Syrian Kabuki

Despite outcries from horrified aficionados of Japanese theater, the term “Kabuki” seems to have found a permanent place in the American political lexicon. The term refers to an act that is more a contrived and ritualized posturing than a useful means to an end.

As someone who has written and taught about the Middle East for more than 30 years, I have seen more than my share of Kabuki.

Take Syria. On April 4, 2017, 90 people died from a nerve gas attack attributed to the Syrian government in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. Two days later, President Donald Trump authorized a cruise missile strike on the air base from which the Syrians launched their attack. And two days after that, the base was up and running again.

Almost a year later, on April 7, 2018, there came reports of another chemical attack. This time it was in Douma, a town near Damascus. The United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, launched a retaliatory strike, hitting chemical weapons research and storage facilities in Homs and Damascus. Two days before the strike, the government had raised the Syrian flag over Douma and began evacuating opposition fighters and their families to the next front.

As United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley put it, in launching the strikes “we acted to deter the future use of chemical weapons by holding the Syrian regime responsible for its atrocities against humanity.”