Syrians should not be thanking Trump for the strikes

Freedom won’t come from those who don’t value it themselves.

U.S. President Trump is shown in an official White House handout image meeting with his National Security team at his Mar-a-Lago resort after a missile strike on Syria
US President Donald Trump being briefed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford via secure video teleconference after a missile strike on Syria [Reuters/The White House]

It is one thing to be pleased that serious damage has been done to a pro-Assad regime airbase by US strikes in Syria. It is another thing to fawn at Donald Trump’s feet and demand that we thank him for this strike as if he is the hero Syrian people have been waiting for.

The past six years repeatedly illustrated the Syrian people who want Bashar al-Assad gone have no real friends, western or Arab. And in the unlikely event someone is suddenly going to forge a friendship with anti-Assad Syrians now, it’s definitely not going to be Trump. Nor is he a suitable ally.

Social media reactions indicate the April 7 US air strike on Shayrat Air Base gave many revolution supporters and even Syrians affected by the Khan Shaykhoun sarin attack renewed hope, but many of these reactions, particularly within the US, have nonsensically elevated Trump to a pedestal he does not deserve and will not live up to.

For once, it would be wise for those who support the Syrian revolution, Arab or otherwise, to exercise the self-confidence and dignity displayed by the Arab peoples when they rose up, keeping in mind the biggest takeaway from the Arab Spring: Freedom will never come at the hands of those who do not value it themselves. That includes Trump.

Reactionary and unilateral does not a foreign policy make

Soon after the attack, US media outlets were reporting Russia was notified of the impending attack before it took place. Given this, it would have made sense for the US to also notify the party on whose behalf the attack was supposedly being made – Syrians fighting al-Assad under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

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However, Lt Colonel Fares al-Bayoush of the FSA, who sees the attack as a positive but only preliminary step in removing the regime, says no one from the FSA was notified of the attack beforehand.

Thanking Trump for attacking Shayrat without knowing the next steps is premature and degrading, in the same way it was premature to put hope in any of the Friends of Syria simply upon hearing their empty speeches about freedom that were never followed with actions to change the status quo.


Not only that, while it is welcome news that fighter jets, ammunition and fuel belonging to the Syrian regime’s army were destroyed during the attack, the reality is the regime and Russia continue to bomb civilians across Syria to this moment. On Friday alone, they killed at least 13 more people, including a young girl named Amira Skaff in Douma.

In other words, taking the Shayrat airbase out of commission is not a foreign policy strategy that will translate into the end of Bashar al-Assad and a free Syria for all. It is a small slap on the wrist (if even that), and US officials cannot even seem to decide whether this is a one-off attack or the start of a more coordinated strategy that ends with regime change.

Just days before the US bombed Shayrat airbase, Trump’s administration had even gone so far to indicate that removing Assad was no longer a priority. Such extreme about-faces indicate, again, that the Trump administration has no long-term plan for Syria, which highlights even more why this attack does not warrant putting Trump on a pedestal.

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Belal Attar, the former secretary-general of the now disbanded US-backed Hazm Movement, described the strike as, “simply a morale-booster that does not aim to change the military map or remove the regime … it does not change the current reality.”

This reactionary decision by Trump must be seen in the context of all the controversial policies he has attempted to run with since he took office, as well as in the context of the way he criticised the Obama administration for the very thing he has now done in Syria.

The Russia, Israel and Iran angle

Russia, despite its posturing at the UN Security Council, was not ruffled by this unilateral attack on a Syrian regime airbase. For one thing, it was notified ahead of time. For another, Russia and Trump can both agree on one thing – whatever happens in Syria in the future, Iran is irritating them both.

As Russia has become a more prominent player in the Syrian military map, it has also become closer to Israel as well as more involved in US domestic affairs, enjoying a cosy relationship with Trump. This is perhaps by far the most important point being ignored when analysing Trump’s so-called attack on Bashar al-Assad. Iran will continue to be marginalised in Syria as the US, Russia and Israel begin to balance their common interests in the country under the Trump administration.

It should also be noted that the US and Russia have been coordinating on air strikes across the Syria for quite a while. To cease such coordination would be disastrous to both parties at this point. And, as Bayoush pointed out, the US is not looking for a showdown with Russia in Syria.

Thanking Trump for attacking Shayrat without knowing the next steps is premature and degrading, in the same way it was premature to put hope in any of the Friends of Syria simply upon hearing their empty speeches about freedom that were never followed with actions to change the status quo.

Malak Chabkoun is an independent Middle East researcher and writer based in the US. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.