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On April 4, a suspected chemical attack was reported in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, in north-western Syria. At least 58 people have died as a result of the attack. The United States, the United Kingdom and France placed a resolution before the United Nation’s Security Council, condemning the attack and asking for an investigation of it. There is no call for armed action against anyone because the Council is divided on who perpetrated the act. However, it seems as if evidence and concrete intelligence are just side-notes when the Trump administration is deciding on its actions.
On the evening of April 6, Donald Trump unilaterally decided to initiate “targeted” strikes — 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. warships — on Al Shayrat Airfield, the alleged airbase from which the horrors of April 4 were carried out. Note that this is the first direct and deliberate strike undertaken by the United States during Syria’s six-year civil war, although overall, this is almost the 7,840th U.S. military strike in Syria. The April 6 hits have already led to the reported deaths of nine civilians, including four children. There has been no authorization based on Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter — which would effectively grant a military strike on another nation — thus violating international law.
Not only is this a violation of international law, it is another act of war. Not even the Congress was thought to be important enough to be asked before such a strike. Not only is this an act of war, it is an outright act of moral hypocrisy. Trump’s justification for intervening in Syria was allegedly based on the principle of saving innocent Syrians from the brutal oppression directed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, I wonder why that principle is not put into action for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the aggressions committed by both the Syrian regime and the international coalition force. It seems as if the victims of a chemical attack are the only worthy victims in the eyes of Mr. Trump. However, the level of hypocrisy is nowhere near novel. One only needs to go back to the time when the United States was cheering on as Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against its Kurdish population as well as against Iran.
As of today, there is no credible evidence linking the chemical attack that took place on April 4 to the Syrian regime or anyone else for that matter. For one, there isn’t even an agreement on the type of chemical that was used in the attack. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which had previously worked in Syria to destroy all banned chemical weapons, now says it will investigate the attack in Khan Sheikhoun. The OPCW has announced that the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) is already in “the process of gathering and analysing information from all available sources.” However, as pointed out by Karim Makdisi and Coralie Pison Hindawi in their study of the United Nation’s role in the investigation of chemical weapons in Syria, the FFM was regarded as highly political by many within the United Nations. As Vijay Prashad rightly points out in an article of his, “That the FFM was sent into Syria, led by Malik Ellahi, to find out about chlorine use was itself a problem, Makdisi and Hindawi write, since ‘investigating allegations of use [of chlorine] would prove extremely challenging at best, and the actual use almost impossible to establish scientifically.’” At any rate, the main point here was that the West seemed to want to push these investigations, knowing full well the difficulty involved in ascertaining use of chlorine, in order to create a narrative of chemical weapons use.
What took place in Khan Sheikhoun was barbaric and heinous, regardless of the perpetrator of the crime. However, one crime should not become the justification for another crime or many other crimes. The most tragic aspect of all this is that nobody is asking the opinion of the countless Syrians caught between the crossfire. This has become a proxy war between Russia and the United States, as indicated by a recent article published in The Washington Post titled “The main question after strikes on Syria: How does Russia respond?” Syria is merely the chosen ground for the many disastrous and utterly criminal theatrics undertaken by the above mentioned countries and the Syrian regime headed by Assad. It seems that no one has learnt from history. Last month was the 14th anniversary of the illegal U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. This year is the sixth anniversary of the illegal U.S.-led invasion of Libya. How many more before the United States realizes the extremely harmful consequences of its actions?
Yash Kothari, a B.A./M.A. candidate in Pure and Applied Mathematics, can be reached at [email protected]