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United States increases involvement in Syria following chemical attacks

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Syria, on February 10, 2017. Assad recently appeared to be in his strongest position in years, but a suspected chemical changes everything. (Salampix/Abaca Press/TNS)

After a recent chemical attack on rebel forces, allegedly by the Syrian government, President Donald Trump began increasing the United States’ involvement in Syria to prevent future attacks—starting with a missile strike that took place on Thursday, April 7, at a Syrian government air base.

The civil war in Syria began in March of 2011, when Syrian security forces responded violently to pro-democracy protesters, according to a timeline of the Syrian Civil War by BBC News. These protests were a part of the Arab Spring—a wave of violent and nonviolent protests, demonstrations and civil wars that swept North Africa and the Middle East in support of democracy. According to Political Science Professor Isaac Castellano, with the help of  Russians and Iranians, the rebels in Syria have been pushed back—which is the primary goal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Assad regime is really meant to eliminate these rebels so that the stark choice is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Assad, at which point the Western states—particularly the United States—won’t have as much leverage in removing Assad,” Castellano said.

The recent use of chemical weaponry on the rebel forces in Syria drew in the attention of the United States, due to the country’s historic prevention of using such weapons, according to Castellano.

“Chemical weapons have a very special status within warfare,” Castellano said. “A staple component of (the United States’) foreign policy has been to dissuade and prevent countries from utilizing, or developing, chemical weapons.”

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll from the chemical attack was upwards of 86 people, with many still in critical condition.

In response to this chemical attack, President Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian government airbase, according to BBC News.

“We have a normative, moral interest and a public relations perception motivation, to be on the right side of punishing and inhibiting states who engage in chemical weapon development or use,” Castellano said. “To allow the Syrians to use chemical weapons, without doing something in return, is not possible—politically speaking.”

Russia’s support of Assad has come under heightened scrutiny from the United States in the aftermath of the chemical attack, according to a New York Times article about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow.

According to Castellano, although there have been questions surrounding ties between the Trump Administration and Russia, “Russian and the American governments are never going to be friends—not in the foreseeable future.”

Castellano also indicated it is very difficult to predict how the Trump Administration will proceed in terms of involvement with the Syrian civil war.

“I don’t have a great deal of faith in the President—in terms of how robust and developed his overall strategy and ideological thinking is on foreign policy,” Castellano said. “You’re not seeing a coordinated message from the other foreign policy organs in the administration, so to think that they have a clear plan, I don’t see it.”

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