On Friday the 13th, the governments of the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom (U.K.) and France engaged parts of Syria by means of airstrikes – notably in Damascus and near Homs – to deter the government of Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons once again.
While the main opposition parties in all three Western governments protested the action, it was most notably visible in the Anglo-Saxons. For example, in the U.S. the airstrikes were articulated by Democrats to be a distraction from the current ‘Russia investigation’ involving the American president. There are also legal procedures that are currently being taken against the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Many in Washington believe that Trump has now effectively lost whatever sanity he had left (if any) and is slowly engaging his administration towards the path of war. In the U.K. there were also barks against the Prime Minister Theresa May, notably from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who questioned the British approach to Syria, urging for diplomacy once more over abrupt military action, doing the same as when a suspected Russian assassination attempt occurred against a former Soviet double agent one month ago.
The most pressing question following the allied strike is “what now?” In terms of global geopolitics – and particularly in relation to rationalizing the actions of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – it has been a complex year, not least because of the big American upset brought by their president. Setting aside his countless negative adjectives, Donald Trump’s foreign policy has been erratic at best and dangerous at worst. While today his famous tweets have somehow been normalized, this is in no way a standard protocol to foreign policy.
A key example of the unproductivity of the American president’s digital impulses was seen when the Russian Foreign Ministry replied to his “Get Ready Russia” remark with a simple refusal to engage via Twitter diplomacy. There is a good reason for this: diplomacy has many carefully crafted layers for the precise reason of avoiding dangerous escalations between countries, something that Donald Trump seems to neither comprehend nor altogether care for.
Though bureaucrats and pundits understand that the Syrian conflict has over the years morphed into an amalgamation of many other disputes (i.e. Israel vs Iran, Iran vs Saudi Arabia, Russia vs the U.S., etc.) it is less straightforward for media outlets to grasp the complexity of political affairs, reducing it instead to dangerous and extreme opposing camps for the sake of headlines, leaving out important aspects of diplomacy and war policy.
The American media, in particular, is extremely vulnerable to this pattern of communications, as evidenced on the night of Friday the 13th with the hours and hours of analysis of the airstrikes and exclusive reports delivered by sleep-deprived correspondents. It is the adrenaline that the prospect of war brings, being a symptom of the American military-industrial complex. It is up to the people to bring attention to it and address complex geopolitical affairs with a more cerebral, long-term approach.