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

US, NK head toward discussions on nuclear inspections

Summit talks, meetings on nuclear inspections to take place soon. With the leaders of US and North Korea expected to meet soon for a second summit, the two countries are set to restart negotiations on nuclear inspections. US President Donald Trump said Monday that the venue of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would be announced in “a pretty short period of time.” Trump made the comments after talks with President Moon Jae-in in New York, during which Moon conveyed Kim’s proposals to Trump including the date and location for a second summit. Moon’s meeting with Trump follows his three-day trip to North Korea las


By The Korea Herald
September 26, 2018

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

HK bans political group, citing its separatist views

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government said on Monday it has banned a separatist group that advocates independence. Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, who made the decision, said the ban on the “Hong Kong National Party” was in accordance with the Societies Ordinance. The ban on the HKNP, effective immediately, was made in the interests of national security, public safety, public order and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, Lee said. What the HKNP aims to do contravenes the Basic Law and undermines national security, the security chief said. The secretary for security is vested with the power to issue an order to prohibit the operation or continued operation of a society if it violates stipulations in the Societies Ordinance. To achieve its goal of splitting Hong Kong from the country, the HKNP has repeatedly called for the “use of


By Cod Satrusayang
September 26, 2018

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

Ending Rohingya Crisis: Bangladesh tables 3 proposals at UN meeting

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday made three recommendations for solving the Rohingya crisis at its root while at the UN meeting in New York. According to her second recommendation, Myanmar must create a conducive environment by building trust and guaranteeing protection, rights and pathway to citizenship for all Rohingyas. If needed, it should create a “safe zone” inside the country to protect all civilians. Her third recommendation says atrocious crimes against Rohingyas in Myanmar should be prevented by bringing accountability and justice, particularly in the light of recommendations of the Fact-Finding Mission of the UN Human Rights Council. The PM was speaking at a high-level event on the “Global Compact on Refugees: A Model for Greater Solidarity and Cooperation” at the UN headquarters in New York. “In Bangladesh, now we’re faced with the largest forced mov


By Daily Star
September 25, 2018

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

Moon, Trump discuss ‘corresponding measures’ for NK denucelarization

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in New York on Sunday for a bilateral summit with US President Donald Trump that is partly aimed at brokering a second US-North Korea summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump on Monday discussed possible ways to reward North Korea for its denuclearization measures that will apparently include a second US-North Korea summit. “The leaders agreed to continue communicating closely about corresponding measures,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. In their bilateral summit held in New York, the leaders of South K


By The Korea Herald
September 25, 2018

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

Opinion: One Belt, One Road: We must secure our interest

Shah Husain Imam argues in the Daily Star that Bangladesh must put its interests first in joining China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. The ancient Silk Road, of which the Belt and Road Initiative is a gigantic new avatar, dates back to the Chinese Han Dynasty’s westward expansion more than 2100 years ago. The Road derived its name from the lucrative silk trade along the routes through which it branched into what are today the central Asian countries Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, as well as present-day Pakistan and India to the south. These routes eventually spanned 4,000 miles to Europe. Interestingly, silk was regarded as more precious than gold as a commodity in those times as if to convey the misty romanticism with the old world charm about a fine fabric. At any rate, the Silk Road by no means offered silken smooth passage to travellers like Marco P


By Daily Star
September 21, 2018

Diplomacy, News, Opinion

A land with no smiles

The Thai middle class’ Faustian bargain with the military is hampering true democracy in the country. Almost ten years ago, I met a protester on the streets of Bangkok. It was a time of protest and political instability with the drama between the government and protesters spilling out onto the streets. To protect his identity against possible military reprisal, let us call him Nadech. Nadech will unlikely be recorded in history books, he was not a political leader, nor a despotic general or any other archetype of Thai history. He was a simple junk-store hawker, an occupation that involves going from house to house and sorting garbage to sell. His family had done well enough through grit and hard work to open a small convenience store in his home province. Nadech had taken to the streets in 2010 because he had believed the promises that exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had made and had seen, fi


By Cod Satrusayang
September 21, 2018