For the residents of Khan Sheikhoun, the morning of April 4, 2017 was just another day of the ongoing civil war that has taken place in Syria since the year 2011. The residents were situated west of Aleppo in the Idlib Province. Numerous warring factions have claimed the lives of the town of around fifty thousand for years and this day would be no stranger to the nightmarish war.
Photo courtesy of http://techsumet.com
Rescuers, who arrived from outside of Khan Sheikhoun, found more than 600 civilians lying paralyzed on the ground or in their homes. It would later be discovered by the Turkish Health Ministry that chlorine gas and traces of sarin were used in the chemical weapons attack, suspected to have been carried out by the regime. Extreme exposure to sarin gas led many of the civilians to experience various symptoms including a loss of consciousness, paralysis, convulsions and respiratory failure, all of which would result in death. [i] The attack claimed the lives of eighty people, twenty-seven of whom were children.
Within 48 hours, on the orders of President Donald Trump, the United States warships launched 59 tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase that was home to the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks, U.S. officials said. The strike was meant to punish Syria’s President Bashar Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons in the attack on his own citizens earlier in the week. The U.S. strike marked the first direct military action taken by the United States against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. [ii]
Unofficially titled, “The Syrian Civil War,” since it began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations. The ongoing violence has been condemned by the Arab League, the European Union, the United States and other countries. On April 25, 2013, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. had evidence that the chemical weapon nerve agent sarin had been used in Syria on a small scale. On September 9, 2013, Syria agreed to a Russian proposal to give up control of its chemical weapons. On September 14, 2013, The United States, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, agreed to a plan with Russia to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria.
A vast majority of people in the world agree that the heinous acts of a government attacking its own civilians is both deplorable and immoral. President Donald Trump took less than two days to make his decision to launch missiles at Syria without the approval of Congress. When Obama considered asking for approval, Trump said it would be a “big mistake” if he didn’t. Trump said to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, where he ordered the strike, “It is in the vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.” [iii] As of December 2016, 4.81 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.3 million people have been displaced internationally.
One might ponder, why the sudden shift in policy from President Trump? When Obama considered and eventually decided otherwise to take action against al-Assad, Trump criticized him for even considering to take action in the first place, calling him “foolish.” [iv] Furthermore, the intervention in Syria ordered by President Trump is a direct contradiction of his previous contentions that the United States should “stay out” of the conflict. In fact, many wonder how the President could even launch missiles targeting the regime of al-Assad while calling for the removal of Syrian refugees already relocated to the United States and signing an executive order that would prevent refugees from entering the United States. Even some of Trump’s supporters have responded critically to his decision to launch an airstrike.
Photo courtesy of http://www.justjared.com/2017/04/06/president-trump-orders-missile-strike-in-syria-celebs-react/
One can only hope that President Trump’s actions were the result of the sobering experience of the chemical attack and the shocking images of children who became the innocent victims of a brutal regime, which uses indiscriminate violence against its most vulnerable subjects. Much like past presidents, Trump too has met realities of the White House, and perhaps now sees the difference between being a presidential candidate and a president. He ran on a platform of less foreign military intervention even once saying, “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent America.” President Trump was quoted saying that the strike on al Shayrat airbase was “representing the world.” [v]
Plagued by allegations of his ties to Russia, he only gave them an hour warning before launching the missiles; many believe his decision to launch the missiles were a direct deflection of the many accusations and investigations into his ties with Vladimir Putin and Russia. Whether Putin can afford an open conflict with the U.S. is another matter. The fact still remains that this airstrike on Syria, costing the United States hundreds of millions of dollars, proved to do little as Assad’s office called it on Friday, April 7, 2017 “a disgraceful act that can only be described as short-sighted.” [vi]
Russia and Iran have warned the U.S. they will “respond with force” if their own “red lines” are crossed in Syria. “What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well,” the group’s joint command center said [vi].
We can only hope that the response of the Trump administration will not lead to further military escalation in the region or worse, World War III.
[i] Syria Attack: What is Sarin Gas? Retrieved April 9, 2017, from http://time.com/4728846/sarin-nerve-gas-syria/
[ii] Trump lauches military strike against Syria. Retrieved April 9, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/politics/donald-trump-syria-military/index.html.
[iii] Trump Orders Syria Airstrikes After ‘Assad Choked Out The Lives’ Of Civilians, Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/2017/04/06/522948481/u-s-launches-airstrikes-against-syria-after-chemical-attack
[iv] Donald Trump says US ‘representing the world’ in Syria airstrikes’ Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-syria-air-strikes-us-representing-the-world-twitter-tweet-russia-latest-a7674251.html
[v] Trump launches military strike against Syria Retrieved April 17, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/politics/donald-trump-syria-military/
[vi] Trump repeatedly to Obama in 2013: Don’t attack Syria. Retrieved April 9, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/06/politics/trump-tweet-syria-obama/index.html
[vi] Assad Allies say US attack on Syria air base crosses ‘red lines’. Retrieved April 9, 2017, from http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/assad-allies-say-us-attack-on-syria-air-base-crosses-red-lines/3665230.html
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.