Following up on President Donald Trump’s threat, the US — along with allies Britain and France — rained cruise missiles at three locations in Syria on Saturday, the biggest strike by the West in the seven years of the war in Syria. This was playing with fire after Russia — Syria’s strongest ally — had warned that a missile attack would be met with force by Moscow, raising fears of a straight fight between the US and Russia.
The situation appeared grim as Mr Trump also flagged his country’s equation with Russia as being worse than in the Cold War period.
The US’ keenness to strike stemmed from its charge that the Syrian government had attacked a rebel-held enclave within the country with chemical weapons, killing about 50 people, and the West says it draws the line at chemical weapons, whose use is banned in international law.
The White House has since given out that it was guided by news reports and reports by other sources (probably NGOs) in accusing Bashar al-Assad. This tends to cast doubts on the accusation. Russia had said all along that Syria had no need to use chemical weapons. The war and politics of Syria are broadly going its way. Moscow spoke of a frame-up.
Fortunately, the US-led strikes were carefully tailored not to hit Russian or Iranian interests in Syria. It might seem Washington struck just to save face. Moscow has also tempered its tone, saying only that “there will be consequences”. Post-strike statements from Western capitals suggest they want to lower the tension. The world cannot afford to be on a short fuse because of America’s moods.