One of the defining moments of President Barack Obama’s feckless foreign policy was when he stood down from his own red line policy position and failed to use force after Syrian regime forces under the control of Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. Never before had the Western world stood by and allowed such crimes against humanity to go unpunished. Policy experts have advised American presidents for decades that failure to do so would establish a new international norm and embolden despots and dictators alike. But Obama chose to do nothing.
His failure to respond not only undermined U.S. policy and international law but it also sent a signal to our adversaries that they can get away with acts like that, which emboldened them. Obama’s defenders that his decision not to take action did not play into our adversary’s decision making calculus. They are wrong.
All leaders weighing action against an adversary or their interests abroad are forced to consider what their adversary is likely to do in response to the action they are considering. Part of what feeds the intelligence assessment of your adversary’s most likely course of action is his or her past actions. Obama’s failure to respond to the Syrian attack as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, the premature withdrawal from Iraq, the North Korean hack of Sony pictures, Russian attempts to influence the U.S. presidential election, etc. led adversaries like Bashar al Assad and Vladimir Putin to believe that they could get away with murder, literally, and so they did.
But President Donald Trump took a different path.
Just a short time after taking office, President Trump was briefed on a chemical weapons attack that killed and injured dozens of innocent Syrian civilians — many of them children. Determined not to allow this kind of horror to happen again, Trump ordered cruise missile attacks against the Syrian military base that was responsible for the attack. At the time, it was said that the president was presented with a series of military options and chose the most conservative one as to not escalate the conflict yet still send the message that President Trump would not standby and allow this to happen.
However, a year later, Syria has once again chosen to use chemical weapons against civilians. The evidence is overwhelming. It is clear that the limited military strike President Trump ordered last year did not deter Syria from using weapons of mass destruction again — weapons they were not even supposed to have after the Obama-Russia deal allegedly removed them from the country.
As such, President Trump and our allies must order a much more significant military response to in order to send Bashar al Assad, his allies Vladimir Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei, and the rest of the world a message that the civilized western world will not allow the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians. These attacks are crimes against humanity and Bashar al Assad must be held accountable.
The United States has been wary of regime change in Syria for good reason given the absence of a viable post-Assad government and the post-conflict political turmoil that still plagues Iraq and Libya. However, that doesn’t mean that no action should be taken at all. This latest attack on civilians using chemical weapons simply cannot stand.
Bashar al Assad has made his own bed. President Trump needs to make sure he is forced to sleep in it.
Alex Plitsas is a national security professional. He is a combat veteran and a former Pentagon official.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.