U.S. Strikes on Syria Will Make Any U.N.-Brokered Deal Even Harder

U.S. Strikes on Syria Will Make Any U.N.-Brokered Deal Even Harder
The United Nations Security Council holds a meeting on the situation in Syria, New York, April 7, 2017 (AP photo by Mary Altaffer).

U.S. President Donald Trump has punctured the tired but persistent myth that the United Nations Security Council can manage the Syrian civil war. Last night, he ordered cruise missile strikes against Syria without looking for authorization from the United Nations. He did not even wait for Russia and China to veto a U.N. resolution on this week’s chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which would have offered the U.S. an excuse for pursuing unilateral action.

This is both refreshing and dangerous. Since 2011, Security Council diplomacy over Syria has frequently been a grotesque farce. The U.S. and its allies have repeatedly tabled resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to score political points, in the full knowledge that Beijing and Moscow would block them. While Chinese diplomats have often seemed uneasy, the Russians have played the game with gusto.

Russia has not only blocked seven resolutions over Syria, but also found more subtle ways to exploit diplomacy over the war to protect Assad. It has dragged out Security Council discussions of ways to mitigate the conflict, including basic humanitarian aid, and rarely put real pressure on Damascus to talk seriously about peace. Russia’s stance has done it huge reputational damage at the U.N., but it has shrugged off the outrage.

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