“You may have to sell [intervention or other military action] in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has done ever since the Truman Doctrine.” — Samuel P. Huntington
On 6th April, 59 US Tomahawk missiles slammed into Syria’s Shayrat air base in retaliation for the unconscionable gassing of dozens of civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, allegedly carried out by Bashar al-Assad regime. This was a stunning turnaround for President Donald Trump and his administration as they have relentlessly signalled an indifference to Assad. The attack infuriated Iran and Russia as the command group of both countries released a joint statement saying, “What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is, and America knows our ability to respond well.” Kremlin further warned that the strikes put the United States and Russia “on the verge of a military clash.” If the US goes down this road, the prospects of a military confrontation with Moscow are real.
Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops have been conducting military exercises for some time in striking distance of Russian territory.
US attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Syria was a poorly planned display of imperial muscle-flexing that had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. The damage to the airfield was very slight and there is no reason to believe it will impact the Syrian Army’s progress on the ground. The attack did, however, kill four Syrian servicemen which means the US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government.
However, only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?
No, this US attack was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.
Regarding the attack in Idlib, what we can say with certainty is that at a time when pro-government forces in Syria were in the ascendancy on the ground, and when the Syrian government was making significant progress on the diplomatic front, it would have constituted an act of monumental self-harm to launch a chemical weapons attack of any kind, much less one of this magnitude. In fact, it would have conformed to the actions of a government that was intent on bringing about its own demise. What also must be taken into consideration is the fact that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an organization supported by the US, confirmed back in June 2014 that the process to destroy Syria’s entire stock of chemical weapons had been completed.
Moreover, the horrific images and eyewitness testimony that have emanated from Idlib in the wake of the attack have come from pro-opposition sources. No Western journalist or news crew would dare set foot in Idlib, or indeed any other part of opposition-held territory in Syria, knowing that as soon as they did they would be abducted and slaughtered.
Trump has proved with this unilateral military intervention that he can easily be dragged into conflict. Just a few days after his administration confirmed that regime change in Syria was off the table and that its focus was on defeating terrorism, he unleashes an airstrike that will only have emboldened the very forces of terrorism whose defeat, he had stressed, was the focus of his foreign policy previously.
So what now? Clearly, this military action places Russia in a very difficult position. Since joining the conflict in Syria at the end of September 2015, at the behest of the Syrian government, Moscow had been working tirelessly to bring about a negotiated settlement, one involving opposition forces and parties deemed moderate relative to the fanatics of ISIS and Nusra, etc. It is a diplomatic process that has just been dealt a shattering blow, with the opposition now undoubtedly convinced that regime change is in the offing via Washington and therefore they get encouraged to work toward this end.
Meanwhile, as for Washington’s regional allies – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – they will most likely begin calling for more military action against Damascus now, viewing the US airstrike as the catalyst for open season on the country’s sovereignty.
As for Trump himself, having been under inordinate pressure since assuming office in January from the Washington media, political and intelligence establishment, this action will earn him some much-needed approval and, with it, respite. The signs with regard to his administration had been ominous for some time, starting with the forced resignation of Mike Flynn as his National Security Adviser in February, and continuing recent departure of Steve Bannon from the President’s National Security Council. It comes as further evidence that neocons have reasserted their dominance over the White House after a short and intense power struggle.
On a wider note, the lack of short-term memory in Washington is staggering to behold. Fourteen years after the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, which only succeeded in opening the gates of hell out of which ISIS and other groups emerged, and six years after turning Libya into a failed state – in the process sparking a refugee crisis of biblical proportions – here we have yet another act of brazen aggression against a sovereign state in the Middle East by the US.
Destroying countries in order to save them is the story of every empire. But, as history reveals, every empire carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Donald Trump is now on course to end up going down in history as a leader who rather than save the US from itself, may only have helped speed it down the path to its ultimate demise.