The Kremlin is furious. The Khomeinists in Tehran are beside themselves. U.S. President Donald Trump’s alt-right fan base has joined leftish anti-imperialists in paroxysms of betrayal and outrage. Awkwardly, Chinese president Xi Jinping was Trump’s guest at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida when those 59 Tomahawk missiles were sent flying towards the Syrian airbase at Al Shayrat, 45 kilometres from the city of Homs, so he was taken by surprise, and didn’t quite know what to say.

“The Syrian people? The Syrian people are very happy now,” George Sabra, the 70-year-old routinely jailed dissident and founding president of the revolutionary Syrian National Council, told me in a telephone conversation from Istanbul in the hours after Al Shayrat was hit. “This should have been done a long time ago,” he said.

“This might push Russia and Iran and the Syrian regime and send them the message that they have to stop the open massacres that have been happening in Syria for six years now,” Sabra said. Trump’s out-of-left-field missile attack might send a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that his days are numbered, “that there is no solution by war and by weapons.”

After having counselled a hardline isolationist policy going back several years, Trump’s abrupt about-face came after Russia and China threatened on Wednesday to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning the poison gas massacre of at least 100 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. It wasn’t just Xi Jinping who was taken by surprise.

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