Editor’s Note: The United States in general, and the Trump administration in particular, is often accused of not matching its deeds to its rhetoric. When the Trump administration decided to use force against the Syrian regime after it conducted a horrific chemical weapons attack, some Americans worried we might be getting bogged down fighting yet another enemy in the Middle East while others worried we were doing too little too late. Erik Gartzke of the University of San Diego strikes a slightly more optimistic note, arguing that the U.S. strike on Syria can and should serve broader U.S. objectives regarding chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction in general.
America’s foreign policy is often characterized by excess. We do too much, aim too high, and then lose interest, leaving muddles (or worse) behind. There are limited things we can do with a limited effort spawned by limited interests, even with enormous military capacity. Last week, President Donald Trump instructed the U.S. military to carry out a limited strike in response to evidence that the Assad regime in Syria had perpetrated a chemical weapons attack against his own people. If indeed the goal of the Trump administration is only to deter future chemical weapons attacks, this could work and may have been (even unintentionally) a “wise” use of military force. If instead the objective is, or becomes, something broader, then the administration risks repeating recent U.S. foreign policy excesses, and eventual failures.
There is a basic problem in Syria that most outsiders seem to want to ignore: Someone is going to win. For the conflict to…
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