To corroborate his catchphrase, “Make America great again,” President Trump may be willing to intimidate the whole world, and the attack on Syria is proof.
In 2003 President Bush, Jr., insisted beyond a shadow of a doubt that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, Hussein deserved a show down like no other, a show down that ultimately had Hussein hanged, prosperous Iraq destroyed, and law-abiding Iraqis obliterated as divisive and unruly sects emerged. And let’s not forget DAESH finding in Iraq an easy gaping void.
It was proven afterwards that Saddam Hussein never possessed weapons of mass destruction, but after September 11, some country had to be at the receiving end of the bashing stick, and Iraq was misfortunate enough to be the picked-on country to earn the wrath of the US.
Conveniently, Saddam had invaded Kuwait, irked George Bush Senior, threatened Israel, and wasn’t abiding by US rules; besides, Iraq had oil. Iraq fit the bill, so it became the befitting target. End result: one Arab country down.
Fast forward to today. Six years ago Syria faced a civil war. Soon afterwards it became a festering ground for self-serving allegiances, each after its own conquest: Iran, Turkey, the US, Russia, Sunnis, Alawites, Shias, opposition forces, DAESH and other Islamists, and Asaad followers; amidst all this the victims were without doubt the Syrians.
However, lately the world seemed willing to end the Syrian crisis. DAESH was losing ground. The current US administration backed off from insisting that President Assad had to go. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, also said that despite Russia’s support for Assad, the US and Russia can cooperate to end the war in Syria.
There was light at the end of the Syrian tunnel.
More significant, Assad was in a better position than he had been in the last six years. And yet, out of the blue a chemical weapons attack struck Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town killing 89 and bringing all the promising efforts to a halt. The US confirmed that chemical weapons were launched from Assad’s Shayrat Airfield. In retaliation, some 59 US air missiles hit the Shayrat Airfield killing 13 people as it destroyed the airfield.
President Trump swift decision to attack the airfield had far reaching ramifications that resonated around the world with heaps of reaps for the US president.
At face value, President Trump’s decision exhibited a humane, empathetic president moved by the sight of dead children. “I will tell you, that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me, a big impact,” Trump said, but there is more to the attack than compassion towards Syrian children.
It told friends and foes that US has taken upon itself the role of the almighty watchdog affirming that a “new sherif’ is in the Oval Office. In particular, the attack was meant as a wake up call to North Korea, Russia, Iran, and the world at large. It said, “World, you had better watch out; the new president means business.”
No doubt the decision to act so speedily in the face of what seemed a hideous act improved Trump’s image amongst Americans, too. Obama had once drawn a red line as far as Assad is concerned but went back on his word, and here is Trump setting the red line in stone.
That the attack served President Trump and US is a given; that it helped Syrians is fictitious. Syrian opposition cheered and terrorists celebrated. Weakening the Syrian army will allow DAESH to dominate the area near the airfield, but more important it further pitted Syrians against one other. Like Iraq, Syria was the perfect target.
Like Saddam Hussein, Assad had irked the US, and the Russians were proving themselves in Syria and had to be told off. And did the fact that the Syrian crisis was on the verge of ending irk some even further? End result: a second Arab country remains down.
More of a symbolic but powerful move, the attack cost the US nothing but the missiles. The aim was not to aggravate the Russians to the point of retaliating, merely to tell them who is mightier. In fact, the Russians, who utilized the same airfield were forewarned an hour before the attack. Hence, the act angered the Russians, strained US-Russian relations further, but it didn’t kill any Russians—end of story.
From another perspective altogether, Assad and the Russians denied that the Syrian army used chemical weapons. Russia asked the US to provide evidence for its claims and said that an air strike hit a storage facility where rebels were storing chemical weapons. Similar to what happened in Iraq, time will tell where the truth lies.
In an alarming but apt revelation, the BBC says in a story following the attack, “The question thus arises: who once again slipped something in to yet another US president as 'evidence' of the existence of 'chemical weapons' in a country Washington objects to, and what exactly was it?”
The attack and the superiority ambience that followed will set the tone and approach for all American officials, a tone that is intimidating with words if not actions. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, even before the attack, said that she wears heels to kick those against Israel or those who talk down the US.
After the attack, and while the US held the rotating leadership of the UN Security Council this month, Haley blasted not only Assad but the Iranian and the Russian governments for supporting Assad. “Assad did this [launched a chemical weapon attack] because he thought he could get away with it. He thought he could get away with it because he knew Russia would have his back. That changed last night.”
Let’ hope this attitude abates. The world is not ready for another round of intimidation.