Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

US attack on Shayrat

Trump’s strikes on Syria prove that despite what is said, consistency of policy marks America’s various presidents, writes Mohamed Salmawy

It is though someone just turned the clock back 14 years to the US invasion of Iraq. The new US President Donald Trump, who had vehemently criticised his predecessors for their military interventions in the Middle East and who vowed during his campaign to withdraw US forces from this region, has just launched a missile attack against Syria reminiscent of George Bush Jr’s missile attack against Iraq in 2003. Moreover, just as Bush had justified the attack on the grounds of uncorroborated claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), so too did Trump justify his order to bomb Syria on the unsubstantiated grounds that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical weapon attack against the town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib. Baghdad, back then, denied that it possessed WMD. Today, Damascus denies that it possessed chemical weapons and the Kremlin has officially confirmed this.

Does this signify that the US remains bent on imposing its hegemony over the Middle East so as to ensure that no Arab country can attain military superiority over Israel? Does the shift from a Democratic to a Republican administration or the reverse alter nothing in that policy? Is every president fated to follow through on the actions that his predecessor took in the scheme to partition and degrade the Arab region?

Such questions are unavoidable in the face of the latest developments in Syria. They compel us to wonder at that train of policies that appears unaltered from Bush to Obama and now to Trump even if, today, the continuity comes as something of a surprise in view of the fact that the current president built his whole electoral campaign around his opposition to the ruling establishment and its policies, and its foreign policies in particular. Trump criticised the billions of dollars spent on his country’s military interventions in the Middle East. He stressed, in his campaign speeches, that the domestic economy was more deserving of these huge amounts of money and he enumerated the many areas in which the money could be put to much better use back home. Yet, after only a few weeks in the White House, he gives the order to bomb Syria? How are we supposed to make sense of that?

President Trump has stressed on several occasions that regime change in Syria was not a US priority. His secretary of state reiterated that stance very recently. But talk of eliminating Al-Assad’s regime has once again resurfaced in Washington after the bombing. Why the sudden shift? Interestingly, Israel just happens to agree with Saudi Arabia and Qatar that have long been pushing for Al-Assad’s overthrow, ostensibly because he is the main obstacle in Syria. For which of these three countries did Trump change his mind? For Israel which he supported when it said that it was not committed to the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict? For Saudi Arabia whose crown prince returned from a recent visit to Washington that he described as “historical”? Or was it for Qatar, which takes its orders directly from Washington and carries them out unconditionally?

The statements issued in the UN Security Council the day after the American attack point directly at the true beneficiaries.

The remarks of the Egyptian delegate in the Security Council were prudent and carefully weighed. He urged all parties to return to political solutions and he had the courage to hold outside powers responsible, stressing that the Syrian people were ultimately the ones who were paying the price for foreign interventions. By contrast, Saudi Arabian and Qatari statements were so excessive in their praise of the US military strike that it almost made one cringe.

Not only did the military strike, in which 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired into Syria, conflict with Trump’s repeated stances against US foreign military intervention, the decision was taken unilaterally without consulting US allies in the West or with any of Washington’s fellow members in the Security Council. It was taken without Congressional approval. Congress was only notified after the fact. This is the man who had once described US military intervention as a “terrible idea” and who tweeted in 2013 that US intervention abroad without obtaining Congressional approval was a “big mistake”.

Last week’s attack against Syria also conflicts with Trump’s position on Syrian refugees, to the point of outright hypocrisy. Trump has made his position on Syrian refugees very clear: He refuses to offer them shelter in the US. He wants to ban Syrian citizens from entering the US entirely, regardless of whether or not they are refugees. But now he bombs a Syrian base on the grounds of an unsubstantiated allegation that Al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in an attack against Khan Shaykhun. This, we are supposed to understand, was to avenge the victims of the Syrian chemical attack. So now, all of a sudden, Trump’s heart has softened towards the very people whom he refuses to admit into his own country and who have been decimated by a war that has now entered its seventh year?

Is it true that the Syrian regime is responsible for that chemical attack? It may be. But then again it may not. Not a shred of hard evidence has come to light to prove the allegation. There has not even been an investigation yet. However, with the information that we have available, we can start by considering who stood to benefit from the Khan Shaykhun atrocity. It is obvious that the Syrian regime had nothing to gain. In fact, any assessment of the situation before that attack would indicate that the Syrian command would not embark on such a move because it would only stand to lose. Al-Assad’s regime, with Russian backing, had achieved considerable gains politically and on the ground during the past few months. The first steps had been taken in a roadmap to a political solution and international parties had come to agree that there could be no solution without the participation of the Syrian regime. Why would Al-Assad take an action that he knew as well as everyone else would turn the tables against him? And this is precisely what occurred. A tide of international anger has risen against him due to that horrible chemical attack and the outrage is so intense that world opinion is deaf to the Syrian regime’s denials, which the Western press does not even bother to print.

The American strike has catapulted the Syrian crisis into a new phase in which diplomacy will once again recede in favour of military force. As developments keep proving, this is the preferred American policy regardless of whether the occupant of the White House is white or black, or from the world of Hollywood or of private wealth and Wall Street.

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