The war in Syria, which entered its eighth year on March 15, has caused the destruction of most Syrian cities, killing nearly half a million people and forcing six million more to flee their homes. It seems that situation in Syria goes more complicated leading to suspicions that World War 3 might be closer than we think. And to think this war started just because a boy in his early teens wrote anti-government slogans on his school’s wall which made civilians realize that it’s time to fight back against the injustice of Bashar-Al-Assad.
More than 40 people, many of them children, were said to have been killed on April 4 in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, which Western powers have automatically blamed – with no proof whatsoever – on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. the important question amidst this is How would it benefit Assad using chlorine gas last weekend? Well, it wouldn’t.
Recently US, French and British forces launched strikes against three sites, which according to the US president are associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Assad. The coordinated strikes came as a response to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma this month, killing scores of civilians.
Many indicators on the ground in Syria point to the fact that the strikes did not cripple the Syrian government’s capabilities, nor did it affect Assad’s morale. According to several analysts, the strikes have achieved one goal only: not to provoke Russian forces in Syria, thus minimizing any possibility of an escalation between Moscow and Washington. Contrary to Trump’s strong language and threats before the attacks, the mission did not have any impact and only helped Assad’s regime to gain a new moral momentum.
This failure, which Trump presented as a great achievement, was echoed in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement, saying the strikes were not about “regime change” or “intervening in a civil war”, but were to “deter the use of chemical weapons” by the Syrian government. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said that the attacks did not target Syria’s allies, in reference to Russia and possibly Iran and Hezbollah.
Various political analysts revealed that Trump’s goal behind the strikes was simply to ease the burden of the scandals that had beset him in Washington, such as the FBI questioning of his personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
This was not the first time Trump bombed Syria. Trump bombed Syria a year ago after dozens were killed in another chemical attack that was blamed on Assad, with the US and its allies refusing to entertain the possibility that ruthless rebels trying to incriminate government forces might well have been responsible. The fact is, chemical weapons in this horrific civil war have been used by both the Syrian military and rebel groups – some of whom are really nasty extremist outfits and nothing like the champions of democracy they are regularly portrayed as by the West.
Donald Trump has assumed a concentrated and, for him, almost measured posture after the chemical attack that killed dozens of people in Syria over the weekend. On Twitter, he called out Vladimir Putin as an enabler of “Animal Assad”. He cancelled a trip to South America in order to concentrate on Syria. And, of course, he placed the blame for the current situation in Syria on Barack Obama, tweeting, “If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line in The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”
Trump is right to trace the roots of the current predicament to the summer of 2013 when Obama failed to get congressional approval for military intervention in Syria and Putin swooped in to save the day, promising to take charge of eliminating Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal. On September 11, 2013, of all days, the Times published an Op-Ed by Putin, in which he accused the Syrian opposition of using poison gas in order to set up the government and provoke an intervention, cautioned against rendering the United Nations irrelevant by acting without its sanction, and called out Obama for his rhetoric of American exceptionalism.
For Putin the publication of that Op-Ed was a highlight of his Presidency. It signified his acceptance as America’s equal partner on the international stage. In his telling, the conflict there was not between a brutal dictator and his opposition (“Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy,” he wrote) but a struggle among many equally unsympathetic factions, in a messy place that Russia and America could agree to clean up together.
This was before Russia invaded Ukraine, before sanctions, before Russian election meddling, before Obama snubbed Putin by sending a pointedly low-level delegation to the Sochi Olympics, and long before Russia was stripped of the medals that it won in those Games. In retrospect, September 2013, was close to the last moment Putin was perceived by most of the world as a legitimate leader.
In September 2015, Putin tried to recapture that sense of legitimacy when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly with a speech designed to convince Obama to create a joint anti-ISIS coalition. Obama ignored the offer. In response, Putin reframed the conflict in Syria as a war between Russia and the United States, and Russia began its bombing raids in Syria.
For the last two and a half years, Russian media have reported on Syria as if it were a war against the United States. So it seems important that the latest chemical attack there took place immediately after the United States imposed the toughest sanctions yet against Russia, which sent the Russian markets and the ruble itself tumbling on 9th April 2018. The attack also occurred days after a Russian missile test in the Baltic Sea, timed to coincide with the visit of the Baltic states’ leaders to Washington.
And, of course, the chemical attack occurred during a high-level changeover in Trump’s foreign-policy team. As soon as the chemical attack happened, Russia deployed words against facts. The Foreign Ministry issued a press statement in which it denied that the chemical attack happened, blamed it on the opposition, and accused the humanitarian organization White Helmets of being a terrorist group—all at the same time.
In his own press conference on 9th April 2018, Trump took ownership not only of the Syria problem but of the global order: “In our world, we can’t let that happen. Especially when we’re able to, because of the power of the United States, because of the power of our country, we’re able to stop it.”
The relationship between those words and the facts on the ground is tenuous. But, in the Trump-Putin universe, the war in Syria is a battle of fictional realities. Both men are asserting their right to do what they want when they want to—to deploy chemical weapons, or to punish the guilty, in a world where each is the king of reality and the sovereign of spin.
Joshua Pollack, a nuclear weapons expert and editor of the Nonproliferation Review, said any direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia could quickly spin out of control.
“I think it would be a disaster, an utter disaster, for U.S. and Russian military forces to engage each other,” Pollack said.
Just a few years ago, when he was warning his predecessor Barack Obama to stay out of Syria or risk the end of the world, Trump regularly sent out tweets such as this: “Be prepared, there is a small chance that our horrendous leadership could unknowingly lead us into World War III.” Well, suffice to say there’s more than a “small chance” of Armageddon, under his own “horrendous leadership” this time.