What were the motives stated for for the US attacking Syria or incentives to do that?

It doesn't seem like there was any immediate threat from Syria to the US. (After all, they neither have ICBM's nor a blue water navy to be able to attack the US.) The targets of the Syrian attack were not US citizens. Is the only reason to proactively protect rebels from future attacks?

  • 18
    You can never know what the motives were. You can't read minds. You can ask what the motives were stated to be; you can ask what the incentives are. But not what the motives in someone's head were.
    – user4012
    Apr 10, 2017 at 15:17
  • 1
    They claim it was to prevent future chemical attacks. But that is unlikely given that they first need to establish that the Syrian regime was indeed responsible. Trump's approval ratings are seriously hurting right now, and his pro-Russia stance clearly isn't doing him much good at home. Lots of influential people have economical and geopolitical interests to see regime change in Syria, Libya style. The question is, will Trump comply or not. Apr 10, 2017 at 15:26
  • 2
    @RegisteredUser - fixed
    – user4012
    Apr 10, 2017 at 15:51
  • 2
    According to the official mouthpiece of the Trump administration(spicer) the intent was to destabilize the situation is Syria facebook.com/DollarVigilante/videos/1560488020630289 Apr 10, 2017 at 20:32
  • 4
    You should read this wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/emailid/18328#efmADQAFfASJAT7
    – mou
    Apr 11, 2017 at 8:09

5 Answers 5


Part of the reason is purely domestic political (which, of course, a lot of foreign policy reasons boil down to, in many countries).

In case of Trump and Assad, there were actually several independent domestic factors:

  1. President Trump's base is the same people who criticized President Obama over setting 'red line' for Assad over use of chemical weapons and not doing anything when he did use them (because they happen to think that gassing people with poison is Not a Good Thing, even if the gassed people are Muslims in Syria).

    As such, Trump - contrary to his own non-interventionist stance - was forced to act decisively lest he lose the support of his base as "just a next Obama who lets Assad gas his people with impunity".

  2. OTOH, if he acted weak on Assad, he would give basis to the Democrats and left wing to attack him as "Russia's lapdog", since that would play right into left wing narrative of him being Russia's Manchurian candidate.

    As such, he was forced to act decisively to maintain appearance that he isn't just dancing to Putin's tune.

    Yes, the deep irony of Obama and Trump role reversal on both these points isn't lost on me :)

  3. There could be an argument made that Trump is also angling for general approval bump in a "rally around the flag" manner.

    We don't have good polling to see if that worked, yet, but FiveThirtyEight prediction is that it may not have a huge or permanent effect.

The polling so far clearly support conclusion #1 and probably #3, but isn't clear on whether #2 worked in Trump's favor at all (supporting 538's #3)

A HuffPost/YouGov survey finds 51 percent of Americans support the president's decision to order the airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical attack last week that killed civilians in northern Syrian.
Thirty-two percent of Americans are opposed to the strikes and 17 percent are uncertain.
Among Trump voters, 83 percent support the president's decision, while just 11 percent oppose it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Apr 11, 2017 at 18:45
  • 2
    Do you have any citations, particularly for the claim that right-wingers expected Trump to respond to gassing? Trump had already staked out a position on that very topic in 2013, so why wouldn't his supporters tolerate him remaining consistent with his 2013 position. Similarly, there's nothing provided to support the second point when the opposite could also easily be true (since Democrats have already staked out both positions, the Obama faction being anti-punishment and the Clinton faction being pro-punishment).
    – J Doe
    Apr 11, 2017 at 20:39
  • It was never proven Assad gassed its people, even though many newspapers claim that somehow.
    – Suriya
    Apr 21, 2017 at 6:19
  • For anyone interested in who did what in Ghoutha, here is some brain candy
    – Suriya
    Apr 21, 2017 at 12:03
  • 2
    You should remove the biased statement "go figure, right wingers are empathetic humans too". May 8, 2017 at 12:56

Because people are squeamish about chemical weapons. Remember, President Obama (not a hawkish president by any stretch) said this

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation

Now, it turns out it was an empty threat, but it's noteworthy that he felt that he needed to do this over chemical weapons. As has been noted, this doesn't affect the ability of Assad to kill people with other means

Look, I get why — morally, strategically, and legally — chemical weapons are different than conventional ones. But if my entire family and village were wiped out with bullets and bombs rather than chemical weapons, I wouldn’t draw much solace from any of these distinctions.

As to what we got out of it? Public Relations

The difference, as Trump admirably admitted from the Rose Garden, is that he’s president now and that changes your perspective on things. It’s always easy to throw brick-bats when you have no responsibility. Now he’s looking at the prospect of being the president who, in effect, sanctioned the use of chemical weapons, a violation of international law. As he put it in his statement Thursday night:

It is in this vital national-security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.

That is a sound argument. But it was just as sound in 2013 [when Trump decried action in Syria]. Trump’s real motivation seems to be the fact that babies were “choked out” and that he saw it on TV. And it is this apparent fact that should give everyone — supporters and critics alike — the most cause for concern.

Ultimately this was an easy win. Trump got

  1. Bipartisan support (many Democrats praised the effort, which was an easy win for them too)
  2. No larger military commitments
  3. Avoided any serious entanglements with Russia (whom we warned about the strike)
  4. Didn't really do any serious damage
  5. "Sent a message" about chemical weapons
  • 5
    Not Hawkish? Lots of people in Libya and Syria are really disagreeing with that right now. And that red line stance led to the complete destruction of the Syrian regime's chemical weapons stockpile. Apr 10, 2017 at 15:20
  • 5
    @dan-klasson So... are you claiming the Syrians rebels were lying about the recent chemical weapons attacks? And complete destruction of the chemical weapons stockpile is untrue. It's well known that Assad kept some of his stockpile.
    – Machavity
    Apr 10, 2017 at 15:39
  • 3
    I'd say it's entirely possible that the entire stockpile was destroyed, but since there was no verification mechanism for the PROGRAM, and since they are closely aligned and supported by Russia who has ample access to both the munitions, themselves, and program technology, getting more was not that daunting of an obstacle. The point that the "red line" was breached, and "nothing happened" is complete nonsense, though. Assad turned over stockpiles of weapons from a program he never admitted existed before, because of the threat of NATO military action. Apr 10, 2017 at 17:08
  • 1
    6. Killed 6 people.
    – Anixx
    Apr 11, 2017 at 12:39
  • 2
    @Machavity a lot of people are claiming the rebels are lying about the recent attacks. Truth is the first victim in war. We know the UN determined the rebels were actually responsible for the 2013 attack. We know the Idlib area where the attack occurred is controlled by the rebels to the extent that they could easily control the reports coming out of the area. We know some of the rebel groups have their own sarin gas. It also makes no sense for Assad to use chemical weapons when he's winning the war and it would turn the US against him, but it makes a lot of sense for the rebels to frame him.
    – J Doe
    Apr 11, 2017 at 21:00

The motives are primarily financial and geopolitical. U.S president Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech, saying:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

And by doing so, coining the term, the military-industrial complex.

Today however, that arms industry, is quite larger than it was back then. That military industrial complex still has a lot of economic interest in any war where the American tax payers are left to foot the bill.

Geo-politically, regime change in Syria would deny Russia the only Mediterranean naval base they currently have. It would also be a major blow to Hezbollah and Iran.

  • 1
    Is there any proof that this was indeed the incentive (other than "well it could be because 50 years ago DE said it could be")?
    – user4012
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:06
  • 1
    @user4012 Well if you believe DE. The proof is right there. The reason for his warning was that a lot of influential people were getting rich out of wars back then. And that has clearly not changed. In fact, the U.S "defense" spending has increased a lot since then, excluding inflation. Apr 11, 2017 at 17:39

The other answers here are intriguingly absent of reference to military contractors. They spend lots of money lobbying politicians to ratchet up the military because a lot of money goes to the contractors during times of conflict and war. By chemical weapons apparently being used in Syria the US Government has been given an easier justification for escalating the conflict.
There is a lot of money to be made off taxpayer money during times of war and this system has consistently pushed the US Government toward war.

Edit: Since you guys asked... @machavity I'll be honest, I thought we were at the point where lobbying was an openly accepted occurrence but if you insist on references I can pull up some basic ones, although there is a plethora more out there. Military contracting companies spend over $100 Million per year on lobbying politicians. Since government spending into the sector increases during war-time, profits in the industry typically do as well.

The irony is that some of the other answers on here (not as downvoted) rely on the face-value statements of politicians and government divisions which have terrible track records and whose credibility, in my opinion, is dubious at best.

Ultimately, if the basics of my assertions here are contested I will simply point users to the (relatively) recent Duke Cunningham scandal which gave a rare glimpse into how the "meat is made" in Congress with regards to military contracts: [link] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cunningham_scandal)

[link] (https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indus.php?id=D)
[link] (https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/03/10/10-companies-profiting-most-from-war/1970997/)

  • 9
    Care to back any of this up with links to facts or quotes? Otherwise this is just your opinion
    – Machavity
    Apr 10, 2017 at 17:13
  • 1
    Answers should be a bit more specific than "For profits, man! The corporations!" Apr 10, 2017 at 19:55
  • 1
    The OP asked a rather speculative question, so I think the speculative nature of this answer is within reason. I think @Kylan Hurt may have a point not addressed by the others, that pressures from special interest groups like military contractors could indeed be a significant factor. How much of the national budget is devoted to the military again? It's a big business. Apr 10, 2017 at 21:25
  • @Machavity Otherwise this is just your opinion? Let me quickly write a blog post to update the sources... Apr 11, 2017 at 11:55
  • @machavity I'll be honest, I thought we were at the point where lobbying was an openly accepted occurrence but if you insist on references I can pull up some basic ones, although there is a plethora more out there. Military contracting companies spend over $100 Million per year on lobbying politicians [link] (opensecrets.org/lobby/indus.php?id=D)
    – Kylan Hurt
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:36

I'd suggest the war in Syria is at least partly fueled by the Qatar-Turkey pipeline:

"The discovery in 2009 of a new gas field near Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria opened new possibilities to bypass the Saudi Barrier and to secure a new source of income. Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas. Only Al-Assad is in the way. Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the best organized political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia's efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime. Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir's broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus."

  • Do you have any evidence of this? or is this just your speculation? Apr 11, 2017 at 19:30
  • @SoylentGray: Even if it is only speculation, it is well-founded and plausible. Everything from climate change (plausible) to the Israeli right (inconceivable) have been implicated in the Syrian war. I wouldn't put Big Oil beyond plausibility.
    – dotancohen
    Apr 12, 2017 at 14:31
  • @dotancohen - This is not supposed to be Conspiracy Theories SE (Though that would be alot of fun) this is supposed to be about hard facts and answers. Apr 12, 2017 at 15:03
  • @SoylentGray: Obviously I agree with you in general. See the US involvement in the Banana Republics, or Iran (1953) or Kuwait, or Iraq elsewhere where stated US policy differed from the real reasons that the US got involved with the internal affairs of other states.
    – dotancohen
    Apr 12, 2017 at 15:26
  • I am not going to argue with you about those(though i could) there needs to be evidence that this is the motive for this instance. Apr 12, 2017 at 15:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .