Multimedia reporting by Diego Pineda
President Donald Trump’s recent decision to launch a cruise missile attack on Syria has raised many questions in the university community.
In an effort to answer these questions and give background knowledge about this complex situation, Elon faculty held a panel on April 11. The participants discussed the U.S. relations with Syria as well as with Russia and the international community, humanitarian and legal issues, and political consequences. The event was sponsored by the International and Global Studies Program, the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies, and the Council on Civic Engagement.
Haya Ajjan, associate professor of management information systems, is a Syrian-American and shared her personal accounts of how she felt when the missile was launched last week.
“What we saw on Tuesday was the most severe chemical attack we have seen inside Syria since 2013,” Aijan said.
She described her husband and her being “glued” to the TV when they saw the news of the attack and recalls they were both crying once they saw what was occurring.
Aijan considers herself against war and wanted to remind those at the panel discussion that across Syria, people have seen death in every form- from barrel bombs to torture.
“In the past six years, we Syrians have experienced an endless nightmare of loss,” Aijan said. “I really think that this is a very strong symbolic message to the Assad regime that atrocities are no longer tolerated.”
Despite the implications of the attack, Aijan said she did not know what impact this would have on the war in Syria. What she was sure of was that her people want to rebuild Syria and have peace again.
Baris Kesgin, associate professor of political science said that nobody is aware of what happened behind closed doors that led to the order of the missile attack. He believes that President Trump may have acted on his emotions at the moment
“We are probably safe to assume that this is pretty much dominated by the president himself at the moment,” Kesgin said.
The mixed signals the public is receiving from the Trump administration are confusing. Kesgin said that maybe this may be a strategy from administration to be intentionally confusing.
“To my reading, this has been a big great power contestation since the U.S. somehow intervened through the region of powers,” Kesgin said.
Kesgin said that the administration has signaled that the issue is not centered around Assad and his regime. There is more to understand, but there is also a lot that Americans are missing when discussing issues like the U.S. relations with Russia. According to Kesgin, people are forgetting attacks such as the ones ISIS has in Mosul or countries that play a role in these issues like Yemen.
Jason Kirk, associate professor of political science and policy studies, mentioned that the U.S. strategy lacks clarity in its purpose and goals. He referred to President Trump’s action as “a symbolic action without clear symbolism”
Though the disorganization in the administration of any U.S. president in his first days in office is normal throughout historical standards, President Trump’s administration seems to be intrigued by having good weeks or bad weeks and not looking at the overall progress of the administration. Kirk said that this reflects the lack of staffing in key positions.
“If we look at features of the strike there’s more to suggest that that it was calibrated to be a swift response,” Kirk said. “I think we should understand that if that’s the intended symbolism, we should recognize what that means in terms of practical limits.”
For Kirk, one of the biggest issues is the multiple statements that have come from the president and his surrogates which “have broadened the symbolism behind the symbolic action.”
Kirk said that President Trump’s decision may have seemed appropriate for him to make during last week’s period. Kirk’s own interpretation of the decision may be different next week, next month or in the following years due to the implications that are evolving.
“In the context of last week, it made sense but the question is moving forward what is the larger storyline?” Kirk said.
Kirk compared the way President Trump is governing to a reality show, focusing on having good narratives each week. The stakes are high for the U.S. and its actions since there is a national and international audience that is still confused on what Trump meant with is action.
Kaye Usry, instructor in political science and interim assistant director of Elon Poll, provided insights on why the attack occurred and what the polls have revealed since.
Usry said that polling showed that 51 percent of Americans supported President Trump’s action and 32 percent refused it. In regards to what the political parties believe, 80% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats supported the action.
The public response and views of left or right news organizations have shown that the issue does not lie within parties, but instead, it lies within the elite of the U.S. administration.
“Under Trump, we are seeing very different trends in presidential approval,” Ursy said.
Usry said that it was important to note that people’s perceptions of the attack affect whom they think the attack was for.