The Atlantic

When Do Limited Strikes 'Work'?

Micah Zenko explains the logic of Trump’s Syria intervention—and its chances of success
Source: Ford Williams / U.S. Navy / Reuters

On Thursday, the U.S. military launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airbase in Homs, Syria—America’s first direct intervention against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom much of the international community blames for a chemical-weapons attack that killed some 80 Syrians earlier this week. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” President Trump told reporters Thursday evening by way of explanation.

It was a dramatic shift for the Trump administration, which has so far advocated—in rhetoric, if not entirely in practice—a noninterventionist approach to foreign policy, emphasizing “America First” over international concerns. As my colleague Jeffrey Goldberg noted, it was also a significant departure from former President Obama’s approach to the Syrian conflict; after a similar crisis in 2013, when Assad was blamed for a chemical-weapons attack that killed roughly 1,000 people, Obama threatened to strike Assad but instead embraced a negotiated deal aimed at removing the Syrian leader’s chemical arsenal. (The attack this week showed that the deal did not achieve its stated objective.) Meanwhile, the Trump

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