Oh my! President Trump expects supporters and allies to applaud him in his efforts to punish President Assad, (together with Russia and the Iran) for their combined and despicable use of Chemical weapons against defenceless civilians in rebel held territory. The trouble is that not all observers share Mr Trump’s disregard for recent history.
First, anyone with any memory of recent US overt involvement in the Middle East need go no further back than the US presenting overwhelming and totally believable evidence to “prove” that the Iraqis were hiding chemical weapons and storing weapons of mass destruction. Should Mr Trump be surprised that other nations now appear cautious if not a mite cynical. Where was Mr Trump a few years back when it transpired that the evidence we had watched presented to the UN turned out to be a spectacular and carefully stage-managed work of fiction? Yes Saddam Hussein had previously used Chemical weapons eg Sarin and Mustard Gas against the Kurds but it turned out that two US air-force officers with training in Chemical weapons had helped the Iraqis in this particular war crime. When it came to the crunch weapons of mass destruction were notably absent.
It is also hard to believe that Mr Trump would not expect a cautious response from those who now remember the US leadership have a record of being less than open about their own use of UN non approved weapons. It is for example hard to forget that when the US did finally enter Iraq it is a matter of confirmed history that many civilians died and that many of the weapons used by the US are now classified as weapons of terror. Remember the white phosphorus, the depleted Uranium shells and the fuel air explosives.
Certainly ISIS has turned out to be a problem in Syria and elsewhere but some of us have read the histories which show how mismanagement overseen by the US in Iraq made a substantial contribution to the rise of ISIS.
President Trump is of course correct in saying that illegal weapons were used in Syria by Assad and his allies but surely someone in his rapidly changing set of advisors should have told him that some of those barrel bombs were also by courtesy of the Saudis and in turn these were funded and supplied by the US and their friends.
Of course we are concerned that children and civilian targets have been suffering tremendously but we also have heard Mr Trump declare that the US is cutting back on the rebuilding and repair and is clearly less welcoming of those fleeing the war zones.
The other problem is that it is very hard to complain about the actions of enemies when we remember that in nearby theatres of war our side are similarly compromised. Maybe Mr Trump has a point that there is a touch of the animal in the ruthless Assad. But a few years back weren’t the US and their main allies using Syria for the very same prisons where torture or even disappearance could be arranged as part of the now shameful memory of the so called rendition programme.
One of the clearest examples of inappropriate US assistance is seen in Yemen.
Since early 2015, USA and UK have in effect been sponsoring the infliction of devastating civilian suffering in Yemen as the end result of multibillion-dollar arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International pointed out in March 2017 in an article readily accessible on the net (“Yemen: Multibillion-dollar arms sales by USA and UK reveal shameful contradiction with aid efforts.”) that the results of the use of these arms vastly overshadowed any humanitarian efforts carried out by Saudi Arabia.
It is part of the official record that since that particular conflict began two years ago in March 2015, the US and UK have together transferred more than US$5 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia which from that point has been leading the military coalition in Yemen. That five billion is more than 10 times the estimated US$450 million that the US State Department and the UK’s Department for International Development have spent or budgeted to spend in aid to Yemen over the past two years.
In the Amnesty International report Lynn Maalouf Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut regional office explained it as follows: “Two years of conflict have forced three million people to flee their homes, shattered the lives of thousands of civilians and left Yemen facing a humanitarian disaster with more than 18 million in desperate need of assistance. Yet despite the millions of dollars’ worth of international assistance allocated to the country, many states have contributed to the suffering of the Yemeni people by continuing to supply billions of dollars’ worth of arms,”
The irony is hard to escape. Lynn Maalouf again: “Weapons supplied in the past by states such as the UK and USA have been used to commit gross violations and helped to precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe. These governments have continued to authorize such arms transfers at the same time as providing aid to alleviate the very crisis they have helped to create. Yemeni civilians continue to pay the price of these brazenly hypocritical arms supplies.”
So yes the US should be concerned that some of the very same Chemical weapons they have helped develop have fallen in to the wrong hands. But why are they not similarly concerned that far from leading efforts to disarm, Trump’s US is now reigniting the race to develop further weapons of mass destruction?
Of course Mr Trump is correct to show concern that nations such as Iran and North Korea are claiming the need to develop their own nuclear weapons but surely when the US is engaging in its own nuclear proliferation programme and is threatening these same countries who are particularly vulnerable without their own weapons it is hard to see how this represents the moral high ground.