Edited version of this op ed published in Irish Examiner. Here is the full version.
Trump’s attack on Syria - not an act of humanitarianism
The international outrage caused by the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province last week which killed over 80 people, most likely carried out by the Syrian regime, is justified and understandable as are calls that something must be done to end the horrific six year war in Syria.
Chemical weapons versus equally horrific weapons
The use of internationally banned chemical weapons against civilian targets are rightly condemned but why does their definition not include such equally awful weapons as depleted uranium and white phosphorous or even conventional weapons? The US Central Command has confirmed that it has used depleted uranium against Da’esh in Iraq. It was used extensively in the 2004 US attack on Fallujah which, a study has shown, has left a legacy of increased rates of infant mortality, cancer, deformed births that are proportionately greater than that those recorded after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs in WW2.
The coalition force’s use of white phosphorous has recently been noted in Mosul and was also used by the Israeli Military against Gazans in the 2008-2009 war, in one case attacking a school where civilians were sheltering.
It’s a mute point that the victims of these attacks would be concerned about the academic and scientific distinction between chemical weaponry and other equally barbaric forms of attack often deployed by coalition forces.
Hypocrisy of the US and other western powers
We should not be fooled by Trump’s apparent humanitarian act and his crocidile tears over the killing of children at Khan Sheikhun. Since he assumed power Trump has killed over 1,000 men, women and children in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. In his first week as President he ordered a commando raid in Yemen that massacred many civilians including women and children.
In an essay entitled Donald Trump’s War Crimes, American Professor (Emiterus) Marjorie Cohen documents other attacks. During the last part of March alone:
“- US aircraft bombed homes, a school and a hospital in Tabqah, Syria, killing 20 civilians.
- A US-led coalition airstrike on a school that was housing 50 families displaced by the fighting near Raqqa, Syria, killed at least 33 civilians.
- A US airstrike in Mosul, Iraq, killed more than 200 people, causing the largest loss of civilian life since the United States began bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq in 2014.”
The UK based NGO Airwars, which monitors civilian casualties from airstrikes in the Middle East, claims that "almost 1,000 non-combatant deaths have already been alleged from coalition actions across Iraq and Syria in March this year.”
Trump cries publicly over Syrian children horribly killed by a gas attack while carrying out equally dispicable attacks within Syria and throughout the region, turning Syrian children away from US borders and threatening to expel Syrian migrants from America.
The wrong response and the wrong reasons
Trump’s airstrike, albeit directed at a Syrian military target, but that may have killed civilians, will very likely escalate the Syrian war and prolong the suffering for Syria. It will certainly strengthen Assad’s regime and Russia’s resolve to support it.
Trump has used the horrific chemical attack as an excuse to reassert US influence in Syria and to deflect from the civilian deaths that he has caused in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. He may aslo be sending a message to other world leaders, deflecting attention from his floundering domestic policy and trying to improve his ratings. He would not be the first leader to do this – think Thatcher with the Falklands and Yeltsin with Chechnia.
There is no denial that Assad’s and Putin’s forces have brutally killed many Syrians and caused havoc for the entire population. But so to have the rebel groups albeit not to the same scale.
It is a fallacy also to claim, as many commentators do, that the US have been offstandish in Syria. Under Obama’s Presidency there were several hundred US advisors on the ground assisting various rebel groups for the last few years. Though not as direct an intervention as Putin’s this has, along with the massive arms sales to western proxies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, prolonged the war and the suffering of the Syrian people.
Further military intervention by the US and other western powers in the Syrian war on the alleged pretext of concerns for the victims of the horrific chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun will be cynical attempts by them to get the upper hand on Russia in what has long become a power play of imperial war games with the Syrian people trapped in the middle – a proxy war.
There is no military solution to this horrific proxy war. All bombing and foreign intervention should stop now.
The US, other western Governments and Russia could best help the Syrian people by adopting a more positive attitude to the refugee crisis, stepping up genuine humanitarian assistance, coming clean about their real intentions, ceasing arms sales to the region and engaging in a genuine peace process that includes all the players to the conflict.