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Syria airstrikes a symbol of US’ recklessness, disrespect

By Ian Goodrum | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-04-18 09:02
Damascus' skies erupt with surface-to-air missile fire as the US launches an attack targeting different parts of Syrian capital Damascus on Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital was rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke, as US President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. [Photo/IC]

We, at least for the time being, appear to have avoided apocalypse.

Forgive my flippancy. It’s the only real response I have to the announcement by US President Donald Trump his administration had launched strikes on Damascus, Syria’s capital, early Saturday morning. During his speech, the US military, along with forces from France and Britain, fired over a hundred cruise missiles at the capital and Homs in response to a suspected chlorine gas attack in Douma by the Syrian government, who have been fighting a host of rebel groups in a years-long civil war.

Though it wasn’t the first time Trump deliberately attacked government targets — Shayrat airbase was hit 72 hours after an alleged case of chemical weapons usage in April 2017 — it was the largest such incident, and the most aggressive. Because of Russia’s involvement in the conflict, and because of Trump’s belligerent outbursts on Twitter in the lead-up to the strike, for a brief period there was a very real possibility this was a flashpoint for open conflict between two nuclear-armed powers; a recipe for Armageddon if there ever was one.

To be honest, in the aftermath things aren’t much clearer. US Defense Secretary James Mattis declared the strikes to be a one-time punitive measure, not a full-bore entry into the conflict on behalf of the opposition. But some in the US government claimed Russia was not warned about the strikes in advance; others, including officials from Britain and France, said the opposite. For people trying to wrap their heads around just what happened days after the fact, this kind of mixed messaging is incredibly confusing — and leads to broad public disapproval, as protests across the three aggressor countries have shown.

And the US’ rationale for striking supposed sites of chemical weapons development is flimsy, at best. While the missiles were already flying Saturday morning, investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were preparing to enter Syria to determine whether a chemical weapons attack had even occurred. Apportioning blame in the event of a chlorine attack would take even longer. The US and its allies couldn’t be bothered to wait for an independent body to register its findings; getting all the facts just isn’t Trump’s modus operandi.

After being pressed for more details justifying the strikes, the White House released its intelligence assessment, a summary document without specific sourcing. The bulk of their proof, as quoted in the evaluation, comes from “social media users, non-governmental organizations, and other open-source outlets”. Forgive my skepticism, but when you’re contemplating military action, no matter how limited, you should be sure your case is airtight. Social media posts and accounts from the absurdly vaguely titled “open-source outlets” just don’t cut it.

In addition, Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emanuel Macron acted unilaterally, without cooperation from their own parliaments or international bodies like the United Nations or European Union. The strike was indefensible on moral grounds — courting World War III has no conceivable explanation — but there was no consultation at any point of the process, making it illegal to boot.

What’s more, the Barzah Scientific Research Facility, a major target of last weekend’s fusillade, was a subject of a just-released report by the OPCW, which read, in part, “Samples taken during inspections did not indicate the presence of scheduled chemicals.” So, to recap: On suspect intelligence which the US government has yet to release and without any thought to international law, Donald Trump and his accomplices destroyed a research laboratory with no evidence of developing chemical weapons. Mission accomplished!

Russian officials, letting cooler heads prevail, have limited their response to strongly worded condemnations rather than explosive countermeasures. They will, of course, receive no credit for this in the Western press. Predictably, most media in the US and Europe have praised Trump’s airstrikes, taking a break from their (accurate) portrayal of his administration as inept to laud the president for swift, decisive action. This betrays their true loyalties — not to any political party, but to the continuation of imperialism, whose only ideology is dominance and power. For all the Washington establishment’s seeming disgust over Trump’s flouting of presidential norms, when push comes to shove and the war hawks want a country bombed, everyone falls in line.

It was more than a little gratifying, then, to see China and Bolivia vote in favor of Russia’s UN Security Council resolution condemning the strikes. As an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a permanent member of the council, it was all but expected the Russian Federation would reproach the bombings publicly. But other countries’ approval was not so certain. Though the US, Britain and France vetoed the measure — wholly unsurprising, as they carried out the attack — China’s vote as another permanent member sent a strong message in support of checks on wanton imperial power.

Taking a principled stance against the reckless, cynical application of force shows the world there is an alternative to US hegemony, which still grips the planet in the aftershocks of the Cold War. By emphasizing a foreign policy of mutual cooperation and peaceful development, China is providing another option for the future of international relations. The US would be wise to take note and change its strategy if it wants to remain relevant on the global stage.

But, as so many are tragically aware — especially the Syrians who woke, deep in the night, to missiles blazing through the sky — if there’s one country with no interest in learning from its mistakes, it’s the United States of America.

The author is a copy editor with chinadaily.com.cn.

 

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