In response to U.S. led military airstrikes on chemical weapon facilities in Syria on April 13, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Mission accomplished!” the following day. The “mission” was executed by the U.S., the U.K. and France as a reaction to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his citizens in Douma on April 7.
CNN reports that Assad’s attack left 75 dead and another 500 injured. As humanitarian as the U.S. government would like to appear to be, this specific strike seems less to do with international compassion and more as a symbolic effort to deter foreign chemical weapon use.
Fighting bombs with bombs is not an effective measure to controlling the use or stockpiling of chemical weapons. Historically, this exact action proves the endeavor is futile. Assad also carried out a chemical weapon attack against civilians last year on April 4, 2017. The U.S. responded with a missile attack on a Syrian airbase two days later.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the U.S. has been bombing Pakistan with drones since 2004 to address terrorism, yet it has not proven to eliminate it. Somalia had been bombed in November 2017 for the same reason and with similar results. Islamist militants continue to execute deadly attacks on Somali civilians.
What “mission” is the U.S. accomplishing by continuing to strike a foreign regime that clearly has not been discouraged from the mass destruction of its own population? The first retaliated effort in 2017 proved to be ineffective in preventing or eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, so why would three sectors of the international community agree to revive this strategy?
ABC News Center reports that British lawmakers have criticized the United Kingdom for acting without Parliament’s approval. Prime Minister Theresa May defended the strikes by claiming, “We have not done this because President Trump asked us to do so. We have done it because we believe it was the right thing to do.”
It does not seem likely that the U.K. and France would have carried out the airstrikes without the U.S. as a coordinated partner. This was a U.S. led operation. If May’s assertion is that these attacks were “the right thing to do,” then was the mission truly accomplished?
In terms of completion, the U.S. can say it has accomplished the attack. However, the limited strike may not do much to limit the amount of chemical weapons Syria can manufacture.
The Pentagon reports the three targets that were hit sustained significant damage. The facility located in Homs was reported to be completely destroyed.
Despite the blow to these facilities, other chemical weapons sites could still exist. Assad’s ability to acquire the chemical agents needed for the construction of these weapons has not been fully restricted either.
Military intervention still has not been proven to limit chemical weapon use. Assad’s historical record and continued availability for chemical weapons means Syrian civilians are not any safer than they were before the U.S. and its allies decided to strike.
There is not any justification for completing fruitless attacks on foreign soil when civilians are subject to the same terror they lived with before international intervention.
To accomplish a mission based on “doing the right thing,” intervening powers must account for the effectiveness of the results, rather than the success of the execution.
“The right thing to do” would be to ensure Syrian civilians are safe and protected. The lack of foresight or strategy on the U.S., U.K. and France’s coordinated effort paints a picture that this attack was not humanitarian after all.
This conflict does not have a military solution. Force should be a last resort if international actors are keen on intervening in states where humanitarian crises are occurring. The U.S.’ continued use of symbolic, rather than effective, tactics to address foreign conflict proves it is more concerned with establishing power than implementing a diplomatic solution.
Paige Wisniewski is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary social sciences.