The US launched a missile strike on Shayrat airfield in Syria at the beginning of April in a move that gained a lot of media attention, and may have indicated a shift in US foreign policy. In the confusion of allegiances, motives, and contradictions, the six-year war in Syria remains highly complicated, and this has only been exacerbated by President Trump’s recent foray into warfare. The POTUS previously had emphasised his isolationist position, and opposed action when President Obama was faced with a similar situation in 2013. A week later, Trump also authorised the largest non-nuclear bomb ever to be used in combat against ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, potentially signalling an abrupt change from an inward-looking US to its having interventionist foreign policy.
The spark for America’s first deliberate strike on Syrian forces (they are also currently waging a bombing campaign in Syria on ISIS forces) was the internationally condemned chemical weapons attack, alleged to have been conducted by Assad’s government forces, on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which was reportedly perpetrated by aircraft from the Shayrat base. Trump claimed to have been highly affected by images of murdered children, prompting the sudden decision to initiate military action.
Praise has been heaped on the president from both the Democrats and the Republicans, and opinion polls have moved slightly in his favour. This seems in contradiction to the effectiveness of the raid – reportedly, only 23 of the 59 Tomahawk missiles reached the base, and there are unconfirmed claims of 9 civilians killed. Jets even took off from the runaway several hours after the attack, saved from the bombing thanks to the advance warning Trump gave to Russian forces stationed at the base.
Trump has claimed that America will not be drawn into an extended war in Syria, and that this is a “one-off”. In that case, the strike will have little concrete impact on the fighting and even on the use of chemical weapons in the conflict. However, in launching this attack and establishing a precedent for what is considered as a “red-line”, the president has inadvertently set up long term repercussions for his foreign policy. His lack of a coherent approach and propensity to flip-flop completely is a major concern, and no one is certain of how this will play out, including Trump.
It seems clear that the president either does not fully comprehend, or does not care about the potential ramifications of many of his actions, even when war is at stake.
[Louise Wylie – @womanpendulum]