Chris Murphy: Illegal Air Strikes Won’t Work

DoDConnecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy came out this past weekend against the Trump administration’s bombing in Syria, on both legal and strategic crowds. Here’s how he laid out his case in an email to supporters:

I’m sure you felt the same sense of fury I did when images appeared of the horror resulting from another chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, perpetrated by Bashar al-Assad. This attack is another in a long line of war crimes by the Assad regime, backed by their Russian and Iranian patrons.

The question on my mind is not whether or not these kind of attacks are unacceptable, but what American policy will most quickly bring an end to the war and Assad to justice.

Last night, President Trump launched what his Administration called a “surgical” air strike against Assad as retribution for the chemical weapons attack. There is no doubt Assad deserves every missile we fire at him, but there’s one big problem with air strikes—there is absolutely no proof it has any deterrent effect on Assad. To the contrary, history tells us these strikes will most likely quicken the pace of his assault on his own people.

I recommend that President Trump read up on early days of the Vietnam War, when U.S. leaders were sure that air strikes would cause the North Vietnamese to end their assault on the South and come to the negotiating table. Instead, the bombing campaign caused the North Koreans to ramp up the pace of the war. That is what is likely to happen in Syria – a bloodier, more brutal war as a result of continued U.S. half measures.

So far, the U.S. involvement in Syria has done nothing to shorten the war. In fact, it has lengthened it and increased the associated suffering of the Syrian people.

Here’s the problem - under both Obama and Trump, American military forces and assistance have provided just enough support to anti-Assad forces to keep the resistance going, but never enough help to actually dislodge Assad from power. This halfway strategy, which under President Trump has included two rounds of very limited impact air strikes, may make the U.S. feel better because we are doing something instead of nothing, but all it really does is prolong the civil war and the suffering of the Syrian people.

Thomas Breen PhotoWe need reconcile that now is the time for the U.S. to complete our mission against ISIS inside Syria, then pull back our military effort and focus on participating in a diplomatic process by which this war can be brought to a conclusion. Diplomacy, unfortunately, has been a foreign concept to this President, and he effectively ended the U.S. participation in the diplomatic process to end the war. President Trump has outsourced this effort to the Russians, Iranians and Turks, and they have eagerly accepted the job with the U.S. and our interests gone from the negotiating table.

One of the reasons the U.S. does not want to engage robustly in diplomacy is because the result is likely to be unsavory. Assad, or his successors, will likely remain in control of the majority of the country. But let’s be totally honest - that is the case today, and it will continue to the be the case unless the U.S. decides to invade, which we will not.

Importantly, no strategy can succeed in Syria without a surge in humanitarian and refugee relief. One of the cruelest aspects of this weekend’s bombing campaign is that it continues a U.S. policy under President Trump to bomb foreign nations, helping to create humanitarian nightmares, while locking people inside by refusing to allow refugees to come to the United States. Trump’s antipathy for humanitarian assistance hurts the most in Syria.

America has accepted a grand total of 11 Syrian refugees this year. That is unconscionable, and if President Trump really cares about the suffering of the Syrian people, he wouldn’t bomb them – he would rescue them, with a robust refugee program and massive humanitarian relief.

Finally, and probably most importantly, President Trump’s strikes are not legal. He does not have congressional permission to take military action against Syria as is required by the Constitution. The precedent that Trump has set by taking out another large-scale strike without prior public debate should scare every Member of Congress and every American. What restrains Trump from launching an attack on North Korea without getting Congressional authorization if he gets away with this attack in Syria?

American foreign policy needs to be driven by what will get results and what is legal, not by what satisfies our primal instincts of revenge. Last night’s strike is constitutionally illegal and also strategically counterproductive, and I oppose it.

Thank you for reading,

Chris Murphy
U.S. Senator, Connecticut

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posted by: 1644 on April 16, 2018  9:05am

So, does Murphy want to dislodge Assad from power?  Is Libya better off after we dislodged Qaddafi from power?  Was Egypt made a better place by Mubaruk’s removal?  Is the Ukraine more peaceful after we pushed for the removal of its democratically elected President?  Did the actual removal of Hussain in Iraq help average Iraqis?

  I am glad to see Murphy questioning Obama’s Syrian policy, but I don’t recall him calling Obama’s intervention illegal at the time.  Moreover, this statement is internally contradictory.  On one hand, Murphy criticizes Trump’s strikes for being too limited.  On the other hand, he falsely accuses Trump of exacerbating a humanitarian problem with these strikes.  In fact, the strikes were extremely limited, striking no housing and causing, according to Syria,  three injuries (of unknown severity) and no deaths.

posted by: DrJay on April 16, 2018  10:51am

Syria is a quagmire but that doesn’t mean that ignoring it is the best strategy. There are no good options, but one of the worst is ignoring the situation and allowing Iran to extend it’s borders westward. Unfortunately, we have already allowed Russia a permanent military base on the Mediterranean in Syria. We can’t dislodge the Russians but we should try to restrain the Iranians by supporting the Kurds and allowing a Kurdish state to be formed. This would kill our relationship with Turkey, but that alliance is nearly dead already. Being too timid with military force will hurt us in the long run.
I agree that Congress should be involved in planning and that helping Syrian refugees should be a national priority.
Kudos to Senator Murphy. I don’t always agree with his conclusions, but he thinks deeply about our foreign policy and always makes reasoned arguments.

posted by: 1644 on April 16, 2018  11:38am

DrJay: You are right that there are no good options.  You advocate for support of Kurdish independence as the best option.  That would (1) leave them with a landlocked state, (b) push Turkey into Russia’s orbit,  giving Russia control of the Bosphorus, a goal the “West”  has opposed for most of modern history (think Crimean War).  Moreover, the Turks are far stronger than the Kurds and will not be restrained in preventing a Kurdish state.  Do you advocate war with Turkey?  What about the bulk of Syria?  What do you propose to do with it?  As for more military force, we put a lot into Iraq, and what has it gotten us?  Chaos and the loss of an opponent to Iran, plus immense cost in blood and treasure and much suffering to the Iraqi people.  The moral choice is often the choice which causes the most harm.

posted by: alphabravocharlie on April 16, 2018  3:51pm

What is it about becoming a US Senator which imbues you with encyclopedic knowledge about any subject along with the ability to criticize but never offer solutions?

posted by: DrJay on April 16, 2018  6:49pm

1644- Thank you for your reasoned comments. This discussion would be better in person than online, but here’s one more reply.
Kurds occupy more than ¼ of Syria, including the oil rich areas. They have been the most important force in defeating ISIS. If we pull our air support, they will be overrun by Iran and Hezbollah, and the lucrative and strategic areas they control will fall.  Iran already controls Lebanon and large areas in Iraq. If the Kurds are displaced, Iran will have control over contiguous land from Iran to the Mediterranean. That worries me more than Turkey moving closer to Russia. Turkey and Russia have historic and religious reasons to be wary of each other.
That’s the strategic argument. There is also the moral one- Kurds have been the most loyal allies of the US in Iraq and in Syria, and are oppressed and deprived of a national homeland.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 16, 2018  7:19pm

If you’ve ever wondered about the quality, the intellect and the ability to critically think through a problem - you need look no further than this pathetic stance on Syria’s repeated gassing and torture of its own people - a war launched under Obama.  In Connecticut, we are represented ny nitwits and chronic complainers who in their years in Congress have accomplished exactly nothing except to gather headlines by a complacent, flaccid press.

posted by: 1644 on April 16, 2018  10:38pm

DrJay:  So, would US forces engage Turkish forces, our nominal NATO ally?  For those forces are directly engaging Kurdish forces, which lack the ability to resist.  Turkey is far more powerful than the Kurds.  Absent direct action by US forces, they will be over-run by the Turks.  Note: if we are interested in a strategic block to Iran, Turkey could fill that role as well as the Kurds, better, really, since they are more powerful.  moreover, given or now-found oil wealth with fracking,  what is our strategic interest in the Near and Middle East?  We have been involved there since Carter because of our oil dependence, but that dependence is over.  So why not just pull out, and retreat to Fortress America?  If we stopped meddling in the Near and Middle East, we would remove much of the justification for action against us by peoples of the Near and Middle East.

posted by: redman on April 17, 2018  1:56pm

Murphy is too dumb to understand. The U.S. is NOT trying to defeat Assad. The air strikes were directly related to the use of poison gas. Democrats with Obama tried diplomacy to end the use of poison gas and got false promises which failed. Trump did not create a precedent, the first that comes to mind is when the U.S. bombed Libya in 1986, but I don’t expect Murphy to know any history.