Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping take a walk in the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria
Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping take a walk in the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

The US missile strike on Syria last Friday destroyed the main airfield President Bashar al-Assad used to combat al-Qaeda and ISIS forces and killed nine civilians, including four children. US President Donald Trump claims his complete turnaround on Syria was in response to a “horrible chemical-weapons attack” that Assad presumably launched against innocent men, women and children, “even beautiful babies”. It was perhaps accidental that Trump’s order to use cruise missiles on Syria came only a couple of hours before he and Chinese President Xi Jinping sat down to dinner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

In his first public statement after the attack, Trump said he had changed his views on Assad’s Syria and realized that he now had responsibility for Syria and the world. The man who was elected on the platform of “America First” and saw his position as, first and foremost, the president of the United States, and not the president of the world, has thus returned his country to its usual global interventionist stance.

The chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province left at least 80 people dead and injured dozens more. At the moment, there is no hard evidence to support either the Western version that blames the Assad regime for carrying out the attack or the Russian explanation that alleges the release of a poisonous gas from a rebel-held facility in the city. We do know, however, that ISIS was able to launch a major attack within hours after the US strikes in close proximity to the targeted airbase.

Whether it was a sheer coincidence or not, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has condemned the US strikes harshly, saying that “today, all the terrorists in Syria are celebrating this US attack”. Russia is sending a frigate to the Syrian port of Tartus, while claiming, in Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s words, that the US is “one step away from military clashes with Russia” and that US-Russian relations are now “completely ruined”. American pundits are worried that the infamous “Doomsday Clock” has hereby been pushed to the brink of global nuclear catastrophe.

If the United States’ swift return to its role as global gendarme under Trump, who has thus reneged on the words and substance of his campaign promises to the electorate, could really be explained by a sudden humanistic epiphany on the part of the American leadership, there would be little choice but for all decent people of the planet to close ranks behind this new force of goodness in the world.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to doubt such a happy interpretation. Both the timing of the US move, on the eve of the US-China summit, and the timing of the ISIS counterattack against Syria’s government forces indicate that a less optimistic reading of the events is in order. Against the background of the evolving global competition between China and the United States, where the US decisively loses on the economic front, the Washington establishment has few other options beyond thrusting its military might in Xi’s face, to make sure that China walks the line.

The argument that the missile strike was necessary because of the death of “beautiful children” that Xi had found so convincing in Trump’s explanation of his order, even when buttressed with a beautiful Chinese song performed by Trump’s grandchildren in honor of Xi and his wife  Peng Liyuan, unfortunately rings shallow against the real-world events happening across the globe.

To name but a few: Rohingya Muslim babies and children are “being slaughtered”, according to a United Nations report, on Western darling Aung San Suu Kyi’s watch. No air strike is forthcoming on Myanmar’s military installations. Looking at the religion that Washington supposedly cares about, American clients Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan top the list of the world’s worst abusers of Christians. No US military action is taken in response.

Last December, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that another genocide was looming in South Sudan. No Western intervention to save South Sudanese civilians has ever been in the works. At least one child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen, where the US ally Saudi Arabia is waging a war of extermination against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Not a word of disapproval from the US media outlets.

Extrajudicial executions of civilians are continuing in Central Africa. We don’t even hear about them. In Ukraine’s war against its own people, near 10,000 civilians have died in Donbass in less than three years. Ukraine’s government, buoyed by military help from the US, Canada and other Nato countries, has recently renewed hostilities against the breakaway region, which include indiscriminate shelling of cities under rebel control. Rather than chastising Kiev for this rather undemocratic way of dealing with a demand for local home rule, Washington expanded sanctions against Moscow for its refusal to cease helping the pro-Russian separatist region.

The list could go on and on.  What it shows is really simple and does not require elaborate explanations: The United States of America has never cared much about any children anywhere in the world save the US itself. However, what it does care about is its ability to project its power abroad and bend independent nations to its will.

“America First” could be about US business interests, the predicament of American blue collar workers, the country’s shrinking middle class or increasingly eroded Christian values. None of these are much advanced by missile strikes on a Syrian government airbase.

The only explanation that still makes sense is that “America First” is strictly about geopolitics. It is about America’s ability to dictate its will to the world, at the price of continuing wars and suffering across the globe if need be.

Donald J Trump is not a revolutionary. He is a loyal servant of the class interests of the elite that rules the US today.

Mikhail Molchanov

Mikhail Molchanov is a policy analyst and international relations observer based in Canada. He has worked as senior policy analyst for the federal government, and as professor of political science at several Canadian universities. He has authored and co-authored seven books and nearly 120 articles and book chapters.

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