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Analysis Of U.S.-Led Airstrikes On Syria After Suspected Chemical Attack


Over the weekend, the U.S. led an airstrike on sites in Syria that produced chemical weapons. President Trump was responding to a chemical weapons attack earlier this month that killed dozens of Syrians.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.

KING: Now, the Russian military says it shot down many of the missiles. The U.S. says that is not true. Kori Schake's on the line with us from London. She was on President George W. Bush's National Security Council. Good morning.

KORI SCHAKE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So President Trump said these strikes were meant to discourage the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons again. Do you think these strikes will do that?

SCHAKE: Well, I think, like this strike that took place last year, it will do so for a while. But this is a problem that you're going to have to keep paying attention to because every time Bashar al-Assad needs a battlefield victory that he can't achieve by conventional forces, he employs chemical weapons to try and terrorize the rebels into submission.

KING: Is there anything that the U.S. or its allies could do to discourage Assad's use of these weapons permanently?

SCHAKE: Yes. You could take Bashar al-Assad out of power.


SCHAKE: That would do it. One of the things that I thought the administration was likely to do that I think because of concern about involvement of Russia in the region - of potential retaliation by Russia - they limited their restraint from doing, which would have been to impose a penalty on the Syrian conventional forces such that every time Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, we destroy more and more of his conventional military capability. I think that's a useful way. It has the downside of making him more reliant on the Russians and so strengthening Russia and Iran's role. But it also shows Bashar al-Assad that there is a penalty in his ability to win the war every time he takes recourse to chemical weapons. I think we should do more of that.

KING: Well, Assad has made a show on social media of not being fazed by these missile strikes. They didn't change who's winning the war, did they - these strikes?

SCHAKE: No, I don't think they changed who's winning the war. In fact, I think it is Trump administration strategy explicitly not to be involved in who wins the war. They have a strategy that's a very narrow military focus to the defeat of ISIS. And they're willing to leave Bashar al-Assad in power. They're willing to watch the horrific humanitarian spectacle of the suffering of the Syrian people. They're willing to endure the pressure that is being put on American allies, like Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, because of refugees from Syria. All they are trying to do is defeat ISIS and uphold the norm against chemical weapons use.

KING: And we don't have a lot of time left. But do you think that is a mistake?

SCHAKE: I personally think it is a mistake, but I understand that they are trying not to have us take over the outcome of the Syrian civil war. I would prefer a strategy that focused on the refugees - building safe spaces for them, building the capacity for self-governance in those areas and protecting them from Bashar al-Assad.

KING: Kori Schake served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. And she's now deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Thanks, Kori.

SCHAKE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S “AFTER THOUGHTS”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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