The U.S. attack on a military base in Syria can be seen as notice that President Trump is willing to assume the role of guardian of the world order that he had so far promised not to play. For the first time in six years of a civil war which has seen more than 300,000 deaths and 12 million people displaced, the North American power has intervened in the conflict.
Much has changed since the election campaign in which the candidate, under the slogan of “America First,” promised not to involve the United States in any more wars. Now however, harassed by criticism directed at the stumbling of his chaotic new government, he has taken a U-turn, unleashing military fury in order to defend those same people who, less than a month earlier, he prohibited from entering the country.
According to Trump, the missiles were in response to actions by the regime of Bashar Assad, which is suspected of carrying out the chemical weapons attack on the Syrian city of Jan Sheijun that left 86 civilians dead. Trump claims that it was the images of children dying from the gasses that caused him to reverse his attitude. In addition, he voiced harsh criticism of Vladimir Putin, one of the backers of the dictatorship, and similarly, for the first time, Trump had the almost unanimous backing of both Republicans and Democrats. Historic U.S. allies expressed their approval of the attack, which had also sent a clear message to the regimes of Iran and North Korea.
Domestically, the response to Syria allows President Trump some breathing space from his downward trend by diverting attention away from the doubts over how his potential ties to Russia might influence his political decisions. With this attack on the strategic ally of Putin, Trump is disassociating himself from the Russian leader and at the same time reminding him that the United States has to be taken into consideration in the Middle East. Understandably, the reaction from the Russian leader has registered somewhere between surprise and anger, which is why this could turn out to be the unveiling of a confrontation with the West.
Nevertheless, the attack raises various questions. Will the United Nations play any role in this scenario? It was not even informed of the operation, emphasizing once again that the U.N. is more like the white elephant in the Syrian conflict than an organization that can provide a solution.
The other concern is how far this new rupture could escalate. What will be the response of the tyrant Assad? Will Moscow sit idle after the announcement by the U.S. that it intends to get rid of one of Russia’s allies?
But there are even greater implications with regard to this issue. Before, it was believed that the priority of the U.S. was to deal with the Islamic State, which is why it had to be in agreement with Russia and let it operate at will in the region. Now though, the U.S. demands the head of the tyrant, and the Islamic State group can wait until later.
For this reason, Russia has already sent a frigate equipped with cruise missiles to the Mediterranean. The United States, on the other hand, has moved one of its aircraft carriers to the Korean peninsula; a warning to Pyongyang that the era in which it could bait the world with impunity is over.
Consequently, Assad might have unintentionally triggered the start of a new, global confrontation headed by a president in need of approval.