Published in Al Ahram Weekly in 14/4/2017
A week is a long time in politics. Many treat that statement lightly but this fact manifests itself at its finest in the current exploding situation between the United States and Russia over Syria. The Syrian war has entered its sixth year after the initial protests of March 2011 that quickly turned into an armed struggle fuelled mainly by Islamist and terrorist groups against their belligerents represented by the Bashar Al-Assad regime and his allies, which include the Lebanese Hizbullah, Russia and Iran. Russian involvement has changed the tide of events and balanced the field for the Syrian army to rout most of the advancing Islamists financed and armed by Erdogan’s Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and trained by CIA operatives.
On 4 April, a horrific video was circulated depicting a heinous scene allegedly taking place in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, the result of a massive chemical attack on a civilian district, killing 30 children with many others either dead or suffocating. The video resulted in a major world outcry against the Syrian regime who denied involvement in the attack. Syria’s ally Russia suggested that if authenticated there was a good chance that stockpiles of chemical weapons in the vicinity were detonated as a result of an air strike.
The video was released by two very questionable sources. One of them is the White Helmets, which worked for a long while with Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Al-Nusra Front. The other is the controversial NGO the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which ironically enough isn’t operating from Syria but from the United Kingdom.
As a reaction to this unverified video, and prior to any investigations, on 7 April President Donald Trump ordered a rushed strike on the Shayrat airbase in Syria, believed to be the launching airbase for the chemical attack. The strike was performed by two US Navy destroyers stationed in the Mediterranean, which fired 59 Tomahawk missiles, most of which hit critical targets and killed 15 Syrians according to Syrian government sources. Trump acted without a clear casus belli or United Nations mandate, which is required and only given via a Chapter VII resolution by the Security Council. Thus, the US air strikes on Syria are constituted a unilateral “act of aggression”.
In a short press conference, Trump justified the attack on the Syrian airbase as a targeted attack and specific punishment for the chemical attack that was launched from that airbase. In another joint press conference with Jordanian King Abdullah, Trump said he now had a responsibility concerning Syria after witnessing the chemical attack.
CIA’S VESTED INTERESTS IN SYRIA: The first question that comes to mind is if the intelligence and advice presented to President Trump was gathered by the same heads of intelligence who are questioning his presidential campaign ties to President Putin. These sources were aching for months to create the biggest possible rifts between the two countries. Moreover, it is yet to be known if it is the same intelligence sources represented by the CIA who invested incredible resources in training, financing and arming the once called Free Syrian Army, now amusingly called Syria’s Democratic Forces.
The Central Intelligence Agency has been rooting for an involvement in the Syrian civil war since its start and has been in dismay that its efforts produced nothing but more terrorist groups in the region affiliated to Al-Qaeda, such as Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar Al-Sham and the bloodthirsty Islamic State group. CIA analysts and advisors may have finally reached a breakthrough in convincing Trump to act based on what can be described as shoddy evidence at best. Neither a neutral United Nations-affiliated committee nor any other credible entity has attested to the video’s authenticity or whether the attack was committed by the Syrian government or not.
TRUMP’S BUMPY START AS PRESIDENT: For many years Trump argued against the involvement of the United States in Syria and vowed that he would change such interventionist policies once he took the helm of the United States. In August 2013, he tweeted: “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.” During his election campaign, he questioned the importance of the NATO alliance and US commitment to it, adding that European allies don’t share enough of its surmounting costs.
At the moment, Trump is facing heavy criticism on the air strikes, even from some of his most ardent supporters. These erstwhile supporters believe that not only he betrayed his vows on non-interventionism in global conflicts that the United States is not involved in, but also for provoking what could possibly be a long conflict with the Russians, Syrians and other belligerents in the Syrian civil war.
DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS: Libertarian guru and former Senator Ron Paul connected the dots on the whole issue by posing the following questions: “Does anyone believe on that on the eve of peace talks, just after the White House said the Syrian people should choose their own leaders, that Assad would launch a gas attack to turn the whole world against him? We are back to the same lies that got us into Iraq? Do we never learn to question the propaganda?”
The Russians who pulled most of their troops out of Syria after finishing their mission helping the Syrian state stop the terrorist caliphate of the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups from expanding further in Syria, are likely to return in full force if no quick diplomatic solution is found. Russia already redeployed its navy in the Mediterranean to their naval base in Syria. The Russians are unlikely to see wasted the efforts they made to protect the Syrian state, regardless the cost. Consequently, this may lead to further complexities on the ground as the Russians are unlikely to allow US missiles to be launched towards their troops or navy. To make matters worse, they suspended a memorandum with the US that ensured flight safety in Syria, which signals that military engagements against American targets could occur in time.
Russian President Vladimir Putin views the US missile strikes as an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law and conducted under false pretexts. According to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state.” Former Russian president and current Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev said the United States is “on the verge of a military clash with Russia”. Finally, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared the action to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but said: “At least that time they tried to bring some evidence forward.”
THE MIDDLE EAST’S ENDLESS PAIN: Trump has already given his opponents an incredible gift that they will use to taint his legacy as president much worse than he thinks. However, the greater gift was presented to his most loathed enemies, which are the terrorists and jihadists who have rejoiced in Syria after over a year of Russian involvement against their expansion and strong presence in Syria.
That amazing service to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group was done 7 April by taking down part of air force that was causing terrorist militants heavy losses recently. The same terrorists represented by the likes of Jaysh Al-Islam (The Army of Islam) spokesman Mohamed Alloush are demanding that the air strikes should destroy all Syrian air forces bases. “Hitting one airbase is not enough — there are 26 airbases that target civilians,” said Alloush. Thanks to Trump’s air strikes, these terrorists just had their hopes rejuvenated.
The Middle East is the most volatile region in the world. It has been the same since Ancient Egypt ruled most of it through the Medieval Crusades, all the way to modern times. This region’s deeply rooted problems cannot be solved through Tomahawk missiles fired from US destroyers on other standing armies. Such brash and uncalculated actions could turn an already flaming region into a living hell for its natives, and consequently the rest of the world.
CONCLUSION: With US national debt approaching $20 trillion in 2017, Trump can’t afford another trillion-dollar war on Syria, and much more if it involves Russia. For all intents and purposes that air strike may have served as a warning to America’s enemies, but its affects will be short lived and counterproductive. On the contrary, the long-term ramifications of these air strikes on both the United States and the Middle East will be terrible if is not diplomatically contained at the highest levels.
Moreover, with every war that the United States enters, its real and more powerful enemies — such as Iran and North Korea — make gains. This Syrian conflict, should it escalate, will prove to be no different than all the pointless wars that the United States launched in the past three decades.
Reigniting a war that was entering its final stages and drawing more belligerents to it will not save Syrian children or bring peace to the country. The strikes were based on an unverified video that indicates nothing about the true aggressor since no investigations took place yet in Syria.
The world cannot be led into a third world war like lemmings jumping over a cliff. This alleged sarin gas attack came just as five days after the Trump administration signalled that the Syrian president would not be held accountable and Syrians should choose their leaders freely. Hence, it is inconceivable that Assad would welcome that declaration by launching a sarin gas air strike on civilians.
Al-Assad may be a lot of things, but the fact that he is still standing and most of his adversaries either left office or are dead during the past six years, displays he is smarter than he is credited for. Accordingly, to foolishly commit such a heinous war crime against civilians and children a week before peace talks where he had the upper hand simply doesn’t make any strategic, military, political or even logical sense, especially that all those who benefit from it are his sworn enemies.
Till proven otherwise, the attack maybe rendered as a false flag to provide a casus belli for Trump to intervene in Syria.
On the other hand, it may later prove to be trap set for the new American president that he recklessly stepped into due to his known impetuous nature.
Trump dismally failed his first test in handling an international crisis as president and only destiny will reveal how far this mess will escalate from here. Trump can no longer brag about being the non-interventionist president he was voted in for, and instead will carry the warmongering stigma that tainted many of his predecessors. Undoubtedly, it is a victory for American neo-conservatives who managed to turn a self-proclaimed non-interventionist into a warmonger in less than three months.
For decades the world has paid hefty prices for American presidents attempting to divert attention from internal issues and failures towards international conflicts to gain credibility lost before their people. Evidently, we are witnessing another case where the world might pay another hefty price for Trump to keep his seat as president.
Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly