US Battleship, firing a SeaRAM guided missile, the newest of many anti-missile, anti-aircraft guided missile systems.
USS Porter (DDG-78) conducts a structural test firing of SeaRAM in Spain on Feb. 28, 2016, as the first Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer with a SeaRAM installation. US Navy photo.

What Political Science Can Teach Us About The US Airstrikes on Syria

Moscow cast its eighth veto at the Security Council in defense of the Syrian government yesterday. The vote in question would have dispatched a team of UN investigators to the site of the chemical weapons attack and compelled the Syrian government to cooperate with the investigators. Alas, for now they will not deploy. The status quo prior to the chemical attack seems to be in place. That is, with one big exception: the US decision to fire 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase suspected of being used in the attack.

This was the first time in the six year Syrian war that the United States directly and deliberately targeted Syrian government forces. But will the US military strike actually change anything about the conflict? Will the Syrian government’s behavior alter in any meaningful way? Will Syria’s backers approach the conflict any differently? It turns out that there is some emerging political science that points to some of the answers to these questions.

On the line in this podcast episode is Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and one of the few people who has researched whether or not limited airstrikes — like the kind Donald Trump ordered on Syria last week — actually achieve their stated political and military objectives.

His book Between Threats and War: US Discrete Military Operations in the Post Cold-War World examined some 36 airstrikes and finds that they very rarely do what they are intended to do. We discuss why that is–and what implications his findings have for further US involvement in Syria.

If you have 20 minutes and want to learn how limited airstrikes like this can–or in most cases cannot- achieve their stated political and military goals, have a listen.

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