About seven years ago, in 2011, citizens across the Middle East took action to demonstrate against the malign treatment by autocrats they endure. Many in the West lauded the movements as an effort to buck the authoritarians running the region, but almost all of the attempts floundered and ultimately failed.
One remnant of the revolts continues today, in Syria. The Syrian regime, under strongman Bashar al-Assad, has continued to pummel its own people with the full force of their military. Though there was an agreement purported to remove chemical weapons a few years ago, the overwhelming consensus asserts that the Assad regime still deploys them against civilians and rebels.
The waning Islamic State, or ISIS, still plays a role in the region. Though we hear about them less often since their geographic claims continue to whither, the self-titled caliphate continues to engage with almost all players involved. The crisis in Syria is extremely complex: ISIS fights with all sides of the conflict, and the events in Syria do not exist within a vacuum ending at the border. Whatever decision the United States and its allies pursue will have consequences for the Middle East writ large.
So, what should we do? Last year, after a chemical attack attributed to Assad, President Donald Trump ordered the military to fire Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base. The effects were more symbolic than substantive; the regime continued trudging towards victory and, as of this last week, seems to have used chemical weapons yet again. President Barack Obama, for his part, did nothing to intervene after sarin gas attacks in 2013.
The chemical weapons attacks have been widely condemned and have called for action, not later, but now. For all of their supposed good intentions, I see little to suggest that there is any coherent plan to address the aftermath of military action. Would we slap them on the wrist, like last time, so that they can simply rebuild their air base? It didn’t deter them for long. It seems something more robust is necessary, but what? Troops on the ground? Coalition airstrikes?