On Thursday, US President Donald Trump ordered US warships in the Persian Gulf to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a scarcely used Syrian airbase in Idlib from which Syrian warplanes purportedly carried out chemical attacks which killed numbers of civilians including children.
Charges of past chemical attacks against the Syrian people by the Bashar al-Assad regime led to past US President Obama to draw a redline threatening military response in the event of a chemical attack taking place. But despite charges of such attacks being made, nothing really happened. With last week’s US unilateral response to yet another charge of a chemical attack the situation changed dramatically.
President Trump scarcely two months into his presidency and without consultation, ordered a cruise missile attack on the airbase from which the aircraft allegedly carried out the attack. The same Mr. Trump back in 2013, urged the then President Obama not to take action against Assad’s forces who allegedly used sarin to kill more than 1,000 people at Ghouta. The US President’s decision was ‘apparently’ taken by his emotional reaction to photos of Tuesday’s attack.
The timing of the attack comes when the US President is facing low personnel ratings at home… the bombing will no doubt raise those ratings. It was also undertaken in the midst of a meeting with Chinese President Xi - the known backer of North Korea - whose leader has been making threats against the US.
Whilst Trump portrays himself as a man of decisiveness, his first few months in office leaves nothing to show. In fact, all his executive orders have been blocked in the Republican majority-led Congress. The order to strike at Syria did not need Congressional backing.
In a similar manner Mr. Trump’s willingness to take military action in Syria could also be a warning to make North Korea more cautious and to intimidate visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping who was dining with the President as well as a ploy to pressurise Pyongyang to stop its testing of nuclear missiles.
The reality is that the US missile attack did not target the Syrian regime leadership or seek to significantly weaken its capabilities to wage war. Instead the target was a remote and rarely-used airbase used for the alleged chemical attack in Idlib on Tuesday.
Again the decision to attack the Russian-backed regime’s little-used air base, according to Andrew Tabler of the ‘Washington Institute’ - a think tank focused on the Middle East was based on the theory that Putin is growing weary of both the Syrian conflict and Assad, and he would not entirely object to the strikes. The fact that Trump is supposed to have informed Russia of the imminent strikes and the fact the Russians did not use their anti-missile systems to counter the attack adds credence to this theory.
However, a major danger posed by Trump’s unilateral action is the possibility that it could encourage him to take rash action elsewhere; perhaps on Pyongyang. And, of course, it leaves open the possibility he may unleash further action in Syria, even if he has no such plan now. It could also antagonize President Putin, who despite not being over-friendly with the Assad regime, would not like to be seen as being strong-armed.
A greater danger posed by the Trump regime’s unilateral attack on Syria sans UN approval is that it also opens the door to all militarily strong states to settle any and all disputes through military intervention. It also gives Russia or any other powerful Palestinian ally justification to attack Israel’s military installations because of Israeli occupation of Palestine. It has created an estimated 4,950,000 registered descendants of the original ‘Palestine refugees’ based on the UNRWA registration requirements.
Like Assad’s regime, Israel too stands accused of carrying out chemical attacks on the civilian Palestinian population. As early as in 1948, Israel was accused of using biological warfare on the Palestinian city of Acre and the killing of at least 100 Arab civilians, who refused to evacuate the city. Israel’s first Premier confirmed the attack in his book ‘War Diary’.
Again during the war in 2009, a ‘Human Rights Watch’ report confirmed Israel’s military fired white phosphorus over crowded areas of Gaza repeatedly in its three-week war. The report added Israel even ignored warnings from the UN staff before hitting the main UN compound in Gaza with white phosphorus shells on January 15.
The attack on Syria did not make the world a safer place; it perhaps raised Donald Trump’s popularity ratings in the US. But as ‘The Guardian’ succinctly sums up ‘a world defined by Mr. Trump’s impulses cannot be a safe one.