If there’s one institution that President Donald Trump has invigorated with his airstrikes in Syria, it is the United Nations. This might seem like a paradox: How could the UN, guardian of territorial sovereignty and custodian of international law, benefit from an impulsive president’s attack on the Assad regime? It is true that military action taken without the blessings of the UN Security Council is often seen as illegitimate. But it is also true that the UN has been reduced to the status of a helpless spectator by Russia, which has systemically debilitated the UN in order to achieve a narrow political gain. On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a U.S.-backed resolution that would have called for an investigation into last week’s chemical weapons attack, even though Vladimir Putin previously suggested that he wanted such an inquiry.
For six years, the major beneficiary of the Russian poison pill in the Security Council has been the Assad regime. Trump’s airstrikes, while falling within the first 100 days of his presidency, occurred on day 2,215 of Assad’s war on civilians. Through that time, the Syrian dictator shrugged off the UN. Things got so dismal that the UN could not even move humanitarian aid trucks into besieged areas without Assad deliberately attacking them with barrel bombs and machine guns. The regime’s hypocrisy was evident to me the summer I spent in the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria. While sending his cronies to Geneva to make empty promises on future negotiations, he was bombing hospitals, leveling villages, and targeting civilians.