We're joined by EJ Kimball, a senior advisor at the Middle East Forum. EJ, thanks for joining us. The U.S. is making a very clear, very public warning. Is this unusual, what is the strategy here?
Well, thank you for having me on tonight. I think this response is actually indicative of the Trump administration approach. President Trump when he was a candidate was very clear that he was going to destroy ISIS, he was going to eliminate their strongholds. He directed his secretary of defense to develop a plan. They're implementing that plan.
And when it comes to the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, he made it very clear in April with his response [to a Syrian regime chemical weapons attack] that that's a red line that he will not allow to be crossed. And if it is, he's going to respond harshly.
And I think what we're seeing right now is the United States getting close to reaching its objective in regards to ISIS. And now we're looking at what the post-ISIS area is going to look like afterwards, and it's not an area that we want Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime to be able to control.
As you said, this is really the president drawing a red line. What would that "heavy price" that he is threatening be? What kind of action do you anticipate the U.S. taking?
The U.S. launched cruise missile strikes on a Syria air base in response to a regime chemical weapons attack in April.
Well, I can't judge what President Trump is going to do. However, the one lesson that I think we've learned early on with President Trump is that when he has threatened an action, he is following through on those threats.
I don't believe that this is an idle threat. I don't believe this is a fake line in the sand. I believe he is serious that if chemical weapons are used there will be a harsh response that will cause damage not just to the Assad regime, but also to Iran and Russia who are supporting [it].
If chemical weapons are not indeed used, to your point that this could be about carving territories in Syria as the conflict, at least with ISIS, seems to see some hope of resolution, what can you expect from the U.S. and Russia as the tensions have been escalating?
At the moment, I don't believe that there will be an escalation directly between the U.S. and Russia, meaning U.S. and Russian forces fighting it out. I think there is a bigger issue here, which is the nonproliferation regime and the use of chemical weapons in war, which has been banned for nearly a century. This is an issue that the Syrian regime has violated. The Russians were supposedly getting rid of all of those chemical weapons a few years ago. Clearly that has not happened. And in order to preserve this nonproliferation regime and prevent the use of WMDs in war, we need to enforce the laws that are on the books. Otherwise what's the point of having these nonproliferation agreements.
Clearly the Obama diplomacy failed here if indeed the stockpiles do exist. So, how do you enforce them, and how do you make sure that these chemical weapons do not get into even worse hands? Who should be doing that?
Well, unfortunately the party that is going to have to do that is the United States, unless the other international actors in the international community will step up. The United Kingdom [and] France have both called for essentially a red line on another use of chemical weapons.
"The United States is the force for good in the world, and we need to step up."
It will have to be seen whether those weapons are used and whether or not they form a strong coalition to remove those weapons, but you have the issue of Russia and its ability to veto anything in the UN Security Council to implement it.
I think that ultimately we need to look at the United States as a force for good in the world. And the use of chemical weapons is not to be allowed. We need to enforce those and protect people from the horrific crime of using chemical weapons.
Do you think the U.S. should be playing the role of the world's police force, especially considering that the president pushed a more isolationist approach during the campaign, putting America first.
It would be great if the world would stand up and stop this from happening. Unfortunately the world has not acted. And when the world will not act, someone needs to. And the United States is the force for good in the world, and we need to step up and stand up for American exceptionalism, and prevent these atrocities from happening. And if the world won't stand up and stand up to the Assad regime and prevent them from using these chemical weapons, if the Russians won't prevent these chemical weapons from being used, we need to stop it.