Devil’s Advocate: Are Trump’s interventions in Syria justified?

Max Waller and Henry Ford debate Trump's recent military action.



People convulsed in the streets unable to breath, there were “children lying on the ground, in their last breaths, their lips going blue […wherever you looked there were dead human beings.”

These are the words of an eyewitness, Abu Al-Baraa reported in the Guardian describing the aftermath of the gas attack in Khan Shekhun, Syria. Later that day, when doctors were busy treating survivors, the bombers came back again and bombed the hospital.

There can be no doubt that the Sarin Gas came from a shell, not a factory. A Guardian journalist, who was the first western journalist on the scene, found only abandoned grain silos and a shell hole, from which the sarin gas had dissipated. The shell was dropped by the Syrian Airforce, meaning that Assad is ultimately responsible.

When an attack is carried out against innocent civilians, it is a war crime. For the West to do nothing was, and should not ever have been, an option. It is already evident that Assad does not respond to sanctions; they were imposed after his last use of chemical weapons against a civilian population, after which he supposedly destroyed his chemical weapons in 2013. Evidently this was not the case, so something more had to be done.

There are now calls for Assad to step down, and pressure is being applied to Russia to in turn apply pressure to him, but with Russia’s ever growing isolationism from the west this method alone cannot be relied upon.

A justified and proportionate response was called for to demonstrate that the United States, which had already set down a red line that Assad then went on to cross, actually was going to act.

The USA could easily have wiped out the entire Syrian airforce or gone in and invaded the country, but such acts would be disproportionate. Donald Trump’s chosen method of response was to fire fifty-nine tomahawk cruise missiles at the airbase from which the strike was launched, killing at least seven people and injuring nine.

While fifty-nine tomahawk missiles seems like overkill to me, the message is simple: the United States is no longer going to sit by the side lines and allow for crises to develop.

The Obama administration’s fear of intervention which arguably allowed for Islamic State to get a foothold in the first place is no longer the norm. Assad must go, and the sooner the better.

The only problem is that Vladimir Putin has claimed, without providing a shred of evidence, that the gas attack was orchestrated by rebels in order to frame Assad.

Furthermore, he has claimed that further “false” attacks are going to occur, and that they will be used by the USA to justify war in the same manner as the Iraq war was justified.

He has not provided any evidence for these claims, but shows no sign of backing down and looks prepared to back Assad to the end.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State, has been dispatched to Russia in an attempt to get Putin to climb down and start to apply pressure to Assad – perhaps by imposing sanctions.

Boris Johnson tried and failed to get the European Union to also apply sanctions, but this proposal was rejected, and it is already evident that sanctions are not enough.

They only serve to hurt the Syrian population, who have already suffered enough. It is the administration that has to feel the consequences, not the people.

Trump’s intervention has led directly to a worsening of relations between America and Russia, which has been described as being at its worstsince the Cold War. It might be speculated that Putin is regretting his support of Trump.

The reset of relations on which he campaigned, and his apparent like for Putin, seem to have not counted for very much once he got into office – unless he meant to reset to the Cold War.

Yet despite the geopolitical consequences of Trump’s intervention, it is without doubt justified. Other methods have been tried, and they have failed.

If the United States wants to maintain its role as world policemen, it has to be prepared to enforce international law.

The attack was not disproportionate; it was a warning of what the US is capable of under a president who, despite his many flaws, is not afraid of being Commander in Chief.



It’s often said that fighting fire with fire is a show of power, a sign of never backing down or allowing one self to be thought of as inferior. It is also true that “bullies only respond to strength”, as Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister in Love Actually would have us believe. This certainly seems to be the mentality of President Trump, who last week authorized air strikes on a Syrian governmental airbase in response to a chemical warfare attack which killed dozens of civilians. This has since caused tension with President Assad, who denies any wrongdoing, and with Russia, Syria’s biggest ally.


It seems that since coming to power Trump has googled what a president does, and, after a brief browse of Wikipedia, has concluded that military means are the best way of ‘doing diplomacy’. Except there is absolutely nothing diplomatic about launching air strikes on a country 7000 miles away and starting a potential international crisis for the outcome of nothing more than a couple of marginally damaged buildings. I remember when I used to walk past my primary school head teacher’s office and feel an undying urge to throw a water balloon in there or put a whoopee cushion under his chair. Donald Trump seems It’s often said that fighting fire with fire is a show of power, a sign of never backing down or to have adopted the same mindless curiosity for his foreign policy, except the difference between he and I is that a) I don’t act like an eight-year-old anymore, and b) juvenile practical jokes become slightly more serious when your options for pranking are either nuclear weapons or a declaration of war.

And what has it achieved? Further internal conflict in Syria and the taskof keeping amicable ties with Russia seem an almost impossible task. Trump has stated continually that he wishes to rebuild the US military and make it once again a formidable world power, but power is nothing unless he knows how to use it. A president can never be seen to condone the use of chemical warfare on civilians. If Assad is found responsible for the attack then he should of course face retribution. Similarly, in North Korea, Kim Jong-Un has been increasing nuclear weapons testing and causing friction across the DMZ, and from a peace-keeping perspective this isn’t good news. Furthermore, it is not an unjust assertion to argue that the Obama administration was rather ineffective in implementing foreign policy and military engagements, so Trump is genuinely trying to implement a positive change of direction.

But managing international relations is the responsibility of the UN, whose job it is to handle such matters as Syria and North Korea. And forgive me for ruining the Trump party, but I’d rather not drop any bomb at all than be ready to press the button at all times just because I can.

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that you cannot keep making bold, empty promises like a vow to personally take care of North Korea when you are president of the United States. It’s a very good tactic to use on the campaign trail – and one which he was very successful in doing – but rhetoric is useless unless you have the capacity to follow it through, and, at the moment, he just doesn’t. Things he does have experience of: refusing to pay workers properly, failing to maintain several of his own business ventures, and knowing how to manipulate the truth. Oh, and bragging about sexual assault. Things he does not have experience of: politics, foreign policy or keeping up relations with international leaders. He is not a master tactician with experience in dealing with foreign powers, and the only dealings he’s ever done consisted of exploitative trade deals and profitable, yet invariably doomed, financial transactions.

The start to his time in office hasn’t gone particularly smoothly; the first few weeks were dominated by immense criticism regarding his Muslim ban, and now the United States’ already strained relationship with Russia, not to mention its questionable presence in the Middle East, is being put under further pressure.

It needs to be remembered that this was an extremely dangerous course of action to take. It wasn’t as if all of the other diplomatic options had been exhausted; the United Nations were barely given a chance to intervene before Trump gave the order for his air force to take to the skies. Trump may be President, but this does not justify slap-dash, ill-conceived military strikes whenever he decides to take international matters into his own hands.



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