THE sudden reversal of the Trump administration’s policy on Syria just two days after an alleged chemical explosion in the Jabhat al Nusra (an al Qaeda affiliate) controlled town of Khan Shaykhun in the rebel dominated Idlib province on April 4, did not come as a big surprise to many, given Donald Trump's flip-flops on other major issues since taking office. More than 70 civilians, some of them children, were reportedly killed in the attack by the Syrian air force on Khan Shaykhun. Idbib is described as “the heartland of Jabhat al Nusra”. The Syrian army was making significant advances there against the rebels when the “chemical attack' happened. The Syrian government did not deny that its air force had launched an attack on extremists in the town. The Syrian army spokesman said at the outset that its planes had targeted a building which had then exploded letting out a dark plume of smoke.
The government in Damascus alleges that it was a building where the rebels had stored chemical weapons. The United Nations special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, speaking soon after the alleged chemical attack, said that his organisation had not received “any official or reliable confirmation of what took place or who was responsible” for the incident. The European Union (EU) foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, also said that there was “no evidence at the moment” to pinpoint or apportion blame. The UN had said that it would conduct an inquiry at the earliest.
But this did not stop President Trump from rushing to judgment. Trump has said that he was moved by the pictures of “beautiful little babies” who were allegedly the victims of the chemical attack. He wasted no time in dispatching 59 Tomahawk missiles towards a Syrian air base in Shahryat, located in the province of Homs. Trump and the western media have been totally unmoved after the massacre of 120 people, including 80 innocent children in the same Idlib province, a week after the incident in Khan Shaykhun. Under a deal between the Syrian government and the rebels in the area, the children and their families were being evacuated from a village after living under siege for years.
There was not a word of sympathy for the bereaved parents from the White House. Not a single bullet was fired in retaliation by American led alliance which is allegedly fighting against the al Qaeda and the Daesh. There was no condemnation from western capitals either. This was in stark contrast to the reaction of the West after the April 4 incident. The children who died in the terror attack in the second week of April were Shiites, considered apostates by the al Nusra and the Daesh. Pope Francis was among the world leaders who spoke out against targeting of the children. He described it as “a vile attack” on fleeing refugees and said that his heart goes out for “beloved and martyred Syria”.
When then President Obama was seemingly on the brink of ordering an attack on Syria in 2013 for crossing his so-called “red line” on chemical weapons use, it was Trump who cautioned him not to get militarily involved. He tweeted “Do Not Attack Syria. If You Do Very bad things will happen”. Now sitting in the White House, Trump claims that his views on both Syria and President Assad have dramatically changed. The Chinese President Xi Jinping was the guest of the American president, at the Trump estate at Florida when the attack took place. Trump casually broke the news to his Chinese counterpart over dinner. The important Trump-Xi summit was relegated to the background. It was a significant loss of face for the Chinese. Trump did not even have the diplomatic nicety of postponing the attack for a single day till the Chinese president left America. China is a strong ally of the Syrian government. The attack on Syria also happened when peace talks on Syria were about to start in Geneva and the Syrian army was making significant advances.
US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, speaking to the media after the American missile attack on Syria, said “that there was no doubt in our mind” that it was the government of Bashar al Assad, which was responsible for the chemical attack. The Russian government had pointed out at the outset that the Syrian government had no chemical weapons in its arsenal having agreeing to destroy its cache following an agreement brokered by Moscow and done under UN supervision, three years ago. Russian intelligence was firmly of the view that the explosion was caused by chemical weapons that the rebels had stored in a warehouse. There have been previous documented incidents of the al Nusra and the Daesh using prohibited chemical weapons. The UN has recorded statements from Syrian civilians who were eyewitnesses to earlier attempts by the rebels to make the West believe that the Syrian government had used chlorine gas.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said recently that he has information that the West is planning many more “false flag” incidents in Syria. “We have information from different sources that these provocations – I cannot call them otherwise – are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including the southern suburbs of Damascus where there are plans to throw some substances and accuse the official Syrian authorities”, Putin said. Many intelligence professionals in America and the region are of the view that it was a “false flag” incident staged by the rebels to give the Americans a pretext to move in militarily into Syria.
The Russian President has highlighted the hypocrisy of the West on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. Putin said that the West had consistently ignored the Syrian government's request to probe allegations of chemical weapons use by the rebels.
After the American missile attack, Russia has further solidified its political and military relations with the Syrian government. The Russian Defense ministry has immediately taken steps to strengthen Syria's air defense, sent a naval frigate to the country and announced that it was suspending an agreement with the United States to coordinate activity over Syrian air space. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has called for an independent inquiry into the allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government.
President Bashar Assad, in a recent interview stressed that Syria did not have chemical weapons anymore. The Syrian president pointed out that the large scale American missile attack was carried out within 48 hours after the incident was reported “with no concrete evidence about anything” and based on “allegations and propaganda”.
The United States, as it is, bears much of the responsibility for the situation in Syria and the wider region. The seven million refugees and a nation in tatters is a legacy of Washington's brazen interference in the internal affairs of Syria. In its frenetic quest for regime change in Damascus, the West initially propped up a rebel Syrian army and when that venture failed, armed, trained and subsidised a crazed army of jihadists. “Actually, during the last six years, the US was directly involved in supporting the terrorists everywhere in Syria, including al Nusra and ISIS, including all the likeminded factions in Syria”, Assad said.
As the Bolivian envoy to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, observed in a speech at a UNSC meeting specifically called to discuss the American act of aggression against Syria, the Americans have once again abrogated to themselves the role of “investigators, attorneys, judges and executioners”. He compared the speech of Nikki Haley, the American ambassador at the UNSC to that of the US secretary of state, Colin Powell in 2003 justifying the invasion of Iraq. Bolivia currently holds a non-permanent seat at the UNSC. Llorenti, holding the enlarged picture of Powell making his weapons of mass destruction speech in Iraq, demanded that the United States has to be brought to account for the unprovoked attack on Syria, noting the history of American imperialist interventions worldwide, including Latin America. The BRICS nations issued a statement condemning the military action in Syria which was not authorised by the United Nations. The statement also called for the respect of international law, territorial integrity and sovereignty.