DAMASCUS – I have lived in the Syrian capital of Damascus since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. I haven't left Syria for more than a week, and even then it was only to Beirut and only recently, which means only after seven years of war.
I was in Damascus when U.S. president Donald Trump announced that the U.S., the U.K. and France would launch a joint airstrike targeting Syrian military facilities. I was in Damascus when the strikes hit. I didn't see them from my house, but I didn't have to witness the explosions with my own eyes to be able to understand what it means for Syria and what it means for us civilians on the ground.
Anyone who has followed Trump's speeches since he was elected president can see that he has always criticized the peaceful approach of former President Barack Obama's administration and its soft policy decisions regarding the use of chemical weapons. This is particularly true regarding Obama's 2013 declaration that there would be a strike in Syria – a threat he never followed through on. Looking at it this way, it seems Trump didn't want to go back on his own initial statement that threatened retaliation for the use of chemical weapons, because this would ruin his image on an international level and he would be viewed in the same way as Obama, who he has publicly criticized.
There is no difference between the Russian airstrikes and those of the U.S., U.K. and France
He had two options. Trump could have authorized a big strike that would break the regime's back, and send a message to Iran and Russia that the U.S. is still an influential player in the region, and that the Middle East is not just in the hands of Moscow. The other option was to have diplomatic negotiations between Washington and Moscow – which would, of course, not be public – that would result in a strike just for the sake of showing that Trump did not back down from his original threat.
The second option is what ended up happening. Trump's statements gave me and others on the ground watching and waiting for far bigger expectations for the strike. I think, however, that he chose not to escalate but not to back off either.
As for my opinion concerning the strike itself, nobody can deny that France, the U.K. and the U.S. are colonizing countries that make decisions and take action based solely on their own interests. It is equally undeniable that while the strike in Syria was an assault on the country, there is no difference between the Russian airstrikes and those of the U.S., U.K. and France. What is the difference between Russian jets bombing Eastern Ghouta and Saturday's joint strike bombing military positions?
The Russian bombing has graver humanitarian consequences because Moscow has sometimes targeted civilian areas and not just military. However, the Russian presence in Syria and the U.S. attack are both violations of Syria's sovereignty. Both countries operate only in terms of their own best interests.
Of course, the responsibility lies from A to Z on the shoulders of the Syrian regime who let these foreign powers have a presence in Syria. It is the regime who opened the country's borders and allowed foreign states to carry out these violations. It is the regime who bears the responsibility for allowing Russia to plan most military operations and negotiations on the ground, creating for itself such an influential presence that it has almost become Syria's ruler.
Both countries operate only in terms of their own best interests
The evacuation of Eastern Ghouta, for example, has all taken place under the patronage and coordination of Russia. For this reason, I cannot consider the U.S. decision to strike in Syria a violation of its sovereignty if I do not also view Russia's presence in Syria in that same light.
As for the consequences of the attack, I think it is a message that the U.S., under Trump's administration, will no longer let Russia make decisions regarding Syria on its own and on its own terms. The U.S. wants to be able to say, "I am the leader of the international community and any deal should pass through me."
In addition to this, I don't believe that Russia will be able to continue to cover the use of chemical weapons in Syria anymore by using its veto at the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. has shown that it is ready to move on its own. However, the U.S. has also shown that it does not have a problem with the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure using other weapons. Chemical weapons continue to be its only red line.
Honestly, it's very hard for me to watch how these countries choose these arbitrary red lines and decide to act on them. The international standards and policies that they work from are so far removed from the human lives that are lost. At the end of the day, it is clear that there is no value placed on human beings. For these countries, what is most important is the type of weapon used and whether or not intervening for the sake of saving civilian lives suits their own interests.
*Alaa, whose last name has been omitted for security reasons, is a Syrian civil society worker in Damascus.
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