Churchill would be baffled…in 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave the Germans an ultimatum. Remove German troops from Poland or France and Britain will be at war with Germany. Telegrams and phone calls were exchanged, letters were probably written.
Not so much now. As Russia warned that any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down, President Trump took to Twitter to make a declaration not unlike Chamberlain’s in 1939.
What’s the story?
The conflict in Syria has been a boiling pot for a while, but it has just boiled over. Last Saturday there was a chemical weapons attack on Douma in Syria. The Assad Regime is largely held to be responsible for the subsequent deaths of over 40 men, women and children, with the toll expected to rise still.
The response in the West has been immediate and threatening, with France, the US and the UK all considering strike action against Syria and her ally, Russia.
Russia announced that any missiles sent to Syria would be shot down, and their original destination targeted. President Trump was not going to let that one go unanswered.
Donald Trump loves Twitter. Normally his tweets are badly concealed insults, sometimes not concealed at all, or just a general criticism of his enemies. This time, he went a step further:
‘Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart’! You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!’
Is this a declaration of war? Theresa May seems to think so – she has summoned Cabinet to discuss what Britain’s response will be. Sources suggest that she has already ordered Navy submarines to position themselves in missile range.
Why is this important?
British forces entering into a middle-east struggle with the US….sound familiar? We are still feeling the repercussions of Tony Blair’s decision to send UK troops into Iraq…but this is a different situation. There has been no discussion of sending men just yet, and it doesn’t look likely so far.
Not ‘doing a Blair’ is important at this point for Theresa May. What is also important is that she’s not involving parliament – who are still on their Easter holidays – which will make her rivals, like Jeremy Corbyn, very angry, and possibly some of her friends too. This is all above board however – military action comes under the royal prerogative so Prime Minister May doesn’t have to consult parliament if she doesn’t want to.
The reason she isn’t waiting until parliament reconvenes on Monday is mainly due to the immediacy of the situation – France and the US are talking about strikes happening this weekend. May is preparing UK forces to be ready for them as early as this evening.
There will be a big divide of opinion here – some might say ‘at last!’: the problems in Syria have, after all, been growing for a while now. Others, however, will undoubtedly be thinking ‘not again!’, as they worry about British involvement in yet another middle eastern conflict.
This is also important because it marks another plunge in the Russia-UK relationships. Mrs May is said to have been unsurprised at Russia’s veto of a proposal to create a body to determine responsibility for the Syrian attacks – everyone is pretty certain it was Russia anyway. The new development is Trump’s new anti-Russia tirade. For a long time, Trump seemed to be in league with Putin, praising him for winning the latest election and taking a while to impose sanctions after the Salisbury attack.
But, in true Trump style, when he did impose sanctions, he went all out. Russian stocks plummeted and the US expelled the largest amount of Russian diplomats ever. This could do good things for the UK-US relationship that has been struggling since President Trump was elected.
Food for thought….
The next few days promise to be interesting, as well as frightening. It’s good that the UK and the US are on the same side for once, but could that also be a negative? France has said that it needs to determine further causes and threats before acting – the UK is likely to agree. Over in Syria, aircraft and other military vehicles have reportedly been moved into hiding, out of the path of any air strikes. It seems like everyone is preparing for war – will this end in another stalemate reminiscent of the Cold War? Will the West loose patience and act? What will Russia’s response be?
The sad thing is, we are all so immune to attacks and conflicts in the Middle East that we don’t take much notice. We should though: in 1939 nearly everyone heard Chamberlain’s announcement on the radio. This might not be as big a conflict yet, but all conflicts start somewhere. In 1939 people knew what was going on, and they would be ashamed of us now.