Trump’s Missile Strike in Syria Continues to Reverberate in Rising Powers
On April 12, 2017, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution which aimed to condemn the reported use of chemical weapons in northern Syria on April 4 and to demand that all parties provide speedy access to investigation. China abstained from voting on the UN resolution. Liu Jieyi, China’s Ambassador to the UN, said, “China opposes the use of chemical weapons by any state, organization and individual under any circumstances.” China also has not made any rebuke over the US military operation against Syria which was carried out on April 4; China-US Focus reported, “Pending the outcome of an independent investigation of the alleged ‘use of chemical weapons,’ China will not render unconditional support to the US position.”
Despite the careful and hesitant reaction from the Chinese government, Chinese commentators expressed an array of opinions on the situation in Syria.
- On China-US Focus, Liu Haiyang, a research fellow at Nanjing University, questioned the legality of the US’ action.
- A Global Times op-ed asserted that “The US’ decision to attack the Assad government is a show of force from the US president. He wants to prove that he dares to do what Obama dared not.” Furthermore, the commentator argued that “the US military strikes could lead to a “falling out” between the US and Russia. Neither Russia nor Iran will remain silent on the attack nor sit idly by and accept the fallout.”
- According to He Wenping, Senior Fellow at Chahar Institute, the US military strike “exposed the recklessness, impulsiveness and lack of sophistication of the Trump team in the diplomatic arena.” She continued, “On the domestic front, the airstrikes could help Trump distance himself from the sticky allegations that he has unusually close ties with Russia” and “on the international front, it could be helpful in shaping and polishing Trump’s image and prestige as a “tough man”, and in showing US’ global leadership in terms of morality, values and military prowess.” However, overall, “The US airstrikes, which angered Russia, Syria and Iran, are obviously detrimental to the cooperation within the global anti-terror alliance, and probably, the IS terrorists were the only ones who were actually cheering amid the explosions of Tomahawk cruise missiles.”
Several commentators in Global Times, a nationalist newspaper, pondered the implications of US intervention in Syria on North Korea.
- One op-ed asked, “After Syria strikes, will North Korea be next?” It also noted that Pyongyang reacted strongly to the US attack on Syria, saying it is “not frightened.”
- Another said “Washington overstretches on Syria, N. Korea fronts” and warned that “taking military actions against North Korea is much more risky than launching a missile strike on Syria. Pyongyang is able to deal a heavy blow to South Korea.”
The Indian government has yet to officially comment on the US missile strike in Syria.
- Regarding the silence from the Indian government, incommented “India has retired from the world, even as it seeks greater visibility in global forums and aspires to superpower status. It no longer lays claim to a moral voice that may be heard beyond its borders.”
- Riad Abbs, ambassador of Syria in India, reportedly said Syria is happy with India’s “balanced” stand on the crisis.
Several commentators expressed opinions on the crisis in Syria itself.
- A commentator in Indian Express, a pro-opposition newspaper, called attention to the hypocrisy of the international response the Syrian crisis. The recent event is “being spoken of as ‘red line’ crossed – as if an estimated 500,000 dead and almost 11.5 million displaced were not “red line” enough.”
- An Economic Times editorial opined that the chemical gas attack in Syria is “condemnable;”the UN Security Council “will need to go beyond blame and counter-blame and lay out the roadmap for a modicum of peace in Syria. Continued finger-pointing and impasse by the world’s leaders will only prolong the suffering of the Syrian people and strengthen terrorist forces like the Islamic State.”
Overall, Indian commentators were critical of the US missile strike in Syria.
- An editorial on The Hindu, a left-leaning newspaper, called the US missile attack on Syria “a reckless intervention.” The commentator also raised questions of the legality of the strike: “The UN Charter clearly states that any attack on another country needs Security Council approval unless it is an act in self-defense… Mr. Trump could have waited for the UN to complete its probe into the chemical attack before initiating military action, while simultaneously working to build a consensus on Syria at the UN Security Council.”
- For The Times of India, a center-right newspaper, “the latest US military action makes the Syrian mess worse.” The commentator asserted that “Washington now finds itself in a position where it is fighting both the Islamic State terror group and government forces.”
- An Indian Express commentator thought the US strike on Syria was “unguided” and argued that “strikes aren’t likely to achieve much.” Besides, the writer noted that “President Vladimir Putin… will … benefit among Russian hawks, for whom will be further evidence that their country is waging a long war against jihadists secretly supported by the West.”
A few commentators argued that the action from US was meant to boost America’s image in the international as well as domestic arenas rather than to help resolve the crisis.
- The Indian Express published a column titled “It’s About US, not Syria,” which presented a critical analysis of American action. According to the columnist, “The US does not have the political will or wherewithal to engage in full-scale war or induce regime change in Syria, at least not alone. But it cannot be seen not to be doing nothing. So the default option is a variety of “low cost” options…” Furthermore, the columnist argued that “America’s strikes aim at maintaining its ideological self-image, not solving a major humanitarian crisis.”
- A columnist in The Pioneer, pro-ruling party newspaper, argued that “it would have been better for the truth to have been fully established before any action was taken.” Given that the US struck without a clear conclusion regarding the responsible party, the columnist said, “If President Donald Trump wanted to send out the message that he would not sit back and watch as his predecessor did even if the ‘red line’ was crossed, perhaps he has managed to impress his constituents back home.”
Some commented on how US intervention may have impacted other states.
- A week after the American intervention in Syria, an editorial in Hindustan Times reported “Russia and US ties are going downhill, despite Trump’s initial bonhomie.”
- According to The Wire, “The impunity with which the US has been able to fire 59 missiles from ships sitting in the international waters off the Syrian coast” should make China very nervous. The commentator continued, “What must make Trump’s action even more alarming to Beijing is the casual insouciance with which it was taken, a quick visit to the ‘situation room’ at Mar Del Lago, virtually between soup and the first course, as he was entertaining Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida.” The commentator thought that, “In Beijing’s eyes, this has vindicated it’s decision to declare the entire South China Sea a core security region, seek to impose an identification protocol on all military planes and warships entering the region, and build a military runway on Fiery Cross reef.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly said “Japan highly values President Trump’s strong commitment to maintenance of the international order and to the peace and security of its allies and the world.”
- Regarding Abe’s statement, a commentator in Asahi Shimbun contended that “Abe is proud of his close relationship with the U.S. leader, but instead of expressing innocuous support he should try to convince Trump of the importance for the United States to tackle problems in cooperation with the international community.”
- The commentator also opined, “The U.S. missile strike on Syria was extremely reckless and constituted irresponsible use of force,” and continued, “Instead of bringing the war in Syria closer to an end, it could make the situation worse.”
- For one commentator the missile strike on Syria was “a reminder of how Iraq War started in 2003.”
Several editorials in The Japan Times expressed frustration with the Trump administration for the lack of a coherent and consistent policy agenda.
- A commentator highlighted the hypocrisy and inconsistency of President Trump saying, “He can be moved by TV images of suffering children to bomb a country but bans their people– the same suffering children – from coming to his own country as desperate refugees.”
- Another one criticized the Trump administration for “gyrations and reversals” of foreign policy, and argued that “Without a clear and articulated strategy, diplomacy is ad hoc, reactive and potentially quite dangerous.”
- Yet another one said, “Impulsive actions driven by personal feelings are no substitute for a long-term foreign policy.” The lack of a long-term policy is particularly worrisome for this commentator because “it is the lack of a clear and comprehensive approach that allowed Russia to embed itself in the Syrian conflict in the first place. Putin’s goal in the region is not to have long-term or positive influence. Rather, he wants to wedge Russia between various actors that lack coherent policies toward one another, thereby boosting Russia’s own power and prestige.”
Relations with Russia was also a point of focus for a few commentators.
- An editorial in The Mainichi, a left-leaning and the third largest daily circulation, noted that “This is the eighth time that Russia has voted against a UNSC resolution against Syria.” The commentator opined that Russia was selfish to have vetoed UNSC resolution against Syria.
- A commentator contended that “The United States and Russia should cooperate closely in efforts to end the civil warand pave the way for a political solution to the crisis. The United States, which has supported anti-government forces in Syria, should help integrate moderate and democratic forces within Syria, while Russia should persuade the Assad administration, which it supports, to create an environment for a smooth transfer of power.”
A spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Putin considers the U.S. air strikes “an aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that.” Russian media widely pointed to the contradiction between Trump’s actions in Syria and his campaign rhetoric, while some did criticize Russia’s initial reaction to the chemical attacks in Idlib. Overall, the intervention in Syria was viewed as a bad omen for the future of Russia-US cooperation on areas such as counter-terrorism.
- According to a commentator in RT, a state-owned newspaper, actions such as the firing of 59 cruise missiles into Syria demonstrate how ” Washington is essentially a military government,” with President Trump acting to feed the military industrial complex.
- A commentator featured in Sputnik asked, “what target are US Tomahawks likely to strike next?” The commentator also pointed out the apparent contradiction between Trump’s recent actions and his election promises, stating that “Many have already noticed how President Trump is changing and his agenda being influenced by Capitol Hill and sacrificing the key principles of his election program.”
- Further echoing widespread criticism in Russian media of Trump’s deviation from campaign pledges, an RTopinion piece observed that “the Republican leader… pledged like a populist on the campaign trail to scale back the US military’s overseas footprint, instead took US aggression to the next insane level.”
- An opinion piece in The Moscow Timeslamented the future of counterterrorism cooperation between the two powers after Trump’s decision to strike Syria. It argued that “Fighting ISIS was supposed to be the low-hanging fruit for both the U.S. and Russia to relaunch their relationship under Trump.” However, “The chemical attack in Idlib changed everything” and Russia’s inadequate public response to the attack backed the country into a corner.
Although Korean newspapers reported on the events in Syria, only a few published opinion pieces. An examination of those op-eds indicates that most of the Korean commentators analyzed the air strikes in Syria with North Korea in mind.
- According The Korea Times, “the U.S. has warned them [North Korea] of its military option on the table and not to test the U.S. ‘resolve and strength’ that was demonstrated by a recent attack on Syria.”
- An article in The Dong-a Ilbo concurred, saying “the recent attack could be interpreted as a stern warning to Pyongyang; should it cross the ‘red line’ in developing nuclear and missiles, Washington will engage in military actions including preemptive strikes.”
Brazil’s media has been reporting on the Syrian-US developments since early April.
- Huffington Post Brazil recently published an article discussing why President Donald Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles leads to “increasing instability and less diplomacy in the next few months and years, with the potential of war becoming increasingly more likely“.
- Carta Capital published an opinion piece criticizing Trump’s actions and discussing the harm that the attack has caused towards reaching a diplomatic solution, reporting that the “death of at least 74 civilians makes no sense from neither a military nor political standpoint.”
- Folha de São Paulo‘s Patrícia Campos Mello published a piece discussing whether Syria was the new Iraq war of 2003. Mello concludes by saying that “we must be careful with statements taken as certainties“, and reminds the world of the need to be weary of potential warfare.