There are contrad-ictory opinions about who on April 4 used chemical weapons, which killed more than 80 civilians, including children in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria. Some pundits impute the deadly Sarin gas attack to Bashar al-Assad, while others believe terrorists belonging to the al-Nusra Front, which is an al Qaeda surrogate and friends with pro-western Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are behind the attacks. There is, however, no ambiguity about America's missile attacks on Syria's Shayrat airbase in the early dawn of Friday, April 7. US government sources have confirmed 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US warships in the Mediterranean hit the air base, from where they claim Assad's forces launched the deadly chemical attacks on Syrian civilians.
Trump's missiles killed nine civilians including four children in villages near the base. Meanwhile, Republican and Democrat leaders, analysts, and media in the US are supportive of the attack, which seems to have boosted President Trump's self-confidence as the “Leader of the Free World”, a hyperbolic expression Americans use in self-glorification. The illegal missile attack is likely to improve the president's sinking popularity among Americans, which was around 35 percent last week, one of the lowest in US history.
What's surprising – and extremely sickening though – is the way Western governments, media, analysts, and some of their counterparts across the world are analysing the short- and long-term effects of the missile attack, without outright condemning it as a war crime. As if only the Assad regime is responsible for human rights violations and war crimes, while the US is just “defending democracy and freedom”, as Americans always claim before and after all major wars and invasions it makes across the world. Sadly, only a handful of US analysts and politicians are publicly criticising the Trump administration for attacking Syria without a UN Security Council resolution, and without seeking any approval from the US Congress either. However, the Congress approval for invading a country by the US doesn't bring any stamp of legitimacy for the crime in international law.
Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran are openly condemning the attack. NATO and EU countries in general, and Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey in particular, are seemingly very happy with Trump as he punished Assad for “crossing the redline”. Some even praise Trump for not behaving like another Obama, who despite his promise, didn't retaliate against Assad for “crossing the redline” by allegedly using chemical weapons against his own people in 2013. While China isn't relishing the attack, Russia has announced retaliatory steps against such attacks. It's also going to strengthen Syrian air defence capabilities. Iran and Hezbollah have also registered their strong protests against this unlawful attack.
So far so good! However, those who are happy about the so-called “retaliatory attack” against Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapon against his own people don't know several anti-Assad rebel groups also have piles of chemical weapons, and some of them have already used it in the recent past. On several occasions, neutral UN observers pointed fingers at some Syrian rebel groups, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey in 2012-2013, for chemical weapon attacks.
The Syrian civil war is a cumulative long-drawn effect of multiple proxy wars in the region, between Washington and Moscow, and Tehran and the Riyadh-Telaviv-Ankara triumvirate, backed by Washington. It's time to understand, Russia and China along with Iran and Hezbollah aren't going to give up their interests in Syria. They aren't going to accept a pro-Western regime there. In Syria, Russia has its very strategically important and only military base in the region. It has many “advisers” in the country. So, Trump's missile attack in Syria is going to become an episode without any fruit for Washington and its allies. It's time to reflect on what former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan emphatically stated in June 2012 after the failure of the UN-sponsored peace plan in Syria: “Syria is not Libya, it will not implode; it will explode beyond its borders.”
Now, is Syria only a “strategic issue” or a battlefield for multiple proxy wars? No. It's a small country with very diverse population, who profess different faiths and are racially multi-ethnic as well. It used to be a peaceful country. Thanks to the influence of the Israel Lobby, America has had a problematic relationship with Syria since 1948. In March 1949, CIA toppled the democratically elected President Shukri al-Quwatly through a military coup d'état, and installed Colonel Husni al-Zaim (the “American Boy”) to power. Zaim legitimised Israel by signing an armistice with it, and allowed the ARAMCO to pipe Saudi oil to go through Syria to the Mediterranean coast. Afterward, America staged multiple military coups in Syria. Eventually, Syria became a self-reliant, free, modern, and secular dictatorship under Hafez al-Assad, who ruled from 1971 to 2000. His son Bashar al-Assad has been the president since 2000.
In view of the above, there's no reason to assume that what America, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and their allies are doing in Syria is anything but promoting democracy, human rights, and secularism. Syria is possibly the most secular country where Shia, Sunni, Maronite, Druze, Christian, atheists, pagans, and women enjoy much more freedom and equal opportunities than anywhere else in the Muslim World. If promotion of democracy and freedom is the prime US objective in Syria, one wonders as to why it is teaming up with Saudi Arabia and its reactionary allies, the thuggish Jabhat al-Nusra, Free Syrian Army, and last but not least, ISIS! As Fareed Zakaria told CNN this Friday (April 7), ISIS is a bigger threat to the free world than the Assad regime. “The weaker Assad gets, ISIS becomes stronger”, he spelled out.
Despite the sound and fury about Trump's missile attack in Syria – which amounts to war crime – it's nothing more than a balderdash, so much so that it's only going to boost Trump's sinking popularity among Americans, who are historically great admirers of presidents who invade countries and kill tens of thousands of civilians, in the pursuit of democracy, freedom, and glory for the “Greatest Nation on Earth”. Since the attack has agitated and angered Putin a lot, it could work like a steroid shot for Trump. He can now defend himself better from those who think Putin's hackers were somehow instrumental in his victory in the presidential election.
Nevertheless, a war crime is a war crime! The US has no international mandate to work as the custodian of any world order. There's nothing called “US exceptionalism” in any textbook on international law or diplomacy. Any unilateral invasion of another country, without prior approval from the UN Security Council, is a flagrant violation of international law, hence a war crime. Unfortunately, the US has been behaving like a bull in the china shop since its annexation of Mexican territories in the 1840s. It's invading countries almost non-stop and with impunity from Hawaii to the Philippines, Hiroshima to Honduras, Indo-China to Indonesia, Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya, and Syria – and in the process, has killed multiple millions of innocent civilians across the world. Instead of justifying the latest US aggression in Syria, it's time to condemn it as war crime. The UN should ask the US to apologise to Syria, and pay compensation for the illegal attack.
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014).