Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
I never thought I’d say this … Donald Trump has earned my respect albeit provisional. I applaud his swift no nonsense response to the use of chemical weapons by Syria. Yes, the damage done to the Syrian forces was minimal. Yes, he rattled the Russians. Yes, he didn’t have prior international agreement. And yes, he is sending a message to North Korea. That's not the point. That's collateral stuff. Trump put the Syrians on notice that attacks on innocent civilians will not pass with empty rhetoric. He’s signalling that the rules of the game have changed. The impotence of Obama is gone.
Obama drew a red-line on chemical weapons, then ignored it. He looked weak. He invited more trouble, more challenges. Trump has just redrawn that red-line, reinforced it with action and put everybody on notice. The attack he mounted was measured, yet appropraite.
Now I know that Trump is also responsible for the death of innocent civilians during a Special Forces raid. The Yemen raid on 29th January 2017, resulted in the death of at least nine children and many other civilians. Yet, there is a distinction drawn between a foul up and the deliberate targeting of civilians. I don’t believe that Trump authorised the operation with the intent of killing children. The same cannot be said of President Assad of Syria. When you deploy chemical weapons in an urban area, the target is everybody.
We can presumably set aside the theory that Trump is 'Russia's man in the White House'. President Assad is 'Russia's man' therefore this intervention does not sit well with Putin and his Kremlin cronies. How this plays out in wider Russia/US relations remains to be seen. In the wake of the US attack Putin must be re-thinking his approach to Trump.
I’m sure the timing was coincidental. The visit by President Xi of China to the US was eclipsed by the US actions in Syria. Xi may be well pleased with that distraction, as it gave some breathing space for him and Trump to assess each other. The ‘100-day action plan’ that resulted from the talks must be taken with a pinch of salt. China takes a long-term view of things. Let's face it, 100-days is a fleeting moment. Some US officials recognised this approach, making noises about ‘tangible progress’. Whilst Zhou Enlai’s famous quote about the French Revolution is now debunked, it remains true that China takes a long-term view. As Trump evolves into the role they’d be wise to wait.
Another positive sign is the removal of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. His toxic influence on Trump may be receding, although firm evidence for that is yet to be affirmed. Still, this move augurs well and is encouraging.
I don’t think we are out of the woods yet. With signs that Trump is beginning to be shaped by the role and responsibilities, that odour that hung around his presidency is less pungent. If he can harness his enthusiasm and vest that drive for change, then things could go well. Whether he has a clear strategy is the big question that hangs over this action. When that becomes clearer my tentative admiration could become firmer.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.