Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Stephen Ford, the last person to serve in that role, predicted Bashar Assad's government will continue to massacre civilians with chemical weapons despite a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian military airfield allegedly involved in one of those attacks.
"It's time to try to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, so I think that's a good step," Ford added. "But it's only a step. Assad will almost certainly try to use chemical weapons again, and so I think it will be hard to convince the Russians to lean on Assad to stop using chemical weapons."
Ford argued the U.S. needs leverage to force Assad to cease using chemical weapons, as he is currently winning the country's brutal six-year civil war and backed by Russia and Iran. He added Iranians could easily retaliate against U.S. forces in the region and the U.S. may lack the power to oust Assad by force, but could apply enough pressure to end his use of chemical weapons.
"I think the most important thing right now is to re-establish deterrence against chemical weapons," Ford added. "That's a distinct limited goal. It's not a big goal like fixing the civil war — just deterring the use of chemical weapons because that applies not just to Syria, but that also applies to Asia, applies to Africa."
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that U.S. officials believe Russia knew in advance of the chemical attack, making them less than credible partners in future efforts to disarm Assad.
If the chemical attacks continue, President Donald Trump could find himself in much the same position he mocked Obama for during the campaign season — stuck between enforcing an ultimatum which could possibly lead to a larger regional war or allowing Assad to continue committing atrocities against other Syrians.