, more than 400,000 people have died and millions have been displaced. With Russia and Iran providing support for Assad, the challenges remain complex and unwieldy.
President Trump responded to the chemical weapons attack with characteristic tough-guy tweets, announcing plans to fire missiles at Syria and calling Assad “a Gas Killing Animal.” But the President’s threats of force are unlikely to accomplish much for one simple reason: There is no clear strategy guiding them. After over a year in office and 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at the Assad regime, President Trump has neither articulated a plan for Syria nor seriously engaged with Congress on this issue.
A mercurial plan of action may have worked in the Trump Organization board room, but it’s a disastrous tactic in foreign affairs. Just last week, the President called for pulling out of Syria. On Wednesday, he threatened launching missiles at Syria. Next week, who knows? The US cannot implement a cogent strategy on the world stage if no one is sure whether to take the President seriously. As a member of the US Congress on the Foreign Affairs Committee, I feel in the dark — I can only imagine how the American public and our allies feel.