While it is too soon yet to be certain, a second Trump attack on Syria appears to have passed off without escalating into a regional or general war. According to early reports, some 100 missiles were fired against Syrian facilities, allegedly involved in chemical weapons production, and most were shot down. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis, no attempt on the life of President Al-Assad was encompassed. Russian installations in Syria were also not attacked, and Russia has forborne retaliating so far on behalf of its ally. Everyone involved can claimed to have acted proportionately in some sense or other.
History accords however no grounds for complacency. There were numerous scares in Europe on the eve of the Great War. 1911 alone saw two crises in North Africa, one at Agadir in Morocco involving German provocation, not mentioning the Italian invasion of Libya which destabilized a tottering Ottoman Empire. The fatal July crisis of 1914, precipitated by the 28 June assassination in Sarajevo, was a sleeper denouement: no-one expected that the murder of the heir to the Habsburg throne would result in a general European and global conflagration. But, given Austro-Hungarian bellicosity, it did. The Habsburg hierarchy, particularly the military, wanted war with Serbia, and was willing to countenance a general war to get it. Germany gave General Konrad a blank cheque, and the rest is history.
In 2014 ANU strategist Hugh White declared that the contemporary situation resembled the brinkmanship and bluffing of the July Crisis. `The Donald’ appears to consider himself a genius of something he calls `The Art of the Deal’, which appears to involve a great deal of brinkmanship and bluffing. But you can go to the brink and bluff once too often.
Trump’s hairy chested tweet diplomacy is a bluff that needs to be called politically. Opinion needs to be mobilized against it. For all our sakes.