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Some hard questions about the US airstrikes on Syria

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-04-16 05:13

The airstrikes against Syria conducted by the United States, Britain and France on Friday for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government may not signal a full invasion like the Iraq War in 2003, but the situation bears much resemblance.

As a journalist, I was shocked that the US news media still have not learned the lesson of failing to question their government.

Key among these is whether the media should take the US government's words at face value that it was indeed the Syrian government, not the rebels or anyone else, that used chemical weapons, if they were in fact used.

At the emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on Saturday, many countries raised such questions. They are waiting for the independent investigation by a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which arrived a day after the US-led airstrikes.

It's hard to explain why the US, Britain and France, which launched more than 100 cruise missiles at Syria on Friday, could not wait for the OPCW team to start and finish its investigation.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that allegations of chemical weapons use demand an investigation. And in the past, both the Syrian government and anti-government rebels have both been accused of using chemical weapons.

Then there is the question of legality. No major US news outlet has asked whether the airstrikes are even legal under international law or whether they constitute a violation of the UN Charter.

Many countries at the emergency session on Saturday clearly believe that they do.

In fact, the presence of 2,000 US troops in Syria is also illegal under international law and the UN Charter because the sovereign Syrian government has never authorized it.

So when US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the US would not pull its troops out of Syria until its goals were accomplished, she was literally saying that the US will continue to ignore international law and occupy Syrian territory.

It is hypocritical for the US, Britain and France to pretend that they still care about the UN process or the OPCW investigation. In launching the airstrikes by bypassing the UN, they set a bad precedent that big powers don't have to abide by international laws.

Of course it's not the first time that the US broke international laws in Syria. Its launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Syria on April 7, 2017, was both a flagrant infringement of international law and Syrian sovereignty.

Sadly, the concerns expressed by many UNSC members at the Saturday session were not at all reflected in the US mainstream media in the past two days, especially the three major cable networks of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

Democracy Now, a relatively smaller station, did present such concerns of the international community.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of Policy Planning for the US Department of State from 2009 to 2011, was probably the only US pundit who pointed out that "it is illegal under international law", although her tweet on Saturday also voiced support for the strike.

The whole world is watching.

And that includes the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which has long justified its development of nuclear weapons against the military threat from the US.

As US President Donald Trump will meet in the coming days with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, the DPRK has taken another hard lesson from Friday's airstrikes, just like it took from the US invasion of Iraq and the regime change in Libya.

It is not hard to conclude that having nuclear weapons and massive conventional arsenals is a major reason that the US has not dared to strike or invade DPRK so far.

Just a month or two before a possible summit between Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, the US has made itself less capable and credible of convincing the DPRK on denuclearization.

Those are just some of the many serious questions raised by the airstrikes, questions that the increasingly "patriotic" US news outlets failed to ask.

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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