Risch is the Chairman of the Middle East Subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Late Thursday evening, President Trump authorized the launch of roughly five dozen Tomahawk missiles at an air base in Syria; the same base that supported an atrocious chemical weapons attack against innocent civilians and children just days prior. With this action, President Trump reestablished a red line on the use of chemical weapons. A red line that had been dangerously absent since August 2013 when President Obama issued one and then refused to enforce it.
This attack has done more than redraw an important boundary on the use of weapons of mass destruction; it has also begun to restore U.S. leadership and credibility around the world. Leaders from North Korea to Iran to Russia and others took immediate notice. Simultaneously, many U.S. allies were relieved. For this was the moment the United States reaffirmed we will not tolerate violations of international norms nor evil acts condemned by the world. President Trump proved the United States will push back when our national security is threatened and, once again, will back up its rhetoric with action when necessary.
When the Syrian Civil War started, many in the United States believed involvement was not in America’s best interests. Over the years, Assad brutalized his own people, particularly women and children. Sadly, this recent attack was a shameful reminder of Assad’s true nature. In the process, the world has seen a civil war change into an international conflict where terrorists took over much of Syria, many of whom have returned to the United States and other countries to conduct attacks. The ongoing conflict has destabilized much of the region including important allies like Jordan and Turkey, and has allowed Iran to increase its influence on Israel’s border. These issues have created a refugee crisis felt across the United States and Europe as tens of thousands seek to enter our countries.
There are no ideal solutions, but one fact has become clear, as this conflict continues we will have fewer options and more consequences for the United States, our interests, and our allies. The United States must help lead this tragic situation to a conclusion. If Syria continues down the path of civil war and chaos, the Assad regime will continue to retake territory. As this instability continues, Assad will steadily eliminate the opposition, and the West will see the reestablishment of an anti-U.S. and Israel crescent stretching from Tehran to Israel’s border. The United States is the only country that can prevent that outcome.
The international community has been starving for leadership in Syria. The airstrikes of April 6 were a good first step, but the United States must go further to push back against Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran. This will require a more comprehensive strategy toward Syria.
There are reports of additional chemical weapons remaining in Syria. The same weapons Assad and the Russians said were destroyed in 2014. The United States should ensure the destruction of these weapons and the airfields that could launch attacks using them. I support the Trump Administration’s effort to seek a resolution at the UN Security Council that sanctions the Assad regime. Both Russia and China blocked a similar resolution in February. They should support this resolution now or prove they support Assad staying in power.
We also need to build and support a coalition that can effectively ensure the safety of Syrians at home and ensure neither Assad nor the Islamic State can destabilize the country. This would include working with our Turkish allies and Syrian opposition, and supporting Kurdish forces fighting on the ground against both the Islamic State and Assad’s forces.
The Trump Administration has proven to the people of Syria, and the world, that the United States is once again willing to confront growing instability and inhumanity. The long-term goal of the United States is a Syria at peace with itself and its neighbors. We ultimately need to work with our allies to help the Syrian people reestablish the institutions of government, society and security so refugees can return home and rebuild their country.
Read Risch's full editorial on TIME's website.