“It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” President Donald Trump said following the missile attack when the U.S. launched more than four dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Al Shayrat airfield in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack, drawing varying responses from the global community. “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically,” he added, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, the only question arises is whether Trump administration’s intervention in Syria was a symbolic show of force or something more?
The assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University, Max Abrahms, a terrorism theorist in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, discussed the global implications of the U.S. military strike, which came just 77 days into the Trump administration. It was unclear whether the 59 Tomahawak cruise missile strikes were intended as a deterrent message to the Assad regime against using chemical weapons or as the opening salvo to remove him militarily. The strikes were directed against the Shayrat Air Base in direct response to the Khan Shaykhun April 4 chemical attack. But did these strikes herald a dramatic turn in Trump’s strategy in favor of regime change?
During the bitter presidential election campaign, Trump had sought to distinguish himself from his Democratic and Republican rivals by opposing the removal of Assad. Upon assuming the presidency, Trump emphasized that his belief in Syria focused on the Islamic State group, not Assad. After the chemical attack, however, Trump announced that the images of gassed children “had a big impact on him” and then authorized the attacks on the regime assets. As the dust settled over the past few days, it seems that the U.S. retaliatory strikes were intended only to be a warning about the costs of using chemical weapons.