Donald Trump’s strike on the Shayrat airbase in Syria demonstrated his willingness to flaunt the US’s military power.
It will do nothing to end the brutal war in Syria. More US bombing can only feed the conflict and increase civilian deaths.
Trump claimed to be moved by the deaths of more than 80 civilians, including 30 children, in a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.
It’s almost certain the Syrian government was responsible. The West has no need to invent atrocities by a regime that has carried out so many already, from its horrific barrel bombs, bombardment of civilian areas and previous attacks with chemical weapons.
Assad even followed up by bombing the hospital treating victims of the latest attack.
But Trump’s concern is sheer hypocrisy. If he cared at all about the Syrian people, he would lift his ban on accepting Syrian refugees into the US.
Malcolm Turnbull backed the bombing, saying the Australian government “strongly supports” the strike. He was quickly joined by Labor leader Bill Shorten.
The US bombing has increased tensions with Russia and raised concerns of a further escalation of the Syrian war.
But Trump’s administration made it clear the attack was a warning shot, not the opening act in a new war.
The US was careful to notify Russia before the bombing, meaning the Syrian government knew it was coming too.
Only a third of the missiles hit their targets, and the airfield quickly resumed operating. The US did however manage to kill several civilians.
But this is far from the first time the US has bombed Syria. The US has already been bombing Islamic State targets since 2014, with Australian support from 2015. It has staged 7633 air strikes and killed at least 1300 civilians, according to calculations by the Airwars website.
We should oppose all US and Australian bombing. Syria is being torn apart as rival imperialist powers, from Russia and the US to Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia all try to build up local proxy forces and exert influence. They are no friends of those in Syria who continue to support the initial aims of the 2011 revolution. None of them want a future for Syria based on democracy or the interests of ordinary people.
Trump’s decision to bomb Assad was a dramatic turnaround from his previous comments that the US “should stay the hell out of Syria”.
Just a week before the strike his UN ambassador Nikki Haley announced, “Our priority is no longer to… focus on getting Assad out”.
Given the failure of both his Muslim ban and the ObamaCare repeal, Trump was clearly looking for a way to boost his standing at home.
The strike has effectively silenced the liberal criticism of Trump as too close to Putin and some kind of Russian agent. This has been the key charge against him from sections of the US political and media establishment.
His mainstream political opponents in the Democrats and the media were gushing about the decision to bomb. The New York Times, one of Trump’s favourite media targets, ran the headline “A strike in Syria restores our credibility in the world”.
In a sickening segment on MSNBC anchor Brian Williams called the bombs raining down on Syria “beautiful”.
Trump’s action also satisfied the US national security establishment, which is reluctant to surrender all influence over events in Syria.
But US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has made it clear there are no wider plans for US military action against Assad, admitting, “There is a limit… to what we can do”.
This follows the approach of the Obama administration, which refused to authorise the kind of military operation necessary to force regime change.
They understand that a US operation against Assad or even an attempt to impose a “no-fly zone” would mean a major confrontation with Russia. The Russian government has made it clear it is not prepared to see Assad fall, systematically bombing rebel targets and setting out to control Syrian airspace. This has swung the balance in the war sharply against the rebel groups.
The US’s focus in Syria continues to be on bombing Islamic State.
In the long run it hopes Russia will agree to a negotiated transition where Assad leaves and opposition figures are drawn into the regime. The US hoped to cynically use Assad’s chemical attack to pressure Russia into accepting this. But Russia is not about to agree.
The only real solution to the ongoing war in Syria is a revival of the revolutionary process that swept the Arab world in 2011. And the best way to help that process now is to oppose imperialist intervention and the bombing.
By James Supple