eyes on the U.S.

World Newspapers Analyze Trump's 'Trigger-Happy' Turnaround On Syria

Anti-Assad poster in Bucharest, Romania
Anti-Assad poster in Bucharest, Romania
Marc Alves, Bertrand Hauger and Sruthi Gottipati

-Analysis-

For the longest time, Donald Trump has disparaged U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, mocked his rival's strategy in Syria, and unequivocally stated that America's enemy in the country was terror group ISIS, not President Bashar al-Assad.

Then on Friday, with little warning, Trump, as U.S. president, launched airstrikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. assault on Assad's regime in six years of civil war, abruptly changing course of his country's involvement in Syria and his own rhetoric about the conflict.

The reason for Trump's turnaround was ostensibly the suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 70 people, including children. "Nobody expected Trump, of all people, to wage a campaign to avenge Syrian children — who, after all, aren't even allowed to come into the United States as refugees," drily noted Politico Magazine.

But across the world, many foreign newspaper reporters puzzled over Trump's involvement and whether Assad was responsible for the suspected chemical attack.

"Why would Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad attack civilians with banned chemical weapons when he's ‘winning" the civil war that's been devastating Syria since 2011, knowing this atrocity would make the international community call for his head?" wondered Patrícia Campos Mello, a U.S. correspondent for Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo.

"The American president wants to keep his tough guy image," she writes. "Trump stands to win from attacking Assad, who's protected by Russian President Vladimir Putin. At a time when Trump's government is the target of several investigations over Russian interference in the presidential election, it's a good way to demonstrate ‘independence" from the Kremlin."

Nobody expected Trump, of all people, to wage a campaign to avenge Syrian children.

Correspondent Georges Malbrunot writes in French newspaper Le Figaro that there is still no evidence of Assad's responsibility in the attack and wonders about Syrian president's possible motive. The chemical attack, he says, places Assad "in a difficult position regarding his Russian ally, and just when the United States had ceased to make his departure ‘a priority"."

In both their stories, Mello and Malbrunot explore the possibility of radicals in Assad's ranks being behind the attack without their boss's knowledge, possibly because of their resentment of Russia calling the shots in Syria and to disobey Kremlin's orders not to use chemical weapons.

So far, most Western governments have blamed Assad for the horrific assault.

In France, an Elysée palace communiqué quickly accused the Syrian regime of "its obvious responsibility in this massacre" even as an editorial in the French weekly Challenges held up Russia's claim as plausible — that the gas contamination was the result of a rebel chemical weapons depot being struck by Syrian government airstrikes.

Even Trump's allies are voicing concern.

Whoever was behind the attack, Christoph Sydow, in German newspaper Der Spiegel, writes that Trump's airstrikes have likely escalated the conflict:

"In order to remain credible and reliable, the U.S. will have to answer any chemical attack in Syria with military action from now on. And these would have to hit the Assad regime harder every time. This means that if the Syrian dictator wants to do so and Russia allows it, the U.S. would gradually be drawn deeper into the Syrian war — a conflict Trump really wanted to keep out of."

Even Trump's allies are voicing concern. "Many Trump voters will be worried about this military intervention. Where will it end?" UK Independence Party legislator Nigel Farage, wrote on Twitter. Another UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall, wrote: "The U.S. bombing of Syria last night was rash, trigger happy, nonsensical and will achieve nothing. I hoped for better."

As Trump's predecessors know only too well, it's easy getting entangled in the Middle East. More than two decades in, it's getting out that's the problem.

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Migrant Lives

The Other Scandal At The Polish-Belarusian Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seems to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

Migrants in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.

Wojciech Czuchnowski

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.


It can be seen in films made available to the media by... Belarusian border guards and Lukashenko's official information agencies.

Tactics of a strongman

Refugees are not led to the border by "pretend soldiers" in uniforms from a military collectibles store. These are regular formations commanded by state authorities. Their actions violate all rules of peaceful coexistence and humanitarianism to which Belarus has committed itself as a state.

Belarus is dismissed by the "rest of the world" as a hopeless case of a bizarre (although, in the last year, increasingly brutal) dictatorship. But it still formally belongs to a whole range of organizations whose principles it violates every day on the border with Poland.

Indeed, Belarus is a part of the United Nations (it is even listed as a founding state in its declaration), it belongs to the UNICEF, to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Photo of Polish soldiers setting up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Polish soldiers set up a barbed wire fence in the Border Zone near Krynki, Belarus

Maciej Luczniewski/ZUMA

Lukashenko would never challenge the Red Cross

Each of these entities has specialized bureaus whose task is to intervene wherever conventions and human rights are violated. Each of these organizations should have sent their observers and representatives to the conflict area long ago — and without asking Belarus for permission. They should be operating on both sides of the border, as their presence would certainly make it more difficult to break the law.

An incomprehensible absence

Neither the leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczyński nor even Lukashenko would dare to keep the UN, UNICEF, OSCE or the Red Cross out of their countries.

In recent weeks, the services of one UN state (Belarus) have been regularly violating the border of another UN state (Poland). In the nearby forests, children are being pushed around and people are dying. Despite all of this, none of the international organizations seems to be trying to reach the border nor taking any kind of action required by their responsibilities.

Their absence in such a critical time and place is completely incomprehensible, and their lack of action raises questions about the use of international treaties and organizations created to protect them.

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