Union prof: Syrian attack must be retaliatory

Posted at: 08/28/2013 6:48 PM
Updated at: 08/28/2013 9:10 PM
By: Dan Levy

Senior U.S. officials have told NBC News that three days of missile strikes against Syria could begin as soon as Thursday.

Those attacks -- according to a government source -- would be intended to send a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rather than topple him from power.

If and when that missile strike comes, it must be nothing more than retaliatory. That's according to Michele Angrist, a Union College political science professor.

“This is a very tough call for the president,” said Angrist.

She adds there are no good options for President Obama, but if the United States were to launch a missile attack against Syria in retaliation for the Assad regime using chemical weapons, Angrist says there are plenty of concerns.

"One concern about U.S. interaction is, it brings the U.S. now in a military confrontation with Syria's two largest international backers, which are Russia and Iran," Angrist said.

That confrontation, she says, could threaten to place Israel is the cross-hairs of retaliation.

“What Iran can do is signal to Hezbolah, the Shiite Islamist group based in Lebanon. Hezbolah is based in southern Lebanon and has the ability to launch rocket attacks on a big portion of Israel's territory,” said Angrist.

But the retaliation issue aside, Angrist says there's another key reason for the United States not to get involved in toppling the Assad government from power.

“If the retaliatory action becomes much more extended and seriously undermines the regime, changes the military balance of forces, then the United States owns the aftermath of a fallen regime, which would be very messy and chaotic. It would be a very difficult nation rebuilding scenario, which we know we failed in Iraq,” said Angrist.

She suggests it's probably easier for a second term president like Obama to make this decision, but there are likely political implications down the road.

“Whoever runs for the Democratic nomination and ultimately for the presidency in the next election would have to account and defend his policy in some ways,” she said.

Angrist says she doesn't believe the president would make a decision like this -- in her words -- "through a political lens," but instead thinks his primary consideration is the "credibility of U.S. foreign policy."