The West’s unity is cracking and the United States’ world leadership is being questioned. The alleged but never proven “chemical attack” in Syria offers an opportunity to become a unifying factor. By striking that country, the US administration pursued the goal of solidifying its image as the world number one leading other nations in an effort to stand up to “evil”. It wanted to display the West’s unity, bolster its standing in the Middle East and boost the president’s approval ratings at home. Russia was portrayed as a rogue state backing the “animal” Assad and allied with Iran to pose a common threat. Has the mission been accomplished?
The world did not rush to display its support. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants no escalation in Syria. China opposed the use of force. Indonesia expressed concern over the attack not mandated by the UN. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic warned the strikes could lead to a global conflict. Bolivian President Evo Morales slammed the act of aggression.
Formally, NATO approved the strikes but reservations followed regarding the stance on Russia. For instance, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned against demonizing Moscow on April 15 saying that there should be no animosity between the West and Russia amid growing tensions. He insists a dialogue should be maintained. Germany approved the operation but refused to participate.
British opposition Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized the move and said the UK joined the strikes under US pressure. Only a quarter of Britons approve the UK’s participation in the operation. 43% of them disapprove it.
French President Macron has come under criticism from the right as well as from the left for his decision to join the operation. Italy refused to let the allies use its territory for launching the strikes. Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn questioned the legality of the attack. The SYRIZA party, the larger member of Greece’s ruling coalition, condemned the strikes. Finland, Cyprus and Switzerland expressed concern over the use of force against Syria. Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini still believes peace would have a chance in Syria if international law were observed.
There was no unanimous support of the attack inside the US. The move came under harsh criticism from the two sides of the aisle. For instance, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., believes that the attack launched without Congress’s approval is illegal and reckless. This view was backed by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM., issued a special statement to strongly disagree with the president’s decision to use force. He thinks Donald Trump is dangerously escalating the situation by acting without legal authority. The influential Arms Control Association slammed the strikes as a short-sighted and illegal action, violating domestic legislation and international law.
The largest Arab nations did not approve the strikes. The Iraqi government believes that the strikes marked "a very dangerous development" to give terrorists another opportunity to strengthen their positions. Egypt expressed "deep concern" saying the strikes undermined the prospects for peace in Syria. Algeria condemned the move. Lebanon raised its voice to strongly oppose the act of aggression.
The military one-off operation rather divides than unites the world, including the “collective West”. The British government has failed to rally popular support. Instead, it made its position weaker than it had been. The NATO, as well as EU, backing was mainly vocal. Only three nations actually joined the operation. The contribution of Great Britain and France was very limited. The US administration is in for a lot of questions on its strategy in Syria.
The legality of the act is universally questioned and many governments realize that international law does not protect anyone from US-led attacks and prompts them seek to weapons to defend themselves. As Syria’s experience shows, Russia has a lot to offer not only as arms supplier but also as an alternative pole of power.
The situation in Syria has not changed. Its government retains the capability to continue its successful offensive on all fronts. The strikes have not diminished Moscow’s and Tehran’s unswerving support of Damascus. The air strike has achieved nothing. It only demonstrated how limited is the US ability to influence the events in Syria, putting into question its claims to global leadership.