See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

Assad is heedless of the timid West

Saturday’s missile strikes on Syria were so restrained as to be utterly ineffective.


Written by

Updated: April 18, 2018

The United States, Britain and France landed a barrage on Syria on Saturday, sending a strong message that they will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Germany applauded the action, as did Israel of course. The US-led raid was a direct response to what was almost certainly a chemical attack by the Syrian government on the town of Douma, in which dozens of people were killed. It can only be hoped that the intended message got through to President Bashar al-Assad.

The operation had to be calibrated against strong political considerations. The coalition’s message had to be stern, but not so stern that it could upset Russia, the Assad regime’s main backer, and provoke Moscow to retaliate. Given the need for such restraint, though, we wonder how effective the operation could possibly be. Moreover, the regime had plenty of time to move its chemical stockpiles once the campaign started.

Recent history has shown that Assad has no qualms about using chemical weapons against his own people. Yet the weekend’s missile strikes did nothing in terms of changing the situation politically, ideologically or on the battlefield. US President Donald Trump ordered a similar strike last year in response to another chemical attack on civilians. Some commentators called the move “presidential”, but, like this past weekend’s attack, it was far from being a game changer. And the fact is that Assad has no real reason to heed such raids because he is convinced he will not be severely punished if he continues unleashing chemical weapons.

The problem thus becomes one of easing up on operational and political restraints and escalating future attacks to ensure they serve a meaningful purpose.

To be sure, the West’s timidity to act on the plight of the Syrian people and especially the refugees makes it seem uncaring, complacent and perhaps even complicit. The attack on the Syrian chemical production sites at the weekend was supposed to redeem the West’s credibility. However, the operation struck many as being a US military offensive. It is doubtful that, if Trump had not gone through with it, France and Britain would have proceeded. They needed America to lead the way.

Meanwhile, Trump’s abrasive character and the fact that he is foundering in domestic problems serve to cast him as a wholly inappropriate leader in any sort of effort to bring peace to Syria. Days before the air assault, Trump had even forecast in a speech that the US would be withdrawing its military from Syria “like, very soon”. What effect did the bombing have on that plan? Fundamentally, what is Trump’s policy on Syria?

During the administration of Barack Obama, it was clear that the US wanted Assad removed from power. Now it might seem that Washington’s Syria policy has been reduced to merely reacting whenever Assad steps across the red line and uses chemical weapons. Any thought of regime change has disappeared, and so has any comprehensive planning to go to the rescue of Syrian civilians.

While it is admirable that the Western powers will not let chemical attacks go unanswered, whether in Syria or anywhere else in the world, for such military responses to have any meaning, the consequences will have to be much graver. If they are not, such operations can only be self-defeating.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Nation (Thailand)
About the Author: The Nation is a broadsheet, English-language daily newspaper founded in 1971 and published in Bangkok, Thailand.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

S. Korea, Japan to hold working-level talks

The two countries have not pursued diplomacy since a high level talk failed earlier this month. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced Thursday that an official handling Asia-Pacific affairs will visit Japan to meet his counterpart amid mounting tensions between the two countries. Kim Jung-han, director general for Asian and Pacific Affairs at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, will meet Shigeki Takizaki to discuss matters of mutual interest, the ministry said in a press release. This is Kim’s first one-on-one meeting with Takizaki, who replaced Kenji Kanasugi as head of Japan’s Foreign Ministry’s Southeast and Southwest Asian affairs departmen


By The Korea Herald
September 20, 2019

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

PM Imran expresses Pakistan’s resolve to stand with Saudi Arabia in face of threat to security

Saudi Arabia say they were attacked by Iranian drones. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and expressed Pakistan’s resolve to stand with Saudi Arabia “in the event of a threat to its sanctity and security”, a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said. The premier condemned the recent drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and assured King Salman of Pakistan’s continued support to the Kingdom. According to the PMO statement, Prime Minister Imran also briefed King Salman on the current situation in occupied Kashmir. “King Salman reiterated the Kingdom’s solidarity and long-held support on the Kashmir issue,” said the statement. The two leaders discussed relations between the two countries as well as the regional and global political situation. They also talked about other matt


By Dawn
September 20, 2019

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

China demands US drop bill on HK

China has accused the United States of meddling in the past. China on Thursday demanded the United States stop advancing a Hong Kong-related bill and its interference in Hong Kong affairs on Thursday, after US lawmakers held a news conference to back the bill. US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a bipartisan group of members of Congress held the media event on the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019”. Hong Kong separatists, including Joshua Wong Chifung and Denise Ho Wan-see, attended the event. China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the move, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Thursday. Pelosi and other US politicians “failed to distinguish right from wrong” despite China repeatedly expressing its solemn stance over US meddling in Hong Kong affairs, Geng said. They were “brutally interfering in China


By China Daily
September 20, 2019

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

Pakistan denies India’s request for use of airspace by Modi for flight to Germany

The latest in a series of escalating diplomatic tit-for-tats. The government on Wednesday announced its decision not to grant India’s request for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use Pakistani airspace for his flight to Germany. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the decision has been made “keeping in view the situation in occupied Kashmir”. “A request was received from India saying that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to use Pakistani airspace for an overflight on the 20th to Germany and wishes to use the same for a return flight on the 28th,” said the foreign minister in a video statement. “Keeping in view the situation in occupied Kashmir and India’s attitude witnessed in the tyranny and oppression [suffered by Kashmiris] and the violations of rights in the region, we have decided not to grant this request,” he said.


By Dawn
September 19, 2019

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

Pakistan strongly condemns India’s remarks about ‘having control’ of AJK one day

The remarks were made by India’s foreign minister. India’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that Azad Jammu and Kashmir belongs to India and that he expected New Delhi to gain physical control over it one day, raising the rhetoric over the territorial dispute. In response, Pakistan strongly condemned and rejected “the inflammatory and irresponsible remarks made by the Indian External Affairs Minister regarding Pakistan and AJK”, according to a statement by the Foreign Office. The statement also called upon the international community to take note of the “aggressive posturing”. India claims the heavily populated Kashmir Valley while Pakistan has a wedge of territory in the west of the disputed region — Azad Jammu and Kashmir. “Our position on [Azad Kashmir] is, has always been and will always be very clear. [Azad Kashmir] is part of India and we expec


By Dawn
September 18, 2019

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

Japan officially removed from South Korea’s whitelist

Seoul has threatened the move for weeks. South Korea excluded Japan from its export controls whitelist Wednesday in retaliation for Tokyo’s earlier decision to remove Seoul from its list of favored trade partners, as bilateral relations have slumped to the lowest levels since normalizing diplomatic ties in 1965. “The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has published the revision of the nation’s trade controls on strategic items in an official gazette and it took effect from Wednesday,” said the ministry spokesperson through a statement. Since the Aug. 12 announcement by Industry Minister Sung Yun-mo that Korea would drop Japan as a preferred trading partner, the ministry has completed the necessary administrative steps, such as soliciting opinions from the public and submitting the revised rules to the Office of Legislation for review. “We have received opinions from the public throu


By The Korea Herald
September 18, 2019