A ‘snowflake’ strategy for Syria


Muddled path. US President Donald Trump (R) talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Taormina in Italy, last May. (AP)

Since the April 14 strikes on Syria by the United States, United Kingdom and France, it’s clear the West has been pursuing what can only be called a “snowflake” strategy.

“Snowflake,” in this instance, is a derogatory term for emotionally vulnerable young millennials who are quick to take offence and are unable to cope with opposing views. Snowflakes melt at the merest sign of heat.

A snowflake strategy is not much use in a war but that does seem to be the strategy of choice for some Western powers in the many-sided, 7-year-old Syrian conflict and it is causing a policy and diplomacy whiteout.

The leaders of America, Britain and France have shown they are emotionally labile when presented with heart-rending images on social media. They have demonstrated they are prone to take great offence and then to capriciously prove the extent of their outrage by means of bombs and missiles. They have indulged in self-righteous boasts even as they melt away, just like snowflake millennials.

For all that he is 71, US President Donald Trump may be the ultimate snowflake. A one-off warning to the Syrian regime to cease using chemical weapons in this grinding war merely suggests every other agent of death and destruction is fine, for as long as Bashar Assad needs to use it.

Trump has sought to reduce the American footprint in Syria by drafting in an Arab states’ force. That is a sign he wants to melt away. “Mission Accomplished,” he crowed on Twitter after the strikes, even though no one explained what the mission was and what exactly was accomplished.

It has fallen to priests rather than military men to point out the perils of the snowflake strategy. The Reverend Nadim Nassar, a Church of England priest born and raised in Latakia, Syria, said Trump’s “mission accomplished” boast is “a joke.” The West is “able to co-operate and co-ordinate with the Russians about war,” he said, referring to the notice given to Moscow ahead of the strikes. “Why can’t they do that with peace? Nobody would use chemical weapons if we had that.”

Nassar makes a valid point, especially about badly needed coordination with the Russians on strategies to bring peace rather than to extend and possibly deepen the war.

Nassar’s angst resonated with yet another man of the cloth, the bishop of Coventry in England. Even as a visiting delegation of British peers and Christian leaders met with officials in Damascus the morning after the strikes, Bishop Christopher Cocksworth saluted the coordination as “an impressive example of diplomatic energy and skill.” Then he trenchantly said: “My question is whether the same amount of diplomatic energy and skill will be given to resolving the conflict at large.”

Alas, the bishop’s question is all too easily answered. The “diplomatic energy” appears limited to coordinating military strikes, all as part of a larger snowflake strategy.

In some ways, Trump may have said it all. Perhaps he is the most precise and discerning wordsmith around for all the criticism of his use of the George W. Bush administration’s ill-starred “mission accomplished” phrase. For, the strikes on Syria are mission accomplished — for everyone but the Syrian people. Consider the following.

The Syrian regime was able to play victim at no cost. It suggested the strikes were both grotesquely unacceptable and grossly unsuccessful. Within two days of the strikes, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces were back in the business of war, reportedly carrying out at least 28 strikes around Homs and Hama.

The Russians, too, accomplished their mission, threatening “chaos” in the event of further strikes and they introduced an element of fantasy: There was no chemical attack on Douma and if there was, the British stage-managed it.

Meanwhile, Britain and France, both fading powers in the post-colonial age, lived out their own private fantasies as they felt the adrenalin rush of playing in the big leagues again.

Finally, of course, there is the United States. Trump’s poll ratings didn’t soar after the strikes but they were back up to the levels of his first 100 days. The US president was able to preen, vainglorious and self-satisfied, based on his willingness to lob missiles around and appear tougher than the man he considers unfit to have led America, Barack Obama.

Mission accomplished, indeed. For everyone but ordinary Syrians.