Trump must realise the problem is Assad, not his weapons

Trump must realise the problem is Assad, not his weapons
Comment: Assad's genocide, in all its forms, isn't even conceived as being the real problem, writes Sam Hamad.
7 min read
10 Apr, 2018
Trump has essentially continued Obama's policy of ignoring Assad's genocide [Getty]
There has been yet another chemical weapons massacre in Syria. The target was the city of Douma, the largest settlement of the besieged and bombarded rebel-held area of East Ghouta.  

The death toll is at the very least 70 souls but could reach well past 100, while the amount injured by the gas attack is at least 500.

In line with Assad, Iran and Russia's genocidal tactics in Ghouta and all of rebel-held Syria, a 
barrel bomb containing deadly chlorine was dropped targeting sheltering families. Most of the dead and over 500 wounded are women and children, those most likely to be holed up in shelters trying to survive the daily bombardment of the array of 'conventional' weapons unleashed daily by Assad and Russia.  

But it hasn't just been 'conventional' weapons that Assad has used recently. As I pointed out earlier this year, the large-scale use of chemical weapons by Assad follows a specific modus operandi. First comes the small attacks, sometimes only killing or injuring a few people, leading up to a major strike.  

Last month in Hamouriyeh, Assad used chlorine against civilians, while in February Saraqeb in Idlib was hit - the month before that Douma was hit once again in a smaller attack.  

Then came the big one in Douma on Saturday and the world reacts with apparent shock. The only abnormal thing about this attack was the scale – as with the small attacks that preceded the other large chemical attacks, Assad veritably advertised what was coming.  

If I understand this pattern, it's safe to assume the US government also does. It's hardly a tough code to crack and the logic is not difficult to follow: The main intent of regime and its allies assault on East Ghouta is to not merely eradicate the rebel presence, but cleanse and terrorise the population all the better to re-establish tyrannical rule in the area.  

rightfully fear the 'corridors' set up by pro-regime forces - often foreign militias led by Iran or Assad's organs of extermination - or due to them physically not being able to leave certain areas, they are left holed up.  

The action will almost certainly be limited and won't change the daily reality of genocide

Assad and Russia have thus tried to flush them out by fire and by poison.  

It is for this reason we should take the tough talk coming from the US government following the attack with a pinch of salt. Donald Trump characteristically took to Twitter to express outrage at the attack. He went on to say that "if President Obama had crossed the red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago… Animal Assad would have been history".  

Trump was obviously referencing Obama's famous demarcation of chemical weapons use in Syria as a 'red line' that, if crossed, would lead to US intervention. Well, it turned out, as Trump implies, to be a red herring. There was no US intervention following the gassing to death of over 1,000 people in East Ghouta in 2013.  

Far from jumping to 'intervention', let alone 'regime change', which is of course what Assad's apologists tell us the US and its allies have supported in Syria, Obama jumped at the chance to embrace non-intervention in the form of the Kerry-Lavrov act, perhaps the most egregiously outrageous act of appeasement since the Munich Agreement in 1938.

But is Trump any different? Can we count on America's self-styled man of action to take meaningful action? Well, before you look at his record in government on this question, you might want to consider his own views at the time of the Ghouta attack in 2013, when he tweeted a series of warnings regarding Obama striking Assad in response to that atrocity.

In one tweet, Trump 
stated "President Obama do not attack Syria… there is no upside… save your powder for another (and more important) day." He then went on to warn, "If Obama attacks Syria and innocent civilians are hurt and killed, the US will look very bad."  

Perhaps he's changed his mind? Perhaps others in his administration, such as his defence secretary General James Mattis, have changed his mind? But the reality is that Trump has essentially continued Obama's policy of ignoring Assad's genocide while focusing solely on IS. There was no concern for 'innocent lives' when he effectively tore up the rules of engagement to fight IS.

But Trump, at least did hit Assad following the use of chemical weapons, if only partially.  

Following the Khan Sheikhun sarin massacre, Trump fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat airbase (from which the chemical weapons had been fired), which damaged only a small portion of the base and was preceded by the US giving Russia advanced warning of the strike. It's not only that it obviously didn't serve as any kind of meaningful deterrent regarding Assad using chemical weapons, but it didn't even deter mass murder being meted out from Shayrat merely hours after the attack.

We should take the tough talk coming from the US government following the attack with a pinch of salt

But the method of murder was 'conventional', which is apparently okay. This gets to the absurdity of the focus on chemical weapons when you comprehend the bigger picture.  

There is a genocide occurring in Syria, one that is being perpetrated by Assad, Iran and Russia. The word genocide is not one used lightly, but it is one that many of us who have been following events in Syria closely for seven years have used, but that is now gaining wider use.

Given the quantity - 
over 500,000 people - and the quality - deliberate massacres including industrial extermination and cleansing of millions of a certain demographic for a clear political purpose - one can only observe that what is happening in Syria is a genocide.  

So, while Trump and his administration might give us rhetoric about taking 'swift action' in response to the Douma attack and tell us that "we cannot allow this atrocity to happen" (they did allow it to happen, despite the warning signs), the point is that they have been 'allowing' the genocide in its totality to happen for seven years.  

There's a brutally dismal contrast to be made: In just under a month in East Ghouta, over 1,000 civilians were murdered by Assad-Iran-Russia, yet no one, certainly not the Trump administration, made any noises about regime change. Yet when at least 70 of those people are murdered by chlorine gas, suddenly there is talk of action.

Though France has pledged to aid the US in any response to Douma, this wider context doesn't fill one with much hope.

What is happening in Syria is a genocide

It tells us that the main problem, which is Assad's genocide, isn't even conceived as being a real problem. Assad, the 'animal', apparently only becomes worthy of criticism when he uses chemical weapons in a large-scale attack. When he burns children alive with napalm or incinerates and maims them with missiles, the world looks the other way.

The genocide must be stopped.

Any action must be to stop the genocide – not stage-managed limited attacks on single airbases, but a no-fly zone to ensure Syrian blood being spilled is no longer a daily reality. The only reason this is far-fetched is because the world isn't interested - the logistics of it are perfectly sound.

It's true that there have been many other post-war genocides, but never has the viciousness been so comprehensively detailed in real time via the internet and social media. The victims tweeting out their helplessness. The murdered leaving behind the ghosts of their lives in the form of Facebook pages and twitter accounts. The endless videos of suffering, torture and destruction.  

These atrocities are apparently not worthy of twitter condemnation by the president of the US, never mind military action.  

Trump may well act against Assad for Douma, but the action will almost certainly be limited and won't change the daily reality of genocide.

The question used to be: How many Syrians must die before the world acts to stop it? The answer so far is simply and terrifyingly however many Assad, Iran and Russia deem necessary to kill.  

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.