By Moustafa Bayoumi
14 Apr 2018
The bombing of Syrian government targets by the United States, Britain, and France is a disgraceful and ineffectual act masquerading as a noble gesture. Far from preventing a more vicious war, the bombing instead legitimizes the continuation of the conflict. In fact, what this barrage of weapons really reveals is how little interest the global powers have in ending Syria’s ghastly war.
Similar to the attacks on Syrian government targets that Donald Trump ordered just over a year ago, the airstrikes this time will not seriously damage Bashar al-Assad’s larger military capacity, nor are they intended to. Instead, we’re told that the western bombing campaign has specifically aimed munitions at locations where the storage and testing of chemical weapons occurs.
But wasn’t last year’s attack meant to put an end to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and aren’t these the weapons that he was supposed to have destroyed under international auspices in 2014? At this rate, should we expect that an aerial bombing mission to finally and completely destroy Assad’s chemical weapons will be launched every April?
The question is ridiculous, of course, but so is the idea that this attack will accomplish anything beyond boosting the war-making egos of its protagonists and enabling Assad, his reprehensible regime, and his allies to complain of being the perpetual victims of western aggression. Beyond the bombast on both sides, Syria’s daily misery will continue.
These strikes mark the first time Theresa May of Britain and Emmanuel Macron of France have committed their respective militaries into combat, and they have done so, according to May, “to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons, but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons.”
May’s words might sound more intelligent than those of Donald Trump, who in his statement about the attacks told the American people: “Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.” But what May’s words really reveal is not the ethical reasoning of a head of state but the devastating lack of moral concern by the international community when it comes to the people of Syria.
The fact that three of the world’s most powerful militaries have now been mobilized into action, even for a limited campaign such as this one, to prevent “the erosion of the international norm” of using chemical weapons is far from comforting. Since the war began, Assad’s regime has engaged in the repeated and dreadful use of barrel bombs and mass starvation, the systematic torture of thousands of citizens and the laying siege to multiple cities, the killing of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of more than half the population. Yet, all of this horror does not seem to “erode an international norm” and certainly has not motivated these western leaders to any meaningful action to end the war.
On the contrary, regional and global powers now exploit Syria for their own advantage and apportion out its territory for repeated bombing. At this point, the country has been bombed by the Assad regime, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and the UAE.
Rather than limiting war, this latest bombing of Syria normalizes the war’s ongoing brutality. Forget the chemical weapons for a moment. The bombing of Syria by the western powers essentially and unconscionably establishes near total warfare on civilians as an acceptable “international norm”. Our politicians will wallow in their most recent action, calling the bombing a great success for our civilization. In fact, it’s much more akin to our demise.
Moustafa Bayoumi is a Guardian US columnist