In early April, the Syrian regime led by Bashar Al-Assad carried out an attack on innocent civilians in the city of Douma using chemical weapons. Fifty-six peaceful citizens were killed during the attack.

This event should have been a viral news story.  However, the world has heard about Assad’s use of illegal weapons for years, and these stories often die out. Shortly afterward, on April 13th, the press learned that the United States, the United Kingdom, and France launched a combined airstrike in retaliation. This airstrike was met with praise from the right and condemnation from the left because it could exacerbate conflict with Syria and Syria’s allies, especially Russia. However, this airstrike was completely justified due to the method in which it was carried out. It was also justified by previous remarks by former President Barack Obama and President Trump.

This airstrike was no wanton act of destruction. According to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, the highest ranking military officer in the United States, the sites of the attacks were chosen because they had an effect on the production of chemical weapons, and they were not simply attacks on Assad. Dunford said, “The targets that were struck and destroyed were specifically associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program.”  He later added, “We also selected targets that would minimize the risk to innocent civilians.” This was a measured offensive, contrary to the image that some Democrats have painted of it.

Some have also expressed concern that the attack might inflame tensions with Russia, Syria’s major ally, as there is a chance that airstrikes could hit Russian forces. However, Dunford stated, “we specifically identified these targets to mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved, and we used our normal deconfliction channels… to work through the airspace issue.” This attack was specifically planned so that the Russians would not be harmed in any way.  

The United States also had legitimate reasons for the attack as well as the legal justification. Barack Obama previously said that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line,” and that if Syria crossed that line, U.S military action could be justified. When Assad continued to use chemical weapons and no U.S military action occurred even as evidence of his actions mounted, it was a sign of hypocrisy from our highest office. It sent a message to Assad that he could continue to commit his horrible crimes.  This policy needed to change, and military action like this multinational offensive was the only way to send a message that the world would no longer tolerate Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Nonetheless, senators such as Democrat Tim Kaine argued that it was unlawful for the President to order the strike without Congressional approval. As Defense Secretary James Mattis said, “As our commander in chief, the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important United States national interests.” While Senator Kaine was invoking the War Powers Act, a law which forces the President to obtain Congressional approval for military action, this airstrike did not fall under that jurisdiction, as the law explicitly states that the President can order strikes as long as they last fewer than 60 days.  

The retaliatory airstrike wasn’t a “reckless” attack. This offensive had one purpose, which was to hit sites critical to the Syrian chemical weapons program without causing civilian and Russian casualties. It accomplished that task. It remains to be seen whether this action pressures Syria into stopping its human rights abuses. If Assad continues to use these dangerous weapons, the only option is another strike like this one, because the United States must make him pay for the abuses to which he has subjected his people.