Hold back, if you can, from emotive and precipitous reactions to the entirely unexpected US missile strikes on an airfield in Syria, a response, we are told, to the heinous chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime on civilians in the rebel-held province of Idlib. In spite of incontrovertible evidence, President Assad and his big ally Russia deny the charge.

US President Donald Trump said he was driven to act after seeing images of nerve agent victims: "I will tell you that attack had a big impact on me. Big impact."

He went on to mourn the innocent men, women and "beautiful babies" who were wounded and murdered. Waking up to the news of this retaliation brought waves of relief, as if an ever growing carbuncle on the face of our planet had finally been lanced ending years of tortuous feebleness, guilt and shame.

But it would be unwise to give into immediate political gratification. Let's not trumpet Mr Trump just yet. He has not, overnight, turned into a luminous saint, freeing the wretched and smiting the forces of evil.

This is the same man who, for months, has described Syrian refugees, including beautiful infants, as "terrorists". He is erratic. He is unreliable. At times he behaves like a fevered kid playing computer games.

He has been itching to hear the deafening sounds of US weaponry in the Middle East and elsewhere. They have been lying silent and unused for too long. President Obama has been accused of being too weak and weedy by Trump who now gets to show off his big American cojones.

Such macho posturing is less scary than the president's lack of sophistication and thin grasp of world affairs. Over and over, he acts thuggishly or inappropriately, erratically or tempestuously. He can't bear criticism, can't bear to not be in the spotlight. These are not good, sane behaviours.

As columnist David Shariatmadari writes in the Guardian: "..rather than being reassuring, [Trump's] sudden discovery of his conscience is profoundly disturbing. Major strategic decisions should not be made like this... whatever you think of the merits of Western intervention in Syria, the idea of Trump directing it, is, frankly, terrifying – and even though you may despise the current murky détente, so is the idea of this chaotic, underqualified White House being at loggerheads with Russia."

Furthermore, do we really believe that after allegedly being alarmingly close to Putin and his inner circle, the US president has decided to cut all those carefully nurtured (and hidden) ties? If the answer is yes, can anyone seriously trust such a changeable chap? If no, is this military action just a distraction, part of a deep plot to stop those investigating apparent Russian involvement in the US elections?

Donald Trump
Donald Trump ordered a 59-missile strike on an air base in Syria used to launch a deadly chemical weapon attack by the Assad regimeGetty Images

On Tuesday, 4 April, I went to a recording of this year's Richard Dimbleby Lecture given by ex CIA director, John O. Brennan. Skilfully and subtly, he critiqued his populist, capricious president (without ever naming him) and persuaded the audience that we needed more sober and consistent chiefs in an exceptionally volatile period when the unthinkable happens over and over again.

My lifelong hostility to the agency waned as I listened to the voice of reason. Such expediencies, such thorny ambiguities, one now has to tread through to make sense of the shapeshifting landscape.

Various internal and external conflicts, Isis terrorism, Western edginess, Russian geopolitical ambitions, unholy alliances, Chinese expansionism, North Korean intransigence, power grabs by hardline governments, extremisms, manic religiosity, nationalisms, demagoguery and mass movements of people are leading to global disquiet and suffering.

It is not impossible to imagine an aggregate of the various discontents and clashes leading inexorably to a Third World War.

Russia has already warned of grave consequences following the US missile attack; Iran has piled in too. Leaders in those nations are not moved by dead and broken bodies. They are unlikely to worry too much of what it means for mankind if war spreads around the globe and nuclear weapons are used.

Trump is more in tune with such adversaries than conscientious UN officials or internationalists such as Brennan or statesmen like ex-Vice President Al Gore or Republican senator John McCain.

Maybe I am being unfair and prejudiced against the elected US leader. What if this changes everything and Syria is finally liberated from tyranny? Well then, I will admit I was wrong. Actually, nothing would make me happier than to say I was wrong if Trump proves to be a catalyst for regime change in Syria.

This was Obama's biggest foreign policy failure. He approved of countless drone attacks in Afghanistan which killed innocents too, but seemed unnerved, indeed paralysed, by the magnitude and complexities of the Syrian conflicts. But that doesn't mean this US administration gets total approval.

When lost in the maze of extreme moral confusion, we must remain wary and realistic, very afraid too.


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a journalist, columnist, broadcaster and author. Follow @y_alibhai