April 16, 2018
President Trump said on Sunday that he knew he would be demeaned for using the term “mission accomplished”. On that at least he proved to be right.
But what was the mission?
Firstly, to prove at low cost that when Mr. Trump draws a redline, unlike his predecessor, he enforces it; he is a strong leader.
Secondly, to distract attention from his endless internal political problems.
President Obama’s failure to enforce his redline continues to draw lots of criticism. However, it was his choice to give diplomacy an opportunity which soon led to the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons under OPCW supervision enabling the world to breathe a sigh of relief. Had that mission not been accomplished, target selection for the latest missile attacks would have been mission impossible. Because, under customary international humanitarian law, when a choice is possible between several military objectives for obtaining a similar military advantage, the objective to be selected must be the one expected to cause the least danger to civilian lives and to civilian objects. Since Syria’s chemical weapons were destroyed, the latest missile attacks were undertaken in the knowledge that they would under no circumstances cause a huge chemical weapons disaster.
As for the second part of the mission, though the missile attacks may remain in the headlines for a few more days, it clear that they would not change America’s political agenda.
At the UN Security Council debate, American, British and French Ambassadors, in underlining the noble principles which inspire their countries, frequently referred to respect for international law. The first two countries, however, had undertaken the invasion of Iraq under false premises. And, all three had engaged in military operations in Libya in ways which went far beyond the parameters established by the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011). Little wonder, therefore, that following the latest attack some have drawn attention to similarities between Iraq and Syria. At the time President Chirac was an opponent of the invasion. When Resolution 1973 was voted on, Germany then a non-permanent member of the Security Council, abstained. Berlin has also condemned what happened in Douma but has again remained reserved.
Regardless of what they say, not even one of the countries involved in the Syrian conflict is able to claim the moral high ground because through their eight-year involvement in Syria’s proxy wars they have all violated international law.
As for Turkey, the Government has given verbal support to the missile attacks. It did not have much of a choice because:
- Firstly, it has long declared President Assad public enemy number one,
- Secondly, Turkey’s relations with the U.S. are at their lowest point in decades and the missile attack has given Ankara an opportunity to show some solidarity with estranged allies,
- Thirdly, Turkey and Russia, not to mention Iran, are partners in the Astana process and on the ground in Syria and verbal support for punitive Western military action can be presented as proof of Ankara’s independent foreign policy,
- Fourthly, Ankara knows that Moscow wouldn’t mind some verbal support to the West provided it follows Russia’s game plan in Syria.
External interventions have done great damage to America’s global standing. President Obama understood this, but he was somehow lured in by President Sarkozy and PM Cameron to joining the misguided Libya intervention. If not President Trump, policy makers in Washington should make sure that the same mistake is not repeated.
Since President Putin has always been a strong critic of U.S. interventions in Iraq and Libya for having led to chaos and devastation, he now wishes to display Russia’s peacemaking capacity. Washington also needs to prove that. The key to peace in Syria remains Russia-U.S. cooperation. If President Trump can meet “Rocket Man”, he should also be able to meet President Putin. But the first step to progress is to make sure that the OPCW is allowed to fully investigate what happened in Douma. Presidents Assad and Putin owe that much to the world.