By The Dallas Morning News
There are at least two significant developments from the White House out of Syria’s apparent use of chlorine gas on civilians recently.
The first is that President Donald Trump put aside talk (for the time being) of withdrawing U.S. troops and instead picked up the thread of how he will now put pressure on Syria’s strongman, Bashar Assad. The second is that the president — in his most direct comments to date — criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for his support of Assad.
Both are welcome developments for related reasons. Syria feels like a world away, but it’s not. The refugee crisis created by the civil war there has been felt throughout Europe and across the globe. And human rights abuses taking place in Syria are a test for the civilized world. Is the use of chlorine gas that leaves civilians gasping for air going to be tolerated?
Russia has done more than any other nation to prop up Assad, even going so far as to broker a deal the first time Assad appeared to use chemical weapons back when Barack Obama was president. Putin promised then to take the chemical weapons off of Syria’s hands, thereby giving the Obama administration added reason to stand down at the time. But that deal also put Russia partly on the hook if Assad held on to and then went back to his stockpile of chemical weapons.
Now Trump is rightly saying, “Everybody’s gonna pay a price,” for this chlorine gas attack, adding that “He,” Putin, “will, everybody will.”
After a Cabinet meeting Monday, the president promised a quick response. But regardless of any military action taken, we hope the president pulls the economic and diplomatic levers that are also within reach to enable him to do three things.
Use a coalition to oppose any use of weapons of mass destruction. The United States is capable of acting along, and there are times for unilateral action. But this is a time that calls for rallying other nations to send an enduring signal that the use of these weapons will never be tolerated no matter where it occurs.
Russia owns this problem, too. Whether it played a role in authorizing the attack, its alliance with Syria has been the single biggest guarantor of the regime’s survival. So Russia can’t shrug and move on. It needs to lead the initiative to stop the use of chemical weapons or feel pressure for enabling Assad.
Develop a broader strategy on Syria.
Last week, Trump said he wanted the 2,000 American troops now fighting the Islamic State in Syria to come home soon, alarming some allies. These attacks show how complicated such plans are.
What’s needed is a clear strategy from the White House on how it plans to push Syria to a better future where human rights are respected (including for those who opposed the regime), chemical attacks are no more, and the people of Syria have a say in their leadership. This would help ensure the defeated of ISIS and related groups and honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in this fight.
Those casualties should never be far from our minds. They include four Americans since President Barack Obama sent troops to Syria in 2014 — the most recent of which was a Texan and came on March 30, when Army Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar of Austin was killed after a bomb exploded near his patrol.