April 22nd 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The populist wedge: political disaffection comes to Australia

EDITORIAL Human Rights Commission needs to start afresh post Professor Triggs

CANBERRA OBSERVED Liberals' soul searching too painful to publicise

ABORTION Law condones the act as it criminalises the image

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump makes calculated response to Syrian atrocity

CHINA No easy way to reverse malignant one-child policy

FOREIGN AFFAIRS French election may determine Eurozone fate

ECONOMICS The taxing of companies: a clarifying perspective

PHILOSOPHY Rights bereft of obligations: or, Socrates versus the pig

MUSIC Classical colours: Mozart's fusion of opposites

CINEMA Beauty and the Beast: A fairytale of true enchantment

BOOK REVIEW Santamaria: a man against the tide

BOOK REVIEW The teen they would have made queen

Heartening response to readers' survey

Books promotion page

Trump makes calculated response to Syrian atrocity

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 22, 2017

The targeted response by U.S. President Donald Trump to the killing of some 70 Syrians with deadly sarin gas sends an unequivocal message to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad that the United States will respond proportionately to such actions, when it is possible to do so.

Revealingly, although Russia – Assad’s main ally – denied that Assad was responsible for the deaths by poison gas, it did not deny that poison gas had been released. It claimed, instead, that the gas had been released due to a strike on a rebel facility that had manufactured the gas.

One of the reinforced aircraft hangars
damaged in the U.S. missile strike.

The problem with this explanation is that there was no evidence that the besieged rebels had the capacity to manufacture the complex and unstable chemical used in the attack.

Further, the Assad regime had voluntarily promised to surrender its supplies of poison gas in 2013, after an earlier use of sarin gas by Assad’s forces prompted threats of American intervention. At the time, the surrender of Assad’s chemical weapons inventory was overseen by the United Nations and guaranteed by Russia.

Trump ordered two U.S. destroyers stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to unleash 59 tomahawk missiles, which are capable of pinpoint accuracy, against the airbase from which the aircraft that launched the attack originated.

Casualties minimised

The attack took place at about 4.40am local time, clearly to ensure that there were as few casualties as possible, civilian or military. America notified Russia in advance of the attack, and avoided areas of the base where Russians were known to be present.

It also took place after the United States, Great Britain and France had co-sponsored a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria by Assad’s forces.

The UN mediator in Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the “horrific” chemical attack had come from the air.

The resolution said the Syrian Government must provide an international investigation with flight plans and logs for the day of the attack, plus the names of all helicopter squadron commanders, and provide access to airbases where investigators believe attacks using chemicals may have been launched.

It also asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report monthly on whether the Syrian Government was cooperating with an international investigation and a fact-finding mission into chemical weapons use in Syria.

The draft resolution expressed “outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses its determination that those responsible must be held accountable”.

The resolution was vetoed by Russia.

Only after the veto was exercised, did the U.S. launch its missiles on the airbase.

Even before the strike was launched, President Trump had telegraphed that there would be a U.S. military response to the use of poison gas, so the attack on the base was not unexpected.

In light of the fact that the U.S. could have chosen any number of higher-profile targets, including President Assad’s Presidential Palace in Damascus, government offices, and even the headquarters of the Syrian military forces, the chosen target was designed to send a clear message that the Trump Administration would respond proportionately to such crimes.

Photos released after the attack showed shattered reinforced aircraft hangars, the remains of at least nine Syrian jets, wrecked radar and communications centres and an exploded fuel store, as well as large craters in the runway at al-Shayrat military airbase.

There were no reports of damage outside the airbase.

Syrian President Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran, attacked the U.S. President Putin described it as “an illegal act of aggression”.

It is hard to evaluate the statement by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, that the overthrow of the Assad regime is a priority of the Trump Administration.

Assad cannot be overthrown without the acquiescence of both Russia and Iran, and both countries are totally committed to Assad remaining in power.

A more measured response came from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said that America’s priority in the region remained the defeat of Islamic State.

“Once the threat from Islamic State has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilising the situation in Syria,” Tillerson said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Mr Tillerson said the United States was hopeful it could help bring parties together to begin the process of hammering out a political solution.

“If we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilisation in Syria, then, I believe, we hope, we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process,” he said.

A long sought-for ceasefire in Syria will not come about through the warring Syrian parties who refuse to sit in the same room together. A solution will only come about as a result of cooperation between the United States and Russia, the only two countries that can bring this war to an end.

All you need to know about
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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm