The Trump administration on April 24, 2017 moved to impose sanction on the Syrian government following its alleged used of sarin, a chemical agent, on civilians. The sanctions only affect 271 employees of the Syrian government who the Trump administration believe is responsible for producing chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. The targeted employees are part of President Bashar Assad’s Scientific Study and Research Center (SSRC).
According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the action is one of the largest his department’s Office of Foreign Assets has ever had to undertake. He asserts that “the United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any actor, and we intend to hold the Assad regime accountable for its unacceptable behavior”.
While this latest move by the Trump administration to punish the use of chemical weapons is praiseworthy, it remains to be seen whether it would effectively serve as a deterrent to further use. President George W. Bush placed sanctions on the Syria regime back in 2005, targeting the same SSRC and accusing it of producing weapons of mass destruction. However, as time went by, the Syria government continued to do so.
Further sanctions on Syria at this point in the ongoing civil war are an indication of the Trump’s administration’s lack of a clear policy objective in the war torn country. Just as sanctions did not prevent Russia from pursuing its policies in Ukraine, it will not change the status quo in Syria. As Russia continues to do Syria’s bidding, it will be increasingly difficult for the Trump administration to achieve its foreign policy goals.
As thousands of lives continue to be claimed in the conflict, it is imperative that the Trump administration confront Mr. Putin and seek to determine what could be done in order to stop the bloodbath. Although Mr. Assad is far from being expandable from a Russian perspective, figuring out what should be done about him would be a good place to start. The US-Turkey-Saudi coalition wants the removal of Assad by all means necessary whereas the Russo-Iranian coalition are intent on fighting extremist and terrorist organizations on the ground in Syria.
Despite of all Assad’s atrocities, his army represents the only thing preventing the total collapse of Syrian institutions and preserving the territorial integrity of the country. The fall of Assad at the hands of the US-led coalition could further destabilize the country as Sunni extremists come pouring in. It would be wise and critical for the US to either help clear Syria of terrorist groups or at least prevent the Gulf monarchies from funding said groups at the possible expense of the relationship with said monarchies. The alternative to that suggestion would be further escalation of the conflict as more lives continue to be lost and and a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportion.