The Tomahawk missile attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base represents a dangerous escalation and calls into doubt how far things have changed with US foreign policy under President Trump argues Pat Harrington
When President Trump was campaigning for the Presidency one of his most attractive features was that he didn’t go along with the demonisation of Russia. It really seemed that he wanted to work with Russia to isolate and destroAworldy the IS death cult which infests Syria and other areas of the world. The direct attack on Syrian forces plays into their hands, however. Within hours of the missile strike IS had launched a new offensive in the area taking advantage of the situation created by the US.
A joint command center made up of the forces of Russia, Iran and militias supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday said the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base on Friday crossed “red lines” and it would respond to any new aggression and increase its support for its ally.
In Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S. missile strike was: “a strategic error, and a repeat of the mistakes of the past,” the state news agency IRNA reported.
“The Islamic Republic has shown that … it does not back off and its people and officials … do not retreat in the face of threats,” said Khamenei.
Number 10 calls this illegal act of aggression a “proportionate” response to the horrific chemical weapons attack/spillage on Khan Shaykhun. The action preceded any full and proper investigation of what happened at Khan Shaykhun. Our government should have pressed for a full independent investigation into what happened before deciding anything. We should also bear in mind that terrible civilian casualties have been a feature of the Syrian civil war and that all sides to the conflict have blood on their hands. When apportioning blame for the mounting death toll we should ask where it all began. My view is that the roots of the conflict can be traced back to the instability and ethnic tensions created in Iraq by Western actions. Another factor is Western backing for Saudi Arabia with our questionable “allies” who are in a Regional power struggle with Iran.
There are certainly some in the US who would like to see a divided, Balkanised Syria. That’s why there is a deep suspicion of the presence of U.S troops in northern Syria where Washington has hundreds of special forces helping the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to oust IS. Many fear that this will form the basis of a long-term plan to further undermine Syrian national sovereignty and occupy the area.
Despite the hype, Russia is unlikely to abandon President Assad. It is difficult to see who could replace him. Russian leaders have seen what happens when you create a power vacuum. They don’t have far to look. The terrible state of Libya after Western intervention and the murder of Colonel Gaddafi is an ongoing example of how balkanization and extremism can fill a political space. Russia also has military bases in Syria which it sees as in its national interest to keep.
The rebels are also known to have access to chemical weapons. In 2013, the Turkish authorities – no friends of President Assad – discovered sarin gas canisters in the homes of suspected Islamists, and questions were asked in the Turkish parliament about the release of individuals arrested for possession of chemical weapons who were allowed to cross the Syrian border.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have also reported the use of chemical weapons by Syrian insurgents against their troops.
Media narratives referencing how Assad ‘got away’ with a chemical weapons attack in 2013 don’t present the true facts. It was never established that government forces were behind the attacks in Ghouta. The verdict at best is unproven. UN human rights investigator Carla del Ponte found there was little doubt the rebels had deployed sarin gas.
Of course, it is possible that the Syrian government committed a war crime in Khan Sheikhoun, but there are also other suspects and possibilities.
The Syrian government, with help from Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, has been steadily gaining ground against the rebels on most fronts.
United States intervention against the government is likely to only to strengthen the insurgents and lengthen the war. It reduces the chance of success in stalled peace talks.
President Trump was elected as a breath of fresh air, an anti-establishment candidate. Yet now I am reminded of the phrase in The Leopard: “Things must change in order to remain the same” . Still, there are some of us who still hold out the hope that things will change, not just for the beleaguered Syrian people but for the World. We hope that President Trump will not become a Neo-Con hostage and will deliver on his promise for a new approach to Russia aimed at the defeat of IS and peaceful co-operation.