Syria airstrike: Donald Trump's hostile approach starkly contrasts Barack Obama's passive stance

The Syrian Army said on Friday that six people were killed and serious damage was caused by a US missile strike on a Syrian air base in the centre of the country.

The strike was the first direct US military action against President Bashar al-Assad since the start of Syria's war in March 2011.

It came after a suspected chemical attack against a rebel-held town that killed at least 86 people and left dozens more suffering convulsions, vomiting and foaming at the mouth.

Syria's government and army denied any use of chemical weapons or involvement in the incident.

US President Donald Trump (left) and former President Barack Obama. Agencies

US President Donald Trump (left) and former President Barack Obama. Agencies

This aggressive stance taken by the US is a stark contrast to its stance earlier. And President Donald Trump believes that the current situation is a result of the earlier policies under Barack Obama.

"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behaviour have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilise, threatening the United States and its allies," Trump said.

"Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror," he also said.

Trump's decision to strike at the Syrian regime in retaliation for a chemical attack comes four years after his predecessor Barack Obama faced a similar challenge from Damascus — and chose to back down.

There was no doubt among the international community on 21 August, 2013 that Obama's "red line" had just been crossed in Syria with a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that was almost certainly the work of Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Two years earlier, Obama had vowed that the use of such weapons would "change my calculus" to justify military intervention in Syria.

Britain and France agreed, embracing the president's rhetoric.

So when the massacre took place in Ghouta, an eastern suburb of the Syrian capital where US intelligence said some 1,400 were killed by a sarin gas attack, all eyes turned toward Washington.

Two days later, Obama said he was ready to strike.

But to surprise in the United States and around the world, he said he would put any decision over military action in Syria to a vote in Congress, essentially ruling out any immediate attack.

Then, his ally British Prime Minister David Cameron — who had also submitted a decision over military action to his country's lawmakers — backed out after parliament voted against taking part.

In the end, Obama's White House would never directly intervene militarily against the Assad regime, anxious to maintain the region's crumbling geopolitical and military balance.

Washington instead agreed to a last-minute deal with Damascus brokered by Moscow to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons arsenal and ship it to Russia starting in October 2013.

Under the aegis of the United Nations Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) — awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year — the operation theoretically ended the Syrian government's ability to use chemical weapons against its own citizens or anyone else.

But clearly, the operation does not seem to have been successful. In fact, as this article in Weekly Standard points out, the Obama administration's credibility took a hit with the latest suspected chemical attack as former national security adviser Susan Rice had said in January that Obama administration had been successful in removing chemical weapons in Syria.

On the other hand, it is true that direct military intervention can have some unwanted repercussions for the US, much like the kind of consequences of the 2003 Iraq war.

On his part, Obama said before stepping down in January that he was "proud" of his decision to refrain from military action in Syria.

"The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America's credibility was at stake," he told The Atlantic magazine. "And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically."

"The fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America's interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I've made," he added.

"I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make."

Only time will tell.

With inputs from AFP

Updated Date: Apr 07, 2017 14:23 PM

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