The US launched dozens of cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria controlled by President Bashar al-Assad on Friday morning Beijing time in response to an earlier chemical weapon attack.
This is the first direct US assault on an Assad target in six years of Syrian civil war. In 2013, the Syrian government was accused of using chemical weapons and the Obama administration was mulling an airstrike. But the crisis was eventually resolved with Russian diplomatic efforts.
This crisis however was triggered by a chemical weapon attack in Syria on Tuesday that reportedly caused over 200 civilian casualties, including children. Countries including the US, the UK and France immediately announced that Assad's forces were behind the attack, though the latter denied the accusation. Russia once again sided with the Syrian government. When the incident came before the UN Security Council, great divergence in opinion emerged between the Western camp and Russian and Chinese representatives.
The US military attack on Friday took place despite no definitive results from the investigation by an international organization, and was carried out in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution. The Trump administration wasted little time in striking its targets, marking a stark contrast with its predecessor.
The US' decision to attack the Assad government is a show of force from the US president. He wants to prove that he dares to do what Obama dared not. He wants to prove to the world that he is no "businessman president" and that he will use US military force without hesitation when he considers it necessary.
US military action opens the door for other direct foreign military attacks on the Assad government, a signal that outside interference in Syria is rapidly escalating. Before US airstrike, Assad's forces had gained an obvious advantage in the civil war, but foreign military interference could change the situation.
The US military strikes could lead to a "falling out" between the US and Russia. Conflict between the two countries will once again emerge.
Not too long ago, Trump said that simultaneously attacking the Islamic State and the Syrian government would be foolish. But now he has ordered an attack despite affording himself only a narrow window in which to make his decision. This is Trump's first major move in international affairs, and it leaves an impression that the decision was made in haste and is not without contradictions.
Neither Russia nor Iran will remain silent on the attack nor sit idly by and accept the fallout. The Syrian civil war is entering a new phase. More refugees will flee the region and Europe may have to pay the price.