Missile attack doesn't change US policies toward Syria, former ambassador says

Key Points
  • Trump doesn't want to get into the Syrian crisis in a major way.
  • Syrian crisis an incredibly complicated affair.
  • The U.S. isn't trying to oust Assad right now.
Former ambassador to Syria: 'Incredibly messy, complicated affair'
Former ambassador to Syria: 'Incredibly messy, complicated affair'

The missile attack on Syria doesn't necessarily change the United States' basic policy toward the Syrian crisis, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Richard Murphy told CNBC on Friday.

On Thursday evening, the U.S. hit a Syrian government airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles in response to a chemical weapons attack Tuesday.

Murphy called the Syrian crisis an "incredibly complicated affair."

"I don't think that the president wants to get into the Syrian crisis in a major way but he was shocked by the action on the use of chemical weapons. And there was a message also to Moscow: You have an influence over Syria. Why did this happen?" he said in an interview with "Power Lunch."

President Donald Trump said Thursday that the airfield targeted had launched the chemical attack on a rebel-held area. Western countries have blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad's armed forces for Tuesday's attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. However, Syria's government has denied responsibility.

A U.S. defense official called the U.S. strike a "one-off," Reuters reported.

Eric Pelofsky, who was senior advisor to President Barack Obama on Middle East issues, believes that can be the case as long as Russia tells Syria not to do it again "because we're not going to save your bacon."

However, whether that will happen remains to be seen, he told "Power Lunch."

"[The Russians] probably made a misjudgment about where they thought the Trump administration was going to put its first platoon down and I think they are now recalibrating," Pelofsky said.

Airstrikes doesn't change fundamental math of Syrian conflict: Expert
Airstrikes doesn't change fundamental math of Syrian conflict: Expert

Before the military action, the Trump administration signaled a reversal on Assad, with Trump telling reporters "something should happen" with the Syrian president after the chemical attack.

And in a separate news conference on Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad's actions suggestion "it would seem there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people."

However, Murphy said he doesn't think the U.S. is trying to get Assad out at the moment.

"There seems to be an assumption that in the long run somebody who has overseen such destruction in his own country will not be able to rule but we are not pressing … to get him out right now," he said.

— CNBC's Everett Rosenfeld and Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.