By responding to the chemical attack at Khan Shaykhun with military strikes on an air base, the president of the United States has completely changed the situation in Syria. He bypasses the U.N. and defies Russia. But does he have a long-term strategy?
In 2013, Barack Obama decided against military action in Syria, which, under Bashar Assad, was accused of carrying out an attack with chemical weapons on a suburb of Damascus that had fallen into rebel hands (1500 were killed, of which some 400 were children.) Moscow had convinced Obama by forcing the Syrian regime to dispose of its arsenal of chemical weapons under international supervision. In 2017, Donald Trump, often accused of being too close to Vladimir Putin, only waited 48 hours to punish Assad after the bombardment of the town of Khan Shaykhun with chemical weapons, which killed between 60 and 100 people and resulted in the distribution of heartbreaking pictures of dying children. As a result, the new president of the United States has radically changed his position on the Syrian leader, who his administration had legitimized only a few days earlier by stating that it was no longer officially demanding his departure as a prerequisite for resolving the crisis.
If it is verified that the Syrian army was responsible for the chemical attack on Tuesday, which the United States has not yet proven, then the reprisals could be acknowledged as justified, because not only would Damascus have demonstrated a criminal cynicism with regard to its own population, as it has done before, but it would also have revealed its duplicity, as its stock of chemical weapons was supposed to have been eradicated in accordance with the 2013 agreement.
However, the attitude of the commander in chief of the American armed forces is causing some concern. If this retaliatory attack becomes the benchmark of his foreign policy, it signifies that from now on, the president of the greatest power in the world will consider approval from the U.N. as an optional accessory, and he will not burden himself by worrying about multilateralism. This also implies that he will not hesitate to provoke a direct confrontation with other major powers, in this case Russia. Thus, we are witnessing a possible return to the rule of the strongest. That it appears legitimate to us in the case of the Syrian chemical attack doesn’t make it less dangerous for the new world order which is beginning to appear. What credibility will the United States have to prevent Russia or China behaving in the same way?
George W. Bush embarked upon preventative warfare, which brought chaos to the Middle East. We can only hope that Trump has a well thought out and long-term strategy, particularly with Russia, concerning this troubled region, and that this practice of impulsive warfare – imagine the same strategy being used against Iran – doesn’t result in chaos of an even greater magnitude.