From East to West: Mixed Reaction to Trump’s Air Strikes

A Symbolic Strike That Will Achieve Little

The United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a government-controlled Syrian air force base in the Homs province, purportedly where the nerve agent sarin was loaded on to aircraft that attacked a village in the rebel-held Idlib province.

Trump authorised this attack to ostensibly demonstrate that he will take a harder line against Syria, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama. While Trump’s actions represent the first time the US has attacked Assad’s forces since the civil war began six years, this military strike is embedded in a deeper history of America disciplining countries from the air over their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities.  Trump is in fact carrying on the legacy of President Bill Clinton.

The US launched cruise missile attacks against Iraqi WMD sites throughout the 1990s, and as of 2017 it is doing the same in Syria. The attacks seem to achieve little in the long run in changing the targeted government’s behaviour, but they provide symbolic proof to the international community of the US taking concrete action to discipline a country that violates the norm prohibiting WMD use.  

Ibrahim al-Marashi, Al-Jazeera

Trump's Syria strike sends not-so-subtle warning to U.S. rivals

“President Donald Trump's decision to strike Syria sent a powerful message around the world -- one that could be read very differently in Moscow, Pyongyang and Beijing. For Russia, it may finally put to rest expectations from the 2016 campaign that Trump will pursue closer ties with President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. For North Korea, it was a warning the U.S. is willing to act unilaterally. And for China, whose leader Xi Jinping was dining with Trump right before the missiles took flight, the attack was a potent sign of the new American president's unpredictability.”

Toluse Olorunnipa, Ting Shi and Margaret Talev, Dallas Morning News

A Show of Force

The US military strikes could lead to a "falling out" between the Trump administration and the Putin administration, ending their "honeymoon" period where each side had extended an olive branch to the other. Conflict between the US and Russia will once again emerge, repeating the same cycle experienced by the Obama administration where initial amity turned into serious opposition.

Not too long ago, Trump said that simultaneously attacking IS and the Syrian government would be foolish. But now he has ordered an attack despite affording himself only a narrow window in which to make his decision. This is Trump's first major move in international affairs, and it leaves an impression that the decision was made in haste and not without contradiction.  

The Middle East is poised to be the center of attention once again. Neither Russia nor Iran will remain silent on the attack nor sit idly by and accept the fallout. The Syrian civil war is entering a new phase. More refugees will flee the region and Europe may have to pay the price.

Editorial, The Global Times

A Complete Turnaround in Trump’s Policy

By attacking the air force base in Homs, Trump accomplished more than his predecessor Barack Obama did in almost six years of condemnations and reprimands for the Syrian regime. Still, the Americans have chosen a relatively safe path of action: Rather than attacks by warplanes or sending ground troops into Syria, they fired missiles from a long way off.

The unanswered question is whether the United States will be willing to continue with its commitment to overthrow the regime in Damascus. The message from the Pentagon on Thursday night was that this was a one-time attack, a proportional act of punishment after the regime crossed a red line and murdered civilians using chemical weapons, say reports from Washington. Another open question, which was raised after the previous large chemical weapons attack by Assad in 2013, still exists, and it's a moral one: Why is the world willing to remain silent about the murder of many more civilians by conventional weapons?

Amos Harel, Haaretz

Geopolitical victory or a slide into a war Americans didn’t ask for?

“It should give no one comfort to also know that the Trump White House has been in continuous disarray. Surrounded by sycophants who have little policy experience, the Trump administration is thin on international and foreign policy expertise. Russia’s retaliatory strike could provoke escalation, which would force this conflict into a showdown between two leaders. Adding other regional players into the mix only furthers the potential for wider-scale destruction. Israel has already publicly spoken out against the Syrian chemical attack and announced its intent to devise a military strategy to combat similar future actions. Iran and Hezbollah, another two wild cards, are staunch allies of Mr. al-Assad, with troops throughout Syria. Clearly, Donald Trump’s strike on Syria is a game changer in this protracted Mideast conflict. Whether it ushers in an end to Mr. al-Assad’s brutality or incites the beginning of a global and regional conflict is yet to be seen.”

Bessma Momani, Toronto Globe & Mail

Syria missile strike could lead to political solution

“Trump's use of cruise missiles was justifiable and useful, but now comes the more complex part. He needs to develop a broader strategy that envisions a Syria in which all groups have their rights and their protection, through some type of plan for self-governance in regions where Kurds and Sunni Arabs predominate. That might just work.”

Michael O’Hanlon. USA Today

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