Questions the day after the attacks in Syria

By George N. Tzogopoulos 
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 22, 2018
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Syria [Photo/Xinhua]

The cooperation among the U.S., the U.K. and France in launching military attacks against Syria raises more questions for the future than it answers. Although U.S. President Donald Trump considers the small-scale operation a "mission accomplished" despite the negative connotation of this terminology, the day after does not seem ideal for Syria and its people. Efforts toward dialogue and stabilization can hardly be enhanced while the future reaction of Russia remains unknown. Meanwhile, the continuous dispute between Washington and Moscow only fuels existing tensions.

No one disagrees that the use of chemical weapons should be strongly condemned and – if possible – prevented. The U.S., the U.K. and France argue that the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad received the necessary message. In that regard, an article published in The Guardian suggested the West was "serious about chemical weapons." But is this indeed the case? Were chemical weapons used on the ground, and by whom? The following statement from a press briefing of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers a useful perspective: "We believe that it is very irresponsible to launch military strikes on a sovereign country on the ground of presumption of guilt. The issue of Syrian chemical weapons calls for truth." 

Additionally, U.S. policy in Syria is ambivalent. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, for example, said on CNN that there was no strategy. On the one hand, Trump is saying that American troops might leave Syria. And on the other, he is threatening Russia on Twitter and opts for military strikes. Theoretically, the two issues are not necessarily linked to each other. The presence of ground forces has aimed at defeating the Islamic State, while the recent air strikes sought to punish the Syrian regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons. But it still is not easy to understand Trump's actions. One might conclude that American foreign policy has been largely based on his temperament. It is not a coincidence that – according to the New York Times – both Republicans and Democrats have pressed for a broader strategy in confronting the war-torn region. 

From a public opinion perspective, Americans are largely skeptical about the necessity of wars. But American society is generally divided, so Trump's actions are finding both support and opposition. The same happened in 2017 when he decided to bombard Syria for a similar reason. Drawing on last year's opinion poll data, the U.S. President may be trying to achieve some partisan rallying ahead of this year's midterm elections. Before the recent strikes, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed his approval rating standing at 40 percent. 

Data are more worrying in the U.K. An exclusive survey of The Independent reveals that only a quarter of Britons backed London's decision to launch air strikes in Syria. Critics of Prime Minister Theresa May also claim that she avoided a debate in Parliament and acted quickly before it was necessary. May is clearly investing in the special relationship with the U.S., not only in the aftermath of the poisoning affair and the shaping of a common anti-Russia stance, but principally in looking for close allies to better negotiate Brexit with the EU. 

Regarding France, an online survey by the influential Le Figaro newspaper exhibited that, at the time of writing, 60 percent of respondents disapproved of the attacks. But President Emmanuel Macron is attempting to persuade his compatriots that his country is back in international affairs after years of inertia, and can undertake significant initiatives. 

At first glance, the collaboration of these three countries denotes that Trump is not alone. But where are other important European players? Germany, for instance, disagreed and refused to take part – another indication of the EU's inability to act with one voice in world politics when significant issues are at stake. Furthermore, the failure of the joint military operation of Washington, London and Paris to bring stability to Libya seven years ago is not encouraging. 

On the whole, the drama of the Syrian people wears on seven years after the outbreak of civil war. The risk of a large-scale confrontation between the U.S. and Russia on foreign soil has recently overshadowed developments, even as more people are killed, injured or displaced, adding to the growing number of casualties and refugees. If now is not the time for compromise and peace, then when?  

George N. Tzogopoulos is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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