On Friday night, a coalition of the US, UK, and France launched a series of airstrikes targeting three locations inside Syria. Hoping to cripple Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s potential for future use of chemical weapons, the attack is more of the same from the US in the Middle East: it appears no forward thought has been given to what comes next in Syria.
If we simply look to this time last year, we find the most compelling case for why this new strike will fail.
A year and one week ago, the US launched an airstrike targeting what was later discovered to be a largely abandoned airbase inside Syria. The first unilateral military action by the US inside of Syria during its civil war, the stated goal of the strike was to “prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
Fast-forward a year, and we see that not only did that strike not do much in the way of preventing future use of chemical weapons, but the US still has no plan for what to do next week in Syria, let alone know what their aims are for the conclusion of the war. Assad is believed to have used chemical weapons on upwards of a half a dozen occasions since the 2017 strike.
Nothing has changed, besides more people dying. The US has shown no serious engagement with what would resemble a strategic plan or policy for moving forward in Syria. Neither have they explored alternative tactics, like turning up the pressure on Assad’s patrons, Russia and Iran, both diplomatically and economically. Further illustrating the lack of clarity on policy when it comes to Syria, just two weeks prior to the strikes, Trump announced his intention to pull US forces out of Syria “very soon.”
The history of US policy in the Middle East over the past two decades is a raft of military decisions and actions that follow this pattern. Libya is still suffering from the aftermath of a NATO operation that helped remove Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with little consideration for what would come next. A conspicuously straight line can be drawn between the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the rise of Iran as a regional power, and the rise of ISIS. Until the US shows an interest in having a robust dialogue about our long-term strategic goals in the region, the means by which we are willing to achieve those goals, and the chances of those goals actually coming to fruition, we will be doomed to watching the same episodes on loop.