Syria strike sends the right message, and now there must be a peace deal
There had to be action after the horrific chemical attack, but the world’s focus must move to the plight of the people of Syria
Chemical weapons are banned under international law, a rule that has its origins in the horrors of the trenches of the first world war. US President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian military air base from which a suspected sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town was believed to have come, is therefore justifiable. For the world to have stood by and done nothing, as has happened too many times after similar barbaric acts during the more than six years of conflict in Syria, would have been a dangerous green light to combatants in the country and elsewhere. No matter how desperate a struggle for control, there are lines that can never be crossed.
Trump took a course of action that was as much in the security interests of the US as the world. A strong response was unlikely to have come from the organisation entrusted with resolving conflicts, the UN Security Council. Russia, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s staunch ally in his fight for power against opposition groups, has consistently vetoed efforts to punish his regime. A unilateral strike was the only option and it has been carried out with care to hit those considered responsible and avoid civilian casualties. China hopes the situation will not deteriorate and, being opposed to chemical weapons, has called for an investigation of Tuesday’s gas attack.
Assad’s government has denied being behind the chemical attack and Russia says the gas was released when a rebel stockpile exploded. But independent observers say the arms were dropped by a Syrian air force jet, and Syria has in the past admitted possessing such weapons. Trump took office supporting Assad, contending that having him on side was necessary to fight Islamic State militants. But in the two days since the atrocity, he has understandably reversed his position and the administration is now calling for Assad’s removal.
But the Syrian leader’s right to stay in power is not a decision to be taken by Washington through the use of military force. Ideally, it should be up to the people of Syria, but amid the standoff in the civil war, that is impossible; successive rounds of peace talks have proven that. Until an agreement can be reached, it is the job of the Security Council to protect the country’s civilians and do its best to ensure peace and security. For the US to do more would ignore Syria’s sovereignty.
Moscow pointed that out by siding with Damascus in criticising Trump’s action. A Kremlin spokesman said that as a result, Russian relations with the US would be harmed. But those are matters for both sides to work through; it is the plight of the people of Syria that the world needs to focus on. The excesses need to be monitored and prevented and concerted efforts made to broker a lasting peace deal.