The United States delivered a strike against Syria firing 59 cruise missiles overnight on April 7 in a major foreign policy reversal. The Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from US ships in the Mediterranean Sea toward Shayrat airbase in the western Syrian province of Homs. The act of war was committed upon the order of the president, who once warned against US involvement in foreign conflicts.
Just a few days ago, Donald Trump he was no longer focused on making Assad leave power.
State Secretary Rex Tillerson is expected to visit Moscow on April 11-12. The event has been largely viewed as a chance to improve the bilateral relations.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement to strongly condemn the strike and call for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Moscow suspended the Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Flight Safety Incidents (the de-confliction agreement) between Russia and the US in Syria.
On April 5, the Russian Foreign Ministry opposed a draft UN Security Council resolution that was put forward by the United States, Britain and France to condemn the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun – a rebel-held town in Syria's Idlib province. Moscow believes it was based on «fake information». Russia's military insisted that the chemicals were dispersed when Syrian warplanes bombed a facility where militants stored chemical weapons (CW). Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the UN Security Council that neither Moscow nor Damascus bore any responsibility for the attack, adding that the video footage was «staged». «All of this is being done to create the necessary information and propaganda environment», said Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman.
Indeed, the exposure to sarin begins to target the muscle and nervous system almost immediately but the pictures show White Helmets handling the corpses of people without sufficient safety gear. Only masks are used, they don’t bother about the exposed skin! It strikes an eye.
The US airstrikes took place before investigations could be conducted for evidence to emerge. The experts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did not make any conclusions but the officials of leading Western states, including the US, had already jumped the gun to make accusations and issue belligerent statements followed by the US military action.
What about the possibility of anti-government rebels implementing a false flag scenario? Militant groups have used chemical weapons in the past. Remember the Ghouta chemical weapons attack in 2013 when Syria’s government forces were accused of using CW? Carla Del Ponte, a UN weapons inspector, came to the conclusion that there was no evidence that the Syrian military did it but the ballyhoo to tarnish the government’s image had already been raised across the whole world.
The Syrian armed forces are making advances and gaining ground. Why should they use chemical weapons? If the Syrian military possesses the weapons, why did it not use them in 2014-15 when it was losing battles and retreating? Why would the Syrian Army target civilians with chemical weapons instead of formations of armed jihadists? And the timing? Why should they do it at the time the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria kicks off and a week before the UN-brokered Geneva peace negotiations are to resume?
«The people who have benefited from this kind of attack are the rebels themselves, because they have gained a major political advantage at a time when they are struggling both strategically and geopolitically», said Charles Shoebridge, a British security analyst and counterterrorism expert.
The Syrian Air Force did strike the missile factory in Khan Sheikhoun. Chemicals could have been stored there targeted by the airstrikes. Kidnapped civilians from pro-government towns could have been transported to the area. This scenario is quite probable. It all calls for a thorough international investigation before making final decisions to change policy, delivering airstrikes, considering drafts of UN resolutions, making remarks not based on facts or accusing those whose guilt is not proven.
Speaking on CNN's «At This Hour», Republican Rep. Thomas Massie expressed doubt that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the April 4 chemical attack, and reinforced his stance that US intervention could «end up making the situation worse». «You've got a war going on over there», Massie said. «Supposedly that airstrike was on an ammo dump, and so I don't know if it was released because there was gas stored in the ammo dump or not – that's plausible». According to him, a US involvement may exacerbate the conflict, citing uncertainty of the situation.
True, the attack ordered by President Trump indicates a drastic policy change. Before the strike, influential American media outlets had called for making Russia’s position a decisive factor for defining further US policy.
As Dennis Ross, a counselor at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a US News contributor, put it, «If Russia chooses to deny that the Assad regime – the only Syrian party in the war that has an air force – was responsible for this attack, the message will be loud and clear: no cooperation with the Russians in Syria is possible». There is more to it. «…if the Russians join us in condemning the action, imposing sanctions on the regime and insisting that Assad now permit complete access to ensure the destruction of the remaining chemical weapons on hand, we will at least have something to discuss», he said.
The very same thing all over again – outright pressure and the language of ultimatums are offered as the tools to pressure Moscow into compliance with US demands.
California’s Democratic US Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on MSNBC on April 5 to say he would like to postpone the upcoming visit of US State Secretary to Russia not «to reward Russians with a high profile visit». Senators Chris Murphy, US Democratic Senator from Connecticut, and John McCain, Republican from Arizona, supported this point of view. They are not the only ones. So the pressure is mounting.
Now, what do we have? Donald Trump has reneged on his pre-election promises deliberately creating a crisis in the Russia-US relationship. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin regards the US airstrikes on Syria as an act of aggression against a sovereign state delivered in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext.
Now the US president is trapped. The attack against Syria took place a few days before Secretary Tillerson was to meet Russian President Putin on April 12. An improvement in the relationship was possible if President Trump was adamant in his desire to implement what he said during the pre-election campaign. But he wasn’t. He wanted to make deals and that’s what Moscow was ready for. Now the prospects for progress are dim.
The US president was not able to stand tall and not bow under pressure. He failed to be stick to his guns. April 7 is a special date. Overnight it became clear that Donald Trump is no longer the one who calls the shots in Washington. The 45th president has lost. The Washington establishment has won.
Taking a shot at Syria’s government, President Trump undercuts the main goal of doing away with the Islamic State (IS) to make it a winner. No wonder, the group lost no time to intensify its combat activities in Syria right after the American strike. Israel supported the US action and there is a great possibility it will see the IS militants at its border soon.
Attacked by Americans, Damascus can respond in kind. That creates added danger for US forces on the ground. There’ll be other implications of the military action committed under the false pretext. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel as no conflict settlement is possible without Russia and Iran – the influential actors opposing the use of force by the US.
Obviously, America is sliding into another Middle East war with no definite goals defined stepping on the same rake over and over again.