PARIS — Europe’s two biggest military powers took a gamble in lining up behind U.S. President Donald Trump to bombard Syria. Now they need to make sure it doesn’t backfire.
Critics swiftly accused Britain and France of playing loyal deputies to an unpredictable American leader, viewed by many in Europe with suspicion or outright scorn. Some worried it could further antagonize Europe’s hulking neighbour Russia at an already tense time.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was decried for not seeking parliamentary approval for Saturday’s co-ordinated airstrikes. French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of compromising the independence of a country that famously stayed out of former U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.
And worst of all, Saturday’s “one-shot” military operation may not substantially change the course of the war in Syria.
Yet the co-ordinated bombings tapped into the prevailing mood among leaders of the two powers, who are united in a sense that something had to be done to stop Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government from repeatedly using chemical weapons.
“We have seen the harrowing images of men, women and children lying dead with foam in their mouths,” May told reporters. “These were innocent families who, at the time this chemical weapon was unleashed, were seeking shelter underground … This must be stopped.”
Boosters see the attack as a way to keep European voices heard in Syria’s increasingly globalized civil war. And some even hope that Saturday’s rain of cruise missiles could push all sides closer to the negotiating table and an eventual end to the war.
For all their skepticism of Trump, many Europeans have been are brought together by an unequivocal abhorrence of the use of chemical weapons in war, since they were first used on a massive scale in World War I in Europe a century ago. The use of gas was soon outlawed, and that red line in diplomacy should not turn grey, the argument goes.
“We cannot tolerate the normalization of the use of chemical weapons,” Macron said in launching French military action, calling that “an immediate danger to the Syrian people and for our collective security.”
The move could cost both leaders domestically, however.
May said there was “no other choice” but to act fast, without taking time to recall Parliament from its break. Lawmakers are already crying foul.
While May wasn’t legally required to seek lawmakers’ approval, opposition leaders had suggested she had a moral responsibility to do so. The tainted legacy …read more