The U.S. attack on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria, carried out in retaliation for that country’s alleged use of chemical weapons, which left an undetermined number of civilians dead in its wake, was a signal that U.S. foreign policy – in spite of Donald Trump’s assurances to the contrary as a presidential candidate – will be one of intervention. In its unpredictability, the Trump presidency is turning the world into a dangerous place; while before it had appeared that Bashar Assad would be tolerated by the White House’s new occupant, Trump has now completed an about-face, making it clear to the Syrian government that it crossed the line when it allegedly resorted to using chemical weapons.
Now, in the absence of any independent confirmation of the facts surrounding the events of last Tuesday in Khan Sheikhoun, the rebel-controlled area of Syria where an alleged chemical attack took place that left dozens of civilians dead – with some reports claiming the total to be 89 victims, including 33 children and 18 women – the different parties in the conflict have built their own narratives. Ultimately, what has fed this war is the manner in which it has been communicated. After Tuesday’s attack, everyone took advantage of the news to back up his or her respective position.
While on one hand Trump defended the U.S. attack as a justifiable retaliatory measure, the Syrian government has maintained that it did not resort to using chemical weapons against its own population, arguing instead that the event in question had been the result of a chemical substance – which had been stockpiled by rebels – being released following a [Syrian government] airborne attack on a rebel arsenal.
At the same time, while Russia – Assad’s main ally – has positioned itself on the side of the Syrian government, validating the present course of action taken by Damascus, the United Kingdom has pointed a finger at Moscow and accused it of sharing responsibility for the deaths of civilians. Then Boris Johnson canceled his visit to Russia.
Naturally, the narrative constructed by the so-called mainstream media passed from one of Syria’s “alleged use” of chemical weapons to its definitive use of them. CNN, for example, didn’t fail to point out that the greater number of Europe’s leaders, along with its people, supported the United States’ unilateral strike. The cherry on top, so to speak, was Hillary Clinton’s declared support for it.
Meanwhile, Russia Today sought to counterattack by citing Ron Paul, a former U.S. presidential candidate, who had pointed out that “neoconservative realism” had returned to Washington.
The U.S. response must also figure into the analysis. In moving forward with the strike on the Shayrat Airbase on the outskirts of Homs at the same time as his summit with Xi Jinping, Trump wanted to leave no room to the imagination about what he could also do to North Korea. However, in order to preclude the possibility of distracted analysts failing to perceive the scope of the new U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. Navy advanced several of its battleships – including the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier – in the Korean Peninsula this weekend.
What is certain is that the U.N. Security Council is blocked from taking action on the war in Syria. Appealing for a reform of this U.N. body responsible for maintaining peace and security in the world would not lead to a quick end to the Syrian conflict. It is impossible to imagine a point in the near future when China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia agree to allow other states to block decisions in the Security Council. It’s difficult to imagine China, for example, allowing New Delhi to join the P5, or “Permanent Five” members of the Security Council, despite close ties with India within the context of BRICS.* The dubious feelings toward such a reform remain immense. One could ask this question, what other country beyond Brazil, for example, could accede to membership within the all-powerful Security Council? Should it be South Africa, another member of BRICS, or perhaps Nigeria, a country that has long been one of the prominent contributors to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations?
From the perspective of onlookers, after six years of conflict during which time the United Nations has been unable to arrive at a consensus for how to bring about peace in Syria, the decision to attack the Assad regime – taking into account the number of civilian victims – could be considered a justified move. But, given Russian involvement in Syria, forcing Assad from power could have many additional, vast consequences beyond that of simply contributing to a possible solution to the Middle East conflict.
It was with all of this in mind that, during the U.N. Security Council’s emergency meeting held last Friday, Bolivia’s permanent representative recalled how, in 2003, Colin Powell had appealed for the support of the other 14 member states to intervene in Iraq by presenting them with “proof” later shown to be false. When one takes this, as well the neocons’ domination of the agenda, into consideration, Trump’s intentions effectively become suspect. After only three months in power, long gone are the days of America’s assertions of non-involvement in global conflicts.
*Editor's note: BRICS is an acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.