Assad: World’s most serious security threat
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Assad: World’s most serious security threat

(Cartoon: Suliman alMosihij)
Date: 2017-04-09 16:01
The United States President Donald Trump has finally admitted that the actions of dictator Bashar Assad are a threat to the U.S. and its allies.

Trump’s admission connecting the use of chemical weapons to the U.S. national security was equally imperative as the air strikes themselves. Trump remarked: “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” 

This marks a critical break from Obama’s Syria policy that refused to recognize the security threat posed by the use of chemical weapons by Assad. The absence of this type of policy statement absolved the Obama administration from acting in Syria, and was a linguistic quagmire I repeatedly encountered. 

Members of the U.S. Congress repeatedly requested that the Syrian American opposition who I worked with present a stronger argument for U.S. intervention in Syria because Obama continually rejected the notion that Assad posed a danger.

Assad’s violation of international law, nor his destabilizing of the Middle East region was considered a danger to the U.S. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was removed for the mere suspicion of stock piling weapons of mass destruction, while Assad’s confirmed use of chemical weapons did not provoke a real response. Even the refugee crisis that followed in the summer and fall of 2015 did not motivate action.

I was in Serbia a month before the refugee crisis hit Western Europe. I met with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the same week I returned and reported what I saw. The mafia was openly operating throughout Eastern Europe and I warned that a disaster was about to hit our closest allies. Their response was “we already know,” but they were unable to act. 

I met also with several European officials pleading them to put pressure on the U.S. to take action against Assad.  There was no argument I could present to Washington that would elicit a response; I hoped the Europeans could persuade Obama to act. 

On Thursday evening, Trump said: “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the Unites States and its allies.” These were the words the Syrian opposition hoped to hear years ago and were the arguments I made that were rebuked by the Obama administration. 

The U.S. strike on Assad’s Shayrat airbase, though viewed as a limited attack, was a strategic victory, and should be praised as such, but must be part of a larger strategy to remove Assad if the U.S. hopes to accomplish their large military goal of defeating ISIS. 

It is Assad and not ISIS who poses the greatest security threat to the world, as Trump’s statement demonstrates. Assad created the chaotic environment necessary for ISIS to expand its influence, territory and power base.

Trump inherited a failed Syria policy from his predecessor. However, Trump’s break from Obama’s strategy of hands-off Assad, may be indicative of a larger policy shift that may be more reflective of what Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for in their joint statement parsing President Trump’s action is Syria as an “important message” to Assad and his ally, Putin, to prevent the slaughter of “innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs.” Senators McCain and Graham write that the strike is a “credible first step” that needed to be followed by a “comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria.”

Trump called on all “civilized nations to join” together to seek an end to “the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.” However, the U.S. will continue to be ineffectual in Syria and Iraq while their focus remains ISIS. There is no quick fix. Assad is the obstacle to a resolution to the seven-year Syrian saga, not ISIS. The only means to ensure a victory over ISIS is to remove Assad and his regime. It is a no-brainer.

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Anisa Abeytia is a freelance writer who contributes to a good number of media outlets. Abeytia is actively engaged in advocating for the Syrian cause since 2012 and more recently for refugee rights. She produced/directed three documentaries on Syrian refugees. Abeytia is a graduate of Stanford University with an MA in Post-Colonial and Feminists Theory.

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