5 Perspectives On What Trump’s Air Strike Means For The Syrian People

This is not a black-and-white issue.

In the wake of President Donald Trump's air strike in Syria, only one question should be on the minds of global citizens: what does this mean for the innocents inside Syria?

The strike, which came in response to Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons against his own people, has come with mixed — but mostly positive — reviews from politicians and activists across the globe.

Still, the only important question is how this strike will affect the Syrian people and what it means for the future of the country. Syria is currently in the middle of a deadly civil war and facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of our lifetime, with more than 5 million Syrian refugees scattered across the world and 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aide, according to the U.N.

Here are five perspectives on what this might mean for the Syrian people.

1. The air strike is a sign of some much-needed support from the United States.

In 2011, protests erupted in the city of Deraa after a group of teenagers was arrested and tortured for painting "revolutionary slogans" on a wall. The protests were pro-democracy, and became even more intense after security forces shot and killed demonstrators. Eventually, opposition to Assad took up arms and began the Civil War we are witnessing now.

Since then, America has been supporting the rebels with weapons and funding. Russian government forces have been backing Assad and the Syrian government, mainly for the strategic benefit of maintaining naval bases they have in the region. In 2013, Assad used chemical weapons against his own people and then allegedly did so again last week, though definitive evidence has yet to be presented. 

For some activists and members of rebel factions, Trump bombing the airfield in Syria is a sign he will be tougher on Assad than Obama was, who once promised to retaliate if Assad used chemical weapons — and then promised those chemical weapons were destroyed — but did little in the wake of the 2013 attack. 

2. What happens if Russia responds?

A big fear of striking the Assad regime is incidentally killing Russian soldiers on the ground there, an event that would force Russia's hand to retaliate and up its support for Assad's forces, seriously escalating the conflict. Since the air strike, Russian officials have vowed to defend the Syrian airspace going forward and a Russian navy vessel began approaching the area where the U.S. launched their airstrike. Pentagon officials are now reporting that they are investigating whether Russian armed forces were involved in the chemical weapons air strike against Syrian civilians.

What does all this mean? Some are concerned it could be a sign that Russia will increase its already noticeable presence, and in a worst-case scenario could leave U.S. and Russian forces battling inside Syria. If that happens, the violence and bloodshed that Syria has already seen — which some estimate has killed 470,000 people — will only get worse. For anyone caught in the crosshairs, this is bad news.

3. This will make the fight against ISIS harder.

While this was America's first direct strike against Assad's forces, we have been bombing ISIS in Syria for years. During that time, Syrian and Russian forces have had close encounters with American aircraft that have passed through eastern Syria to conduct strikes against ISIS, a group both sides are united in combatting. 

But this strike against Assad's government could mean trouble for America's fight against ISIS. Will they continue to go unimpeded when flying into Syria?

Andrew Exum, a Middle East scholar and a former army officer, wrote in The Atlantic that he was unsure.

"Both Russia and the Syrian regime, though, are still well-positioned to play the spoiler," he wrote. "They can affect the flights of U.S. aircraft in eastern Syria by activating their air defenses and have, in recent months, brought in more advanced air-defense weaponry that has even the Israelis nervous. They've also "accidentally" struck U.S.-backed rebel groups fighting the Islamic State."

So, what will happen? It's impossible to say, but it could mean a lot more trouble for U.S. forces when they enter Syria to combat ISIS, and it could make extremist groups' lives easier when attacking Syrian forces.

4. Syrian refugees are split about Trump.

If you're a Syrian refugee, this recent development must be head-spinning. On one hand, President Trump has banned Syrian refugees from entering the United States. On the other hand, those Syrian refugees — many of whom are fleeing Assad — just saw Trump deal a blow to a leader they loathe.

"As Syrians, we have mixed feelings today," Wasim Ghazi, a Syrian refugee who now lives in Spain, told BuzzFeed. "Trump, who banned Syrians — and many people around the world were outraged with that racist ban — actually made us happy today."

For many, Assad not being able to get to get away with his crimes is a fantastic development. But at the same time, if Trump cares about dead Syrian children, those same Syrians are left wondering why the United States won't do more to help those displaced. 

5. Assad's government isn't inherently bad, and the rebels aren't inherently good

In the western world, the narrative around the Syrian Civil War usually gives favor to the rebels opposing President Assad. These are the same rebels Trump is giving a helping hand to with his air strike.

But it's not that simple. 

After President Trump's air strike, ISIS combatants used the opening to launch an offensive against Assad's government forces nearby. After all, Syrian soldiers are on the front lines of the battle against ISIS and Al Qaeda, both of which are prominent in Syria. Of course, some Syrian soldiers died in Trump's attack. 

Further, extremist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS and Al Qaeda have praised the attacks, a sign that they are happy to see the Syrian government forces take a blow. For some Syrian journalists on the ground, Trump's decision lacks a long-term vision and is seen as a power grab. Many cite these intricacies of the war as reason Trump should have gone to congress for approval of the air strike, something he didn't do. 

All five of these points are just a reminder of the complexity surrounding the war in Syria, and that depending on who you ask, action like this is going to be received differently.

Ultimately, we must do our best to support the solutions that will give hope to the innocent civilians of Syria who are hoping for less war. 

For more political commentary, you can follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter

Cover image: Tolga Sezgin / Shutterstock

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