By John Wight
To describe the US attack on Syria as a serious development is to be guilty of understatement.
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.
In the wake of the horrific images that emerged from Idlib after the alleged sarin gas attack, the clamour for regime change in Damascus has reached a crescendo in the West, with politicians and media outlets rushing to judgement in ascribing responsibility for the attack to the Syrian government. No one knows with any certainty what happened in Idlib, which is why an independent investigation should have been agreed and undertaken in pursuit of the truth and, with it, justice.
However only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria 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, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, 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 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 ineffable 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 organisation 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, 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 country’s government, Moscow had been working tirelessly to bring about a negotiated settlement, one involving opposition forces and parties deemed moderate relative to the Salafi-jihadi 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 encouraged to work towards this end.
Meanwhile, as for Washington’s regional allies – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey (with Erdogan guaranteed to hitch his wagon to whoever appears to be in the driving seat) – 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 Salfi-jihadi groups emerged, and six years after turning Libya into a failed state, in the process sparking a refugees crisis of biblical proportions, here we have yet another act of 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 there has been. 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.
“Rome has grown since its humble beginning that it is now overwhelmed by its own greateness.”