THE ELECTION OF Donald Trump as US President was never going to make the world a safer place. Nonetheless, even his harshest critics did not think that it would all go wrong so soon.
Two things have happened.
•First, on 4th April Syrian and Russian aeroplanes dropped bombs on Khan Sheikhoun, a town in north-west Syria. The town is occupied by “rebel” rather than “government” forces. There is an amount of evidence that in the course of this bombing, chemical weapons were released and killed local civilians.
•Second, on 7th April, US ships in the Mediterranean fired 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat airfield in the Homs province of Syria. The US claims this airfield was the base from which the aircraft which dropped the bombs on 4th April had departed.
These two events have opened a rift in what was already a fragile relationship between the USA and Russian.
First, there is a difference over the facts of the chemical weapons. The USA claims that the chemicals were in the Syrian and Russian bombs. The Syrians and Russians deny this and suggest that if chemicals were released, these would have come from a rebel stache on the ground.
Second – and understandably – there is a difference over whether the two attacks were justified. The USA and Russia have been dropping bombs on Syria for a while now – neither really clarifying what ends these means are being used to reach. For Russia, dropping bombs on Khan Sheikhoun was just another day at the office. The USA claims, publicly, that it was justified in bombing Shayrat airfield because this was a punishment of Syria for using chemical weapons and a warning not to do it again.
In practice, both sides are being disingenuous.
Russia is bombing Syria because it wants to keep President Bashar al-Assad in office because they hope he will be their loyal ally in the region. Ancillary to that main aim, they hope to show their own population that they are still a strong international force. They also want to persuade themselves they are still a strong international force: that’s why they were so furious with Trump, warning the USA that it had come within an inch of catapulting the world into World War III.
Quite why the USA took retaliatory action is less clear. Donald Trump clearly thinks he has been elected Boss of The World and is assuming it is therefore down to him to punish Syria is in line with that delusion. It should go down well with those who elected him. Trump is also using the circumstances – the punishment is for the crime of killing defenceless children – to attempt to look like Top Humanitarian internationally. However, it has also been suggested that Trump took the decision to bomb based on advice from the military rather than his usual advisers. This means the action may just be the result of the military wanting to get their toys out to play rather than because of any coherent international policy.
Back in the real world, there are three issues to concern us, which rise above the posturing of the superpowers.
First, how dare the international community sit back and tolerate a world where leaders deal with domestic dissent by force of arms? Why have they been defending the status quo rather than building a better world?
Second, how dare – how dare – Donald Trump assume he has the right to mete out collective punishment to other nations, without any legal process? This attitude is particularly sick, given that it comes from the Leader of a nation which has probably killed more innocent children (and women, and men), and stood by while others do so, than another other nation in the world. Does Trump think that it hurts a child less to die after being hit by a US missile than by a Middle Eastern one? Or that a child is not in pain when US munitions pierce his or her limbs or robs him or her of its parents? Hypocrite.
Third, how dare Donald Trump take such provocative action without considering the consequences? The damage caused by his retaliatory bombing could have been so much worse – and still could.
The real victims in this situation are the powerless – the people, especially the children, who were gassed; the people bombed to death near the airfield; the people killed and injured and displaced in Syria; the people killed and injured throughout the Middle East who are the victims of world powers arguing over the area and its riches.
Faced with a situation like this, where the stakes are so high, silence is conspiracy. We all have to step up and press our governments to work for peace and justice.