The US military has come into direct conflict with the pro-Syrian government combined forces recently. The last strike was delivered on June 8 – the third coalition strike in recent weeks against the government forces near At Tanf, a Syrian town close to the intersection of the Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian borders where American-backed Syrian fighters are being trained.
Russia told the United States that the strikes against pro-government forces in Syria were unacceptable. The military actions hampered efforts to find a political solution to the conflict and violated the sovereignty of Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his categorical disagreement with the strikes on Syria’s pro-government forces and called on the US to take concrete measures to prevent similar incidents in future.
No public statements were made by US officials to explain the military actions and no questions were asked by lawmakers. There was rather limited media coverage of the events. The administration is stumbling into this conflict with no public discussion whatsoever, despite the fact that the United States is not actually at war with the Syrian government and military actions against it raise questions, particularly since both countries have a common enemy in the Islamic State (IS).
The Pentagon is evidently trying to designate the area the US wants to keep de facto under control. The US-backed forces control a large strip of Syria’s border in the south. The attacks take place against the background of growing speculation that the United States and Jordan would take part in a joint military ground offensive inside Syria.
The US-led coalition has expanded its footprint in Syria in recent months, racing to retake its territory to better position itself for expected post-war negotiations on peaceful settlement. The United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have entered Raqqa and established a de-confliction zone around al-Tanf. The latter action was done unilaterally, without consulting Syria’s government. The coalition said June 8 that the garrison at al-Tanf «will not be vacated until ISIS is defeated» and confirmed the pledge to «take appropriate measures to protect» its forces. No doubt, the area could potentially be expanded.
The southern and south-eastern parts of Syria are of particular concern as their control by Syrian pro-government forces could clear a land route to Shia-controlled areas of Iraq, linking Iran – the country viewed as arch enemy by the Trump administration – to the Mediterranean through Syria. Without any hesitation President Trump took sides in the recent inter-Arab rift supporting those who also viewed Tehran as an evil to fight, despite the fact that Iran and the US have a common enemy – the Islamic State (IS).
With Raqqa freed from the IS, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces will try to «go down» to Deir ez-Zor and, probably, further. If the US-supported coalition goes up from Jordan, the two pro-American forces can join to control vast swathes of Syria territory in the country’s eastern part bordering Iraq. With the help of newly created «Arab NATO» the operation could become international. The anti-Iran forces would consider it as part of regional plan to weaken Iran and boost the influence of Washington and Saudi-led Arab states.
There is another side of the coin. The US has taken sides in the centuries-old inter-religious fight between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sunni state, like Turkey, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait, prefer to walk the middle line, but the US – a Christian country - becomes actively involved in the conflict instead of trying to be a mediator like Russia and Turkey do. Washington may gain by sealing lucrative arms deals and boosting influence but the policy entails great risks to get deeply involved in the faraway conflict the US has no interest in. Usually, the process starts slowly; gradually dragging into the fray with no way to get out. Afghanistan is a good example.
It has already started in other places as the recent strikes in Somalia demonstrate. With the inefficiency of the Saudi-led coalition, the US may get dragged into the war in Yemen, where America has nothing to gain and nothing to lose. Today, the Middle East oil has lost its importance for America. The oil-rich countries of the Middle East have therefore become increasingly irrelevant as far as US energy requirements are concerned.
Then why should Washington put at risk the lives of its military deployed in the areas where America has no vital interests in? Why should the US let Saudi Arabia drag it into unnecessary conflicts such as in Yemen? How the US military involvement into Syria’s multisided civil war would make things better, especially after the interventions in Libya and Iraq, both triggered by maladroit Washington military intervention, turned out so disastrously? Washington has no security interest in Syria warranting military confrontation.
Even if the reason is to boost President Trump’s popularity, the involvement serves no purpose as the rating go up only after short victorious wars, not drawn-out costly conflicts.
The US took part in the Astana peace process. At the last Astana talks held on May-3-4, Washington was represented by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Stuart Jones, not at the ambassadorial level as previously. Russia and the US are in talks on holding a Putin-Trump meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit on July 7-8 in Hamburg. It’s not too late to let diplomacy work and there are forums to address the hot issues and make deals. The intervention in Syria is not a free risk endeavor and there is still a good chance for talks to diplomatic efforts to succeed. The airstrikes delivered so far reflect a disregard for multilateral peace efforts. They constitute an outright violation of each and every norm of international law.