It just seems like Donald Trump can’t do anything right. Even when intervening in the name of humanitarian support in Syria, he has somehow managed to cause catastrophic ramifications on an international scale. He has jumped the gun, showing all the diplomatic finesse and subtlety of a bull in a china shop, only the consequences of this ill-judged policy reversal will cause far more damage than a few broken pieces of crockery.
First of all, some form of disclaimer is required. Trump protecting the lives of innocent and vulnerable Syrians from nerve gas attacks is not only welcome,something that has for a long time been eagerly anticipated by many. However, the repercussions of Trump’s tactless intervention in Syria may prove disastrous on the international stage, while also signifying a dangerous policy reversal which could alienate his supporters.
Trump made his stance on Syria clear, claiming for America, Syria in “NOT our problem” in a tweet from 29 May 2013. He vocally criticised Obama’s intervention, extending his disapproval stating “there is no upside and tremendous downside” on 7th September of the same year. It is difficult to see what reasoning Trump has for sending cruise missiles to air bases in Syria earlier today. It seems a moral argument does not wash in this case, given his earlier opinions on Syria. It is therefore worrying that the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s largest army has just waltzed into one of the most complicated civil wars in recent history, with ISIS, Assad and Putin scrambling around in the same quagmire, and it appears Trump has just fired shots with seemingly no moral intentions behind it.
The Russian element further complicates the picture. Trump has gone too and fro with his relationship with Putin, and this latest action makes it even harder to know where the two leaders stand. Russia has condemned the attack as a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, arguably suggesting relations between the two Cold War powers are waning. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the attack would cause “considerable damage” to Russian-US relations confirming this fear. Even more recently, the Russians have looked to bolster Assad’s defense by sending the missile-laden frigate ‘The Admiral Grigorevich’ to help support the regime’s leader. The Cold War battle lines may be being re-drawn as the UK have pledged their support to the USA. Russia in Syria are an uncompromising force at the moment, and Donald Trump’s action have struck a nerve, triggering a viscous knee-jerk response from Moscow. With Trump’s temperament, and his lack of diplomatic delicacy, as noted above, this could be a calamitous mixture. For the sake of international peace, the UN needs to be more integral than ever, but with Russian exercising their right to veto anything threatening their influence in Syria, and Trump warning it may cut funding to the UN, there may be no mediator in this heavyweight clash. Talk of a new Cold War may seem polemic, but at the moment we are bystanders to the possibility of escalation between the two powers, and all we have to trust is the limited ability of Trump to compromise as the Russians are not showing any sign of budging. However, it is also doubtful that America will show any comprise and cooperation themselves. The irresistible force of the USA meeting the immovable object of Russia in the Middle East places international security in a precarious position.
It is clear that credibility and political correctness are not part of Donald Trump’s vocabulary, and a U-turn on international policy won’t concern him overly much. However, an aggressive Russia, which looks like abandoning its amicable position towards the USA will. Cold War scars have not healed, and Russia are as unremitting as ever. Without an international intermediary a Trump-Putin stand-off is a real danger. Although some argued Trump’s intervention in Syria would bring him into a more internationalist stance, if he does not use the UN correctly, and does not leave Syria as a one-off strike, then tensions with Russia could boil over. Having said that, it is difficult to argue that the USA should not respond to chemical attacks in the future. It seems the only hope to end the war crimes that continue in Syria will be around the table, not in missiles.