CINCINNATI — When Syrian native Dr. Ashraf Traboulsi heard about the United States’ missile attack, his first thought was, ‘Where and who is going to die?’
President Donald Trump cast 59 U.S. cruise missiles at a Syrian air base Thursday night in response to recent chemical gas attacks against civilians. It was the United States’ first direct attack against the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office.
Traboulsi, president of the Syrian American Foundation, knows of the violence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime all too well. The lifeless faces of children and civilians following Syria’s chemical gas attack, he said, hit close to home.
“They went through this. They went through bombings.
“They went through their homes being destroyed, losing families, loved ones, and basically it reopens that story every time they see it … they see it everyday and it becomes part of their daily life.”
People are desperate for a solution, Traboulsi said, but he isn’t sure the attack Trump ordered is the answer.
“What President Trump has done is a slap on the hand,” he said. “What we are looking for is a more robust policy and comprehensive strategy that leads to the end of this conflict, to the peaceful resolution of this conflict.
“It leads to holding Assad, and his cronies, and the people who are supporting him accountable to the war crimes they have committed in the last seven years.”
Public officials expressed mixed opinions on the strike. About two dozen lawmakers were briefed on the strikes, but Trump approved the action without consulting Congress or the United Nations.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, praised the attack but said the U.S. needs a “comprehensive strategy.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the strike was a “proportional response” to Assad’s attacks, but he also said the strike poses many questions, including how it will impact troops and long-term military engagement in Syria.
Dr. Rebecca Sanders, assistant professor of political science at University of Cincinnati, said it’s unclear at this point what the attack will impact the United States’ image.
“Missile strikes without a larger articulated strategy of political and possible military engagement don’t send a particularly clear message,” Sanders said. “So I think we need to learn more about what the Trump administration is intending to do vis-a-vis Syria before we can really gauge what the reaction of the international community and the American public is going to be.”
But she said one thing is for certain: The attack will prompt debates in many political circles.
“Politically over the next few days, we’re probably going to see Democrats raise significant concerns about the lack of congressional approval for the strike … we’ll probably see a debate within the Republican Party over whether the United States should continue to be more aggressive, or whether they should use this as an opportunity to negotiate with Russia,” Sanders said.
“And of course we’ll see anti-war protesters and people who are really concerned about the United States being embroiled in another unsolvable conflict in the Middle East like we saw in Iraq. And then we’ll probably see people who are really concerned about the humanitarian situation saying, ‘Look, this might look good on television to have this strike against chemical weapons, but what are we actually doing to help refugees?'”
The first step to some kind of a solution in Syria, Sanders said, is a public discussion about what the policy is.
“In the absence of that discussion, we don’t have a strategy, we just have a one-off use of force against another sovereign state,” Sanders said. “Now, the Assad regime is an atrocious regime — I think it needs to go at some point — but how we’re going to get there is something that we need to have a discussion about.”
Traboulsi agrees a clear strategy is needed to begin to resolve the situation.
“I’m not looking for more casualties, more victims,” Traboulsi said. “I’m looking for a strategy that would hold Assad accountable for his crimes, stopping the import of weapons into his regimes, holding the powers that are supporting him accountable to their actions … more war is not the answer.
“More bombing is not the answer. Unless there is a strategy, it’s not the answer.”
The United States’ strike was not a particularly sad day for Syria, Traboulsi said.
“Everyday’s a sad day for Syria. For the past six years,” he said.