As­sad a ser­pent chok­ing help­less

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS - PAUL TOOHEY ANAL­Y­SIS

EVEN with the ag­o­nis­ing pos­si­bil­ity of a new war in the Mid­dle East, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s strikes against Syria, in con­cert with the UK and France, must be seen as a right­eous and nec­es­sary re­sponse to un­bri­dled cru­elty.

West­ern-ed­u­cated and pre­sent­ing him­self as a re­fined and cul­tured aes­thete, Syria’s Bashar al-As­sad is a poorly dis­guised tyrant who has been bomb­ing and gassing his peo­ple since the Arab Spring of 2011.

To watch As­sad’s per­sis­tent “Who, me?” de­nials is to ob­serve a liar who imag­ines him­self charm­ing and guile­less.

He is, as Trump says, a “mon­ster”, the ser­pen­tine kind who has coiled him­self around his war-torn cities and fur­ther spat poi­son into them in the form of chem­i­cal weapons.

There is noth­ing in this for the US, UK and France. There is no se­cret agenda to con­trol oil and gas fields. It is about end­ing As­sad’s piti­less cam­paign of ter­ror by try­ing to knock out the Syr­ian regime’s chem­i­cal fac­to­ries and stores.

As such, US De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said they had “struck harder” than the strike of 58 Tom­a­hawk mis­siles a year ago, also over chem­i­cal at­tacks, which took out Rus­sian-made war­planes.

For those seek­ing hard ev­i­dence As­sad un­leashed chem­i­cals on Douma city, north­east of Da­m­as­cus, on April 7, in a sense it doesn’t mat­ter.

As­sad has a long his­tory of us­ing chem­i­cals – typ­i­cally, chlo­rine gas, de­ployed in can­is­ters – in vi­o­la­tion of UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions.

To­gether with Rus­sia, As­sad has been at­tack­ing Douma for months with thou­sands of air strikes. They are close to re­claim­ing the city and, as else­where, have used gas to try to ef­fect a coup de grace.

For Rus­sia, ac­cess to the Mediter­ranean is the key rea­son for their devil’s pact; for Iran, it’s about broad­en­ing the reach of the Shi­ite faith and giv­ing open ac­cess for its ide­ol­ogy and ter­ror into Le­banon.

The most ob­vi­ous point of re­tal­i­a­tion for Rus­sia would be US war­ships in the Mediter­ranean and al­lied bases in places such as Cyprus. Yet such a re­ac­tion is al­most un­think­able.

It would be fol­lowed by the US di­rectly hit­ting Rus­sian as­sets and troops in Syria; Iran lash­ing out at Israel; and Turkey and the Sunni Gulf na­tions pil­ing bombs on Syria and Iran. That, by any mea­sure, would be called World War III.

It is Vladimir Putin’s move.

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