The Tomahawk

Obama vs Trump; Syrian Civil War

KImberly Schulte, Staff Writer

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The Syrian civil war has been going on for the past six years, and the United States has often stepped in to help in both minor and major ways. Since the beginning of Syria’s personal conflict, America has had a change in leadership. Barack Obama’s term as President of the United States ended in January of 2017 and the country elected Donald J. Trump as his replacement, but they are both on opposite sides of the political spectrum. This week, the Tomahawk decided to compare their different political opinions and methods on handling the hostility in Syria. However, in order to understand their individual reasoning, some background on the war itself needs to be provided.

The Syrian Civil War; Yearly Timeline


Technically, the Syrian civil war started in March of 2011, but the United Nations did not officially proclaim the country in a state of civil war until the 12th of June, 2012. The first shots were fired on the 18th of March by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against large groups of protesters that had been holding political demonstrations. The people demanded democratic reform, including the exclusion of their dictator Assad, and demanded the release of political prisoners. To begin with, those who protested called for the end of corruption, but after April 8th, the demonstrations shifted towards the efforts to overthrow Assad’s government. Protesters did not start shooting back until July, and some troops even deflected from the Syrian government to create the Free Syrian Army (FSA).


There was an attempt for a ceasefire in April and May of 2012; both the Syrian government and the FSA entered a UN-mediated ceasefire period that failed and only resulted in several dozen casualties. That peace plan practically collapsed in June. Around that time, conflict in Syria had moved to the cities of Damascus and Aleppo; the FSA attacked Damascus and had managed to seize Aleppo. In addition, Iran intervened in the civil war during this year, and they were considered to be a respectable ally for Assad.


Syria accused Israel of bombing a military base near Damascus in January 2013. The following September, United Nations weapons inspectors discovered that chemical weapons had been used in August to attack an area of Damascus, called Ghouta. 300 people were killed during the attack, but the UN did NOT allocate responsibility. Russia backed Assad but made a deal to have Syria hand over their chemical weapons.

In the beginning of 2014, the United Nations tried once more to help create peace in Syria through another ceasefire but again failed due to Syria’s refusal to discuss a provisional government. Russia physically intervened for the first time in 2015, carrying out air strikes that they claimed were

Institute for the Study of War 2017 territorial war map

meant for ISIS, but Syrian opposition claimed that Russia’s strikes targeted mainly anti-Assad groups. ISIS became a huge threat and the Syrian civil war was essentially separated between three main participants; ISIS, the Syrian government, and the rebels (or FSA). However, by this time, Assad had been losing a significant amount of ground to ISIS. As of currently, there is no like-minded force in Syria.

President Obama’s Contribution

Barack Obama issued a statement on August 18th, 2011 following the very beginning of Syria’s civil war in March. Within the statement, he is quoted saying, “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

As the war continued to build itself up, the United States government kept themselves in the loop. It wasn’t until 2012 when Obama authorized the CIA to run programs to train anti-Assad rebels that the American people became warier of the country’s involvement overseas. Rather than take further actions with military strikes at the time, the US instead went along with Russia’s deal with Syria and their surrender of chemical weapons. However, after the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, on September 10th, 2013, Obama issued a video statement with a military strike proposal.

Shortly after in 2014, President Obama stressed his promise to not deploy ground troops and alternatively ordered an air campaign which was said to be primarily aimed at ISIS. In that same year, another program to train rebels, similar to the CIA one but this time run by the Pentagon, was created. This particular program, however, was meant to train certain rebels to only fight ISIS and not Assad. Both programs tanked in 2015 and received a fair amount of criticism.

This created some confusion which only deepened tensions, and many individuals began to question whether the United States should treat Assad or ISIS as the greater threat.

President Trump’s Outlook and Actions

Since he was elected President of the United States on November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump’s opinions on the conflict in Syria have significantly changed. The proof is in his tweets and his current actions in the White House. In 2013, after the increased support that was directed to Syrian rebels after the deadly chemical weapons attacks, Trump took to twitter to express his personal feelings towards former President Barack Obama’s methods on foreign issues.

Four years following his original tweets against the idea of the United States being an active participant in the Syrian civil war, President Trump is now responding to another chemical weapons attack by Assad in the exact way he urged Obama to not respond; through a series of military strikes specifically aimed at the Syrian government. Earlier in the month, Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on an airfield in Syria where the chemical attacks had supposedly been launched from. These military strikes allegedly killed more than 80 civilians, but this information is not necessarily definitive.

In a statement, President Trump justified his current strategy with Syria by saying the following:

“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and all its allies. Tonight I call out all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end all terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world.”

You can view President Donald Trump’s video statement here.

The Student Outlook

In order to receive a wide range of opinions, The Tomahawk conducted interviews with three different teenage individuals who consider themselves to be on different positions on the political spectrum. James Mackey is a Junior at the Valley who aligns himself more with the democratic party, and Cameron Bruce, a Senior here at Chippewa, considers himself to be a part of the republican party. In order to receive a point of view from a moderate individual, the newspaper also interviewed former Big Red, Brendan Feeney. Each participant answered the same 4 questions on the conflicts in Syria, and the government and politics in America today:

Do you agree with the current administration’s policy and way of handling Syria?

James Mackey (D.): I do not. Trump sat on twitter and criticized the government for the entirety of Obama’s presidency only to resort to the same policies [regarding Syria]. Bombing a country and then not allowing their displaced citizens to seek refuge is not the answer.

Cameron Bruce (R.): I do agree with the current administration’s policies because I believe America should help other countries fight for freedom and to fight tyranny. France helped us in the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s.

Brendan Feeney (M.): My personal opinion is that we have no business being in Syria and should leave it be as of now because the way we are handling and have handled business [in Syria] over the past 6 years is not the correct way to do so. We dropped bombs on another country, killed civilians, and then tried to justify it. We need a new strategy; missile strikes don’t even seem to be working anyway since conflicts in Syria have only gotten worse.

Even though President Trump has only been in office for a short period of time, in your opinion, which administration do you believe has handed the hostility in Syria more efficiently?

James Mackey (D.): Although both administrations had a similar approach, I believe that the Obama administration had the best execution. They took a humanitarian view on the effects of their actions, and made attempts to solve problems peacefully before resorting to violence. As the most powerful democratic country in the world, it is our job to be to lend a hand to smaller nations yearning for democracy.

Cameron Bruce (R.): I believe that Trump has done an excellent job. He is determined to get rid of ISIS, and defeat radical Islamic terrorism, a problem our former president had refused to acknowledge. We should absolutely be involved in Syria; we need to end the threat and fear of the U.S. enduring another terrorist attack.

Brendan Feeney (M.): To be fair, choosing a side would be hard considering the fact that Obama had his chance and it did not work. Trumps has only been in office for four months, so there is still time to come up with a new strategy. This is why I still stand neutral to the situation. I do think, however, that if we keep this up with Syria, then we will worsen our relations with Russia, and that is something we do not want. If I had to choose one, I would probably say the Obama administration was the most efficient, but only because we have yet to see how the Trump administration will handle Syria from this point forward.

What do you think you would have done over the past 8 years as president in relation to the conflict in Syria?

James Mackey (D.): Personally, I would have spent more time trying to negotiate peace deals and assisting the small groups who wanted democracy to achieve their goals. I would have worked with other nations, and negotiated a peaceful resolution. War would have been a last resort.

Cameron Bruce (R.): I would have immediately sent help to the rebels to fight Assad and help the FSA fight for their democratic government. In addition, I would contribute to ending the threat of ISIS.

Brendan Feeney (M.): Man, being the president is hard work. I can’t really elaborate too much only because I don’t have much experience with politics, but I probably wouldn’t have bombed Syria for starters. These people live there and don’t want to be forced from their homes and thrown into a new environment. In the beginning, I mentioned that I don’t think we should even be in Syria. That may sound heartless, but why does the U.S. need to be the referee of the world?

How important do you think it is for students and teens our age to be politically involved or at least aware of what the government does or is a part of?

James Mackey (D.): I believe it is extremely important. Politics shape the world we’ll live and grow in. Understanding how it works and having a say in things is what makes this country what it is. Everyone should be more aware of what’s happening here, and around the world.

Cameron Bruce (R.): I think it is not only important, but crucial that young adults are aware of what our government is doing. They could be oppressing you and violating some of your rights, and without paying attention to the politics of it all, you would have no idea!

Brendan Feeney (M.): This is probably my favorite question because I believe we should all be politically involved. People are shifting away from each other based on politics; this is a big problem! We need to be a society that shares its ideas and respects! We shouldn’t be shouting about this Red vs. Blue ideology. Don’t think that because a person is a liberal that they are a terrible, uneducated person, and the same goes for pre-judgments against conservatives! I also hope that teenagers understand that its okay to be in a political party that differs from that of their parents. Educate yourself on and be involved in politics!

No matter which political party you belong to, America’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War raises a lot of questions and concerns. Obama’s contribution to the hostility over seas was supported as well as ridiculed just the same as President Trump’s actions were earlier in the month when he ordered military strikes on Syria. Being politically involved is not everybody’s cup of tea, but being aware of what the United States government is up to could help individuals make better political decisions in the future, and perhaps strengthen the voice of the people in America altogether.

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