One of the worst chemical bombings in Syria’s history has incited international outrage over the continuous impunity the Syrian government receives. On Tuesday morning, several airstrikes took place in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria and people started to rush to the rescue. Those people started to feel ill, collapsing and had trouble breathing. From there it became apparent that a chemical weapon was used.

  • The attack killed at least 72 – including 11 children – and wounded 550.
  • Hours later, Syrian warplanes launched another airstrike on the medical centre where victims were being treated.
  • The White House, EU and Turkish President have condemned the attack and blamed the Syrian government.
  • Nearly 1,500 civilians were killed in chemical weapons attacks in Syria between the onset of the civil war and 2015.

The wounded were rushed to scattered medical centres as the main hospital in the area had been bombed two days prior, but then one of the medical centres was also attacked by an airstrike.

Attacks on medical facilities have also been a central feature in the war in Syria. There were 382 such strikes between March 2011, when the Syrian civil war began, and June 2016, according to data collected by Physicians for Human Rights.

When Trump administration officials affirmed on Friday that removing Assad was no longer a priority, and that the main objective was fighting ISIS, they implicitly gave the go ahead to Assad and his government to use chemical weapons against their own Syrian people.

“Weakness and irresolution”

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, told reporters today that “these heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration’s weakness and irresolution,” that’s not true. The use of chemical weapons this time occurred on Trump’s watch. Trump is now the president and it’s his job to make sure Assad pays the price for his deliberate and reprehensible action.

But Spicer, and by proxy, the Trump Administration and likely backers within the GOP, stand behind the statement that this recent human rights violation is somehow due in part to the Obama Administration’s ‘weakness and irresolution’. The tired GOP anthem of ‘Blame It On Obama’ persists even after his term has ended as POTUS.

Further, Spicer’s comments are further devalued by the fact that the current administration has said it will take a step back from Syria. If anything, this serves equally to give credence to Assad’s behaviour. Spicer and Trump are again guilty of a revisionist view of historical and political events to serve their own narrative, while ignoring the fallacy of their own failing or inaction.

Red line

Assad has crossed the “red line” – again. When he did it during the Obama administration, Obama and the US were prepared to intervene militarily and strike Assad and destroy his air capabilities. However, the Russians brokered a deal that allegedly removed all of Assad’s chemical weapons from Syria. Apparently, they cheated and left chemicals behind in Assad’s hands – or gave it back to him.

Assad’s decision to use chemical weapons may have been emboldened by Obama’s hollow and much-bemoaned ‘Red Line’ declaration, but where is the discussion on the part of the current administration on how Russian and Iranian involvement, both a great power and regional power, respectively, have equally or more consequentially emboldened Assad?

The inference being, regardless of the behaviour of regional and international actors, Obama’s failure to launch a retaliatory strike against Assad is to blame. This also belies the Obama Administration’s carefully orchestrated effort, in concert with Lavrov and Russia, to remove chemical weapons from Syria.


Syria is a no-win scenario. Americans like to think they can always fix the world’s problems, but that simply will not be the case in Syria. That window probably closed in Syria about 5 years, ago, if there ever was a window. Even if there were, it’s doubtful Americans wanted to pay the price in blood and resources.

Right now, there are too many conflicting parties and foreign powers who have an interest to keep the civil war going and who do not have an interest in cooperating with US-backed peace initiatives. With Russia actively participating in the war the risk of escalating the conflict is very high if the US starts increasing its direct intervention. Even if there things do not lead to a shooting war between US and Russia, Syria is so chaotic and factionalized, there is little basis to build a peace from the outside.

The US, as well as all civilized countries, can and should help on the humanitarian front. But the tragic reality is, with some fires, you simply have to let them burn out on their own.

There is only one person responsible here: Bashar al-Assad. It is not the fault of President Trump, nor the fault of former President Obama. Neither American, for all of their many faults and questionable decision-making, gave the order for such a terrible act to occur. Did each of them perhaps contribute to an environment where such an act might occur? Yes. But this should not turn into a witch-hunt.

Place responsibility where it occurs – at the feet of al-Assad and deliver a strong response such that no third-rate dictator will ever consider doing such a thing again in the future.

It’s now time for Trump to act as Commander-in-Chief and confront Assad and the Russians for their duplicitous and heinous actions.