On Sunday, President Trump promised a “big price” will be paid for recent chlorine chemical attacks on civilians in the rebel-held Syrian suburb of Douma, which left at least 42 people dead from apparent suffocation. Trump blamed the attacks on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and, uncharacteristically, on Vladimir Putin, who has backed the Syrian regime.
Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
Trump's "big price" hasn't been revealed yet—on Monday, the administration announced that they will make a decision in the next 24 to 48 hours—but the President runs on emotion, be it impulsively hurtling insults at his political enemies on Twitter, or deciding when to drop bombs. He sees something upsetting on Fox News or while scrolling through Twitter—in this case, dead Syrian children, eyes open, foaming at the mouth, suffocated in their owns homes—and decides to take action. After a sarin gas attack a year ago killed an estimated 80 Syrian civilians, the U.S. military dropped 59 Tomahawk missiles on Al Shayrat airfield in response, killing a reported eight or nine civilians, according to Syrian media. And while just last week Trump was talking about pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, video of dead Syrian children foaming at the mouth is horrifying enough to make even President Trump pause from gazing at his reflection for a moment and think something must be done. "As bad as the news is around the world, you just don't see those images," he said Monday. And then, after that thing is done—calling air strikes, expelling diplomats, ordering sanctions—he'll be distracted by hearing his name on the news and turn back to the TV.
But does American military intervention actually change anything for Syrian civilians? When Trump ordered air strikes a year ago—a mission that cost an estimated $100 million dollars and was supposed to take out a chemical weapons facility—operations were reportedly up and running at the damaged airfield within few days. Since then, Assad has allegedly been responsible for at least four chlorine attacks in Douma this year alone.
There is, however, one thing Trump could do right now that could help ease suffering in Syria: He could lift refugee restrictions.
Currently, an estimated 5.5 million Syrian refugees have fled the violence of their home country. Most are now stuck in refugee camps and settlements in neighboring Turkey and Lebanon. Others have fled to Europe. Trump, however, has continually tried to reduce the number of refugees welcome in the U.S. Last year, he capped the refugee resettlement quota at 45,000, down from the previous annual limit of 110,000, as the Huffington Post's Will Frej points out. This year, the U.S. has resettled less than 11,000 refugees total—and only 44 of them have been Syrians. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to fight for his refugee ban in court, which, had it not been blocked by federal judges, would have suspended the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. indefinitely. If Trump wins in court, it still could.
Since the chemical attacks on Syria, Trump has repeatedly blamed President Obama for failing to act in Syria. And now Trump has the chance to correct his predecessor's mistake. But American military intervention in the Middle East has consistently made life worse, not better, for the people with the poor fortune of being born in a war zone; perhaps the answer, this time, isn't more bombs, but more visas.