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Read Editorial – US missile attack on Syria: A reckless intervention

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MEANINGS are given in BOLD

The U.S. missile attack on a Syrian airbase, which President Donald Trump ordered after civilians in the rebel (a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader) -held Idlib province were hit with chemical weapons causing the deaths of at least 80 people, marks a departure in American policy towards the war-ravaged (severely damaged; disfigured by age or illness) country.

Though President Barack Obama had repeatedly said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should go, he resisted calls for military action in this regard, primarily for two reasons: he wanted the U.S. to stay focussed on the campaign (a series of military operations intended to achieve a goal, confined to a particular area, or involving a specified type of fighting) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and was wary (feeling or showing caution about possible dangers or problems) of dragging (pull (someone or something) along forcefully, roughly, or with difficulty. ) the U.S. into a direct confrontation (a hostile or argumentative situation or meeting between opposing parties) with Russia, which is backing the regime (a government, especially an authoritarian one).

Even Mr. Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, had said that Mr. Assad’s future was up to the Syrians. But then came the chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, leading Mr. Trump to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles on the al-Shayrat airbase in Homs. On the face of it, it appears to be a bold move intended to take Mr. Assad to task for his actions. But in truth, the Trump administration has risked escalating (increase rapidly) the Syrian crisis to far more dangerous levels. Once the brouhaha (a noisy and overexcited reaction or response to something) over the attack settles, Mr. Trump will face the question of what he really achieved from the missile strike.

Did it establish any deterrence (the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences) in Syria? Will it help in the long run to mitigate (make (something bad) less severe, serious, or painful) the suffering of the Syrians or bring the civil war to an end? The strike also raises questions about its legality. The UN Charter clearly states that any attack on another country needs Security Council approval unless it is an act in self-defence.On the ground, the U.S. action seems to have cemented the alliance (the state of being joined or associated) between Moscow and Damascus further, with the former sending a warship (a ship equipped with weapons and designed to take part in warfare at sea) to the Mediterranean and threatening to halt a “deconfliction” (the process of avoiding mutual interference, or outright hazards) channel, a hot line between the Russian and U.S. defence ministries to avoid direct confrontation in Syria.

Mr. Trump could have waited for the UN to complete its probe (investigation; enquiry) into the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun before initiating military action, while simultaneously working to build a consensus (a general agreement) on Syria at the UN Security Council. The U.S. and other countries could also have put more pressure on Moscow to rein (check; guide) in Mr. Assad, and offered support to the peace process backed by Russia and Turkey.

If the last six years of the deadly civil war in Syria offer a concrete lesson, it is that there are no quick fixes to this crisis that has political, sectarian (a group of people with somewhat different religious beliefs (typically regarded as heretical) from those of a larger group to which they belong) and geopolitical dimensions. Removing Mr. Assad forcibly may sound purposeful, but it risks a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia and could result in the deaths and displacement of many more Syrians, triggering (causing a particular action, process, or situation to happen) another wave of refugees. The primary focus of the international community should be on ending this war, not on lighting new fires.


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