Friday 7 April 2017

Syria – Another US President, Another Muslim Country Bombed

The overnight Cruise missile attack by US forces on the Shayrat airbase in Homs province in Syria, brought to mind a couple of famous quotes. There is Marx’s ‘history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,’ and the one by Einstein (at least broadly attributed to him) ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.’ Both seem equally fitting in the light of US foreign policy in the middle east over recent years.

My headline is, of course, not strictly correct, since the US (and others, including the UK, but mainly Russia) have been bombing Syria for the last two years, but they were bombing rebel held areas and forces, mostly ISIS fighters. Last night though, was the first targeting of President Assad’s regime and its armed forces. Similar interventions in Iraq and Libya, have broadly made the situation in those countries worse, much worse.

The missile strikes were in response to the horrific chemical weapon attack on Idlib, Syria, earlier in the week, killing over 80 civilians, which is assumed to have been perpetrated by Assad’ forces, although definitive evidence of culpability has not been produced. The Syrian government has denied that it was involved, but it does seem likely they bear responsibility for the attack.

Apparently, 59 missiles were fired at the airbase from two US Navy ships, but according to Russian reports only six Syrian air force planes were destroyed, and the airbase run-way was left untouched. The report said that only 23 of the 59 missiles hit the airbase, with the rest landing in the general vicinity. Syrian state news reported that nine civilians had been killed in the area due to the missile strikes.

Reaction in the West has been supportive of the US action, including the UK government, but British forces did not take part. Across the political parties, support has been almost universal, in the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem parties. The Green Party has though bucked this trend.

Caroline Lucas, MP and co-leader of the party said: “It is deeply concerning that President Trump took this action without the permission of Congress.”

Her co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, went further saying: “There is no simple answer to this most complex of crises and President Trump's air strikes risk exacerbating an already complex situation in the absence of any coherent strategy to contain the violence and in the longer term, build peace.”

I would add that the United Nations (UN) should have been involved in authorising any action against Syria, but that organisation is routinely ignored by the US since 9/11, but I really can’t see how President Trump can say that this attack is "in the vital national security interest" of the US. What threat is Assad to the US?

The Labour Party leader, not for the first time out of step with his MPs, said the action “risks intensifying a multi-sided conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people…”

But Hilary Benn, a former shadow foreign secretary, said: “Let’s hope Syria will now think twice before deciding to gas its own people again.”

There have been reports that Idlib has been bombed again today, presumably by Assad’s air force, although there are no reports of chemical weapons being used. The wider context though is that this missile attack on Syria will make not the slightest bit of difference to the ongoing conflict in the country, apart from making it more difficult to achieve a lasting solution to the situation.

Obviously, the chemical attack on civilians in Idlib is war crime, and should be condemned in the strongest terms, but we have all the evidence we need with recent military adventures in the region, that interfering in this way, does not solve anything, and always makes things worse. A collective solution, through the UN, is the only way we will make any progress in Syria.

This knee jerk, white man’s burden type of blunt military action, ordered by Trump, will be as ineffective in leading to a solution as his predecessors’ actions have been in the same way. We should stop this ‘something must be done’ attitude when it entails more death and destruction, mainly for the civilian population.

Might this have been a perfect opportunity for Trump’s new relationship with Russia? That is out of the window now too, but that maybe useful, given the investigations into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, during last year’s election. It may also be useful as a general distraction from Trump’s domestic political problems. 

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