Objectives in Syria Reflect Current Norms of U.S. Intervention By JT Kwon & Sung Jang
The United States and two of its NATO allies, the United Kingdom and France recently launched airstrikes against the chemical weapons capabilities of Syria. President Trump appears to have pursued three goals through this military action: 1) punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, 2) reinforce an international regime against the production, use and proliferation of chemical weapons, and 3) send a clear warning to Russia and Iran that they will pay the huge price for continuing to support the Assad regime.
The framework the U.S. has undertaken in foreign military interventions has included: 1) a moral mandate to defeat evil; 2) preoccupation with maintaining hegemonic power; and 3) pressure from the alliance partners to show its security commitments. While the Trump presidency has been unorthodox in several ways, the response in Syria thus far reflects this norm.
In a related national address, President Trump made it clear that “the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians…The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children…These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.”
Military interventions across the boundaries of other sovereign states are best carried out by the collective use of force through the UN Security Council. The U.S. made an effort to generate the international consensus through the UNSC resolutions to take military measures.
Even though the U.S. failed to mobilize the international support, it went ahead to undertake the military actions against the Assad regime. The military intervention into Syria is clearly driven by American Exceptionalism, a belief that the United States should play a special role as a defender of the goodness.
Since the bipolar global structure that existed during the Cold War came to an end, the U.S. has been preoccupied with maintaining its hegemonic power throughout the world. Decades after the Cold War there has not been a meaningful alliance to counter U.S. hegemony.
At the same time, there are clear signs that the American predominance has been noticeably challenged. With its growing power, China demands changes to reshape international order which has been underpinned by the U.S. over the last two decades. Russia under the slogan of “Strong Russia” has reemerged to regain the status as a global power.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has struggled to perpetuate its hegemonic power and influence in the Middle East. America is fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no clear signs of victory. And Russia and Iran challenge the U.S. preponderance in supporting the Assad regime.
The U.S. has always come under a great of pressure from its alliance partners to show its security commitments to their security. Given the fact that Iran is expanding its influence by assisting the Assad regime, and intervening into Yemen civil war, it surely poses a grave threat to Israel. Israel has long been anxious about Iran becoming a powerful regional actor. It appears that Israel has been demanding that the U.S. should contain and hold Iran’s growing power in check.
Whether the mission in Syria is clear, or attainable, remains to be seen. Specific challenges differ from other U.S. interventions, but the approach reflects larger norms and patterns of U.S. foreign policy.
Jun Kwon is Assistant Professor of Government at Utica College. Sung Jang is a government student at Utica College.