SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A representative for the Syrian opposition says he hopes the cruise missile attack ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump against Syria helps bring about the end of a brutal six-year civil war.
“We see it as the beginning of the end of the Syrian war,” Najib Ghadbian told CBS San Francisco Friday. Ghadbian is the Syrian National Coalition’s U.S. representative and grew up in Syria before fleeing at the age of 19.
Ghadbian describes his job as a “troublemaker for the Syrian regime.”
The Syrian National Coalition was recognized by the U.S. and others in 2013. Ghadbian is also part of the United Nations High Negotiations Committee.
“Of course we welcome that,” Ghadbian said of the strikes carried out by the U.S. military Thursday (which was early Friday in Syria).
“It’s really the first response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” he said.
“Our hope is that it will not stop there … we hope it will progress into the protection of civilians … and lead to political transition without Assad,” Ghadbian said.
Ghadbian said the strikes ended the notion that the U.S. would consider partnering with Assad against terrorism and that the administration perhaps recognizes that “you cannot defeat ISIS while the regime is in power.”
It’s not clear whether the U.S. missile strikes in Syria were a one-off or if more are yet to come, but members of the Syrian opposition, as well as U.S. Congress and academics have a lot of questions for President Trump.
The response to the missile strike by those who support the opposition has largely been positive, with the Syrian American Council not only thanking Trump but encouraging the U.S. to do more to stop the Syrian government, saying “We urge President Trump to ground the entire Syrian Air Force along with the regime’s chemical weapons storage facilities, air bases, runways, and other military assets of Assad’s war machine.”
Mirna Barq, the President of the Syrian American Council said in a statement Friday, “Unless President Trump translates his outrage about the killings into military action, Assad will carry out more attacks against innocent Syrian civilians including nerve gas attacks. It is therefore critical and urgent that the U.S. strike regime military airports and fighter jets so that Assad will be unable to perpetrate such crimes again.”
Following the chemical attack, the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged Trump to establish safe zones, stating prior to the U.S. missile strikes, “Instead of acquiescing to the actions of a regime that murders and tortures its own people, we must help the Syrian people replace that regime with a representative government that ensures freedom and democracy.”
Academics who have been watching the human rights abuses unfold in Syria for decades were fascinated by what appeared to be a lightning-fast foreign policy decision by the Trump administration.
Dr. Lisel Hintz, a professor of Middle East politics at Columbia University’s Barnard College, told CBS San Francisco Friday, “President Trump acted without consulting traditional diplomatic channels, just as he did with the travel ban …”
Dr. Alise Coen, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan told CBS San Francisco the U.S. strikes are a significant departure from Trump’s previous policy stances on the Syrian conflict.
“The justification framing the strike as motivated by compassion for Syrian children and chemical weapons attack victims is also a departure from his policy stance on Syrian refugees, reflected most recently in his administration’s efforts to block all Syrian refugees from entry into the United States,” Coen said.
Dr. Corri Zoli with the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University told CBS San Francisco that most members of Congress who have been making public statements about the strike have supported the President, even Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who have been staunch critics of the Trump agenda. She said most U.S. allies have also come out in support of the U.S. missile attacks.
“At its best, this strike resets the international norm against use of Chemical Weapons which the Obama Administration let lapse, gives the beleaguered citizens of the Middle East hope that strong powers will not tolerate these outrageous human rights brutalities against poor civilians … At its worst, this strike could cause larger fights with Russia and Iran …” Zoli said.
But Ghadbian remains hopeful that a political transition is on the horizon.
He said “Assad hasn’t been willing to take the political process seriously” but that the military action by the U.S. “adds pressure that wasn’t willing to be used by Obama.”
Following the strikes against a Syrian Air Force airfield in Syria, U.S. Congressional leaders have been pressing the administration for a comprehensive strategy going forward.
Rep. Pelosi penned a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) Friday urging him to call for the House to return from recess to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against Syria.
“As heartbreaking as Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on his own people was, the crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes,” Pelosi wrote. “The American people are owed a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives to keep our brave men and women in uniform safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians in Syria.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) said the U.S. cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons but said one “surgical strike” won’t stop that and is urging Ryan to bring Congress back into session for a debate and vote on the AUMF.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Castro Valley) also weighed in on Friday, condemning the Syrian government and urging Congress to debate a strategy if more U.S. strikes in Syria are coming.
Swalwell pointed to a tweet from Trump in 2013 that read “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!”
While Ryan didn’t make any immediate moves to reconvene the House, he said on Thursday, “These tactical strikes make clear that the Assad regime can no longer count on American inaction as it carries out atrocities against the Syrian people … I look forward to the administration further engaging Congress in this effort.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) held a Facebook Live town hall meeting Friday to discuss the missile strikes. McCain, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Service, has long condemned Assad and renewed his calls for a regime change on Friday.
“We need to arm the Free Syrian Army, establish a no-fire zone – a safe zone – and eventually bring about the ouster of Bashar Assad, a proven war criminal who has slaughtered over 400,000 of his own people and driven 6 million into refugee status,” McCain said.
Trump has not been as outspoken about what he thinks the best strategy would be for Syria.
Late on Thursday night, Trump spoke briefly about his decision to order, what he called “a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.”
Trump condemned the chemical attack by “dictator Bashar al-Assad” saying “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically.”
But Trump had done little to condemn the Syrian government prior to the strike, which he ordered while at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
On the campaign trail, Trump said members of the U.S.-backed opposition in Syria “are probably worse than Assad.” When asked if he would negotiate with Putin to pressure Assad to step aside, Trump had said, “I don’t think it’s that important.”
By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.