Just last week, on April 4, a Syrian aircraft unleashed chemical weapons upon Syria’s northern Idlib province, with a death toll reaching at least 70 people. In response, President Trump authorized the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, all targeted at the airbase from which the Syrian aircraft that attacked Idlib originated. The US strike has been reported to have killed six people.
“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me – big impact,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden previous to the US airstrike. Trump called the US airstrike a “warning shot” to Assad, perhaps implying the US intentions to continue militant aggression in Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies that his military was to blame for the initial chemical weapons attack. In an interview broadcast with AFP, he called the allegations of intentionally poisoning his citizens “100 percent fabrication,” merely a convenient “pretext for the attack.” He also claimed that they had surrendered the entirety of their chemical weapons stockpile following the hundreds of casualties in the 2013 attack on Damascus.
It wasn’t just the leaders of the countries involved in the aggression that had input. Following the attack, social media lit up with people of all political persuasions giving their opinions on the airstrike. Some sentiments from disapproving parties included: “Why are we bombing a country whose refugees we shut the door on?” “I knew it! President Trump is about to start World War III,” and accusations of the human rights violations (yet to be resolved) that are happening in our own country. There was also a fair share of approval regarding Trump’s strike authorization on social media. “Finally, after years of passivity, we’re taking action,” said a friend in my Facebook feed, sharing pictures of wounded civilians from Idlib “we can’t sit by and watch any longer.”
Perhaps there is validity in the fact that the US has been “sitting by,” in regards to Syria. It will have been 5 years this July since Syria publicly acknowledged both their stockpile of chemical weapons—including mustard gas, blister agents, and nerve agents such as sarin and VX—and their ability to deliver them via aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets. It was Obama, after all, that called the use of chemical weapons the “red line,” indicated that military action would be taken should Syria decide to cross that line. When Trump criticized Obama’s lack of follow-through with that statement, he was referring to a few instances, but most notably the 2013 Syrian chemical weapon attack on Damascus. Obama expressed intent to gain authority for limited military action in order to deter further attacks. However, Russia stepped in with a proposition that kept further military action out of Syria, opting instead to order Syrians to dismantle their chemical weapons, and then to place them under international control.
This time, Russia has—once again—come to the defense of Syria. On April 5, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting following the attack on Idlib. Russia was one of the few opposing parties to a resolution drafted by the UN condemning Syria and Assad for the attack. Russia blamed possible insurgents for the attack, and also reiterated the narrative of the attack being fabricated to embarrass Assad. “Time and time again, Russia uses the same false narrative to deflect attention from their allies in Damascus,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki R. Haley said. “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” Haley closed her statements at the emergency security meeting by insisting that the UN had “failed to do their job”in acting as a collective. “There are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action,” said Haley.
While the details of the events in Syria, and the responding actions of the United Nations and the United States unfold, there are still many things left unclear. The resolution drafted by the UN demands that parties responsible for the chemical attack be held accountable for their actions, with no details as to how that would be done. Trump hasn’t given much in the ways of intentions in Syria moving forward, although the attack has further complicated theories of Trump’s unethical ties to Putin, an ally of Assad. Trump’s decision to act alone has stirred up controversy worldwide, and even on our turf as American citizens start to weigh out the moral justifications (or lack thereof) behind the attack. The verdict is still out.
JOSEPHINE HANSON: Social Media Editor