Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas Heras write: President Trump’s decision to launch missile strikes against Syria’s Shayrat airfield after a chemical weapons attack on civilians was an appropriate response to an act of unspeakable horror. Yet as analysts who have argued for greater U.S. military engagement to end the Syrian civil war, we find ourselves conflicted about the president’s decision: We fear there is simply no plan for what comes next.
To succeed beyond Thursday’s limited strikes, American leaders must decide on a clear set of objectives, a realistic desired final outcome, a theory of the case for how to get there and a solid understanding of the risks. We see three potential options for how the president could move forward.
The United States could pursue a limited strategy focused on one-off strikes in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. In that case, the strike on the air base from which this week’s chemical attack was launched will probably be enough. President Bashar al-Assad and his generals will get the message and stop using those types of weapons.
However, Trump may soon find this outcome dissatisfying. The regime will continue to terrorize civilians through airstrikes, artillery and surface-to-surface missiles against densely populated areas. It will continue to employ tactics such as starvation sieges and population transfers to tear communities apart.
Pictures of dead children and “beautiful babies,” as the president remarked, will continue to appear on television. And Assad’s forces and their Russian allies may up the scale of attacks to humiliate Trump and demonstrate the fecklessness of American military force. Thus, the pressure may grow on the United States to respond, and it may be hard for Trump to resist. [Continue reading…]