U.S., U.K. and France Right to Strike Syria

President Trump has struck Syria. The British and French, who precipitated this mess almost a century ago, assisted with airstrikes from bases in Cyprus, Jordan, Qatar and by ships at sea. This marks no significant change for the geopolitical realities in Syria, but hopefully it serves to deter pariahs from using chemical weapons against innocent civilians.   Given the limited nature of the strike, however, it’s unlikely to do so.

Trump has been very straight forward, announcing the strike on Twitter, and then delivering. Simultaneously John Bolton, who supports the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) in attempting to overthrow the regime in Iran, and has called for preemptive strikes on North Korea’s centrifuges, is National Security Advisor.  Mike Pompeo, another hawk, is being sworn in as Secretary of State. Their belief is, succinctly, that inaction could be worse.  

Observers should look at this Anglo-Franco-US strike as part of a wider gambit against an increasingly proliferating problem, pun intended.  The US doesn’t care about saving lives or else we’d be in Gaza, Yemen and Myanmar. Nor do we care about democracy promotion in Syria, for we’ve been backing Islamists for years, but rather stopping the flow of chemical weapons into dangerous hands.  This is a noble cause, to say the least.  

This is especially crucial for Israel, who must, and will, quell the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah corridor. Giving Iran access to Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, is anathema to Israel’s existence.    

Syria is only an American interest because of it’s location, surrounded by Turks, Kurds, the PA, Iraq, Isis, Israel, and it goes on. The US obviously wishes to conjoin Damascus into the US-led world order.  They have no significant resources, but the ability to quell agreements which hurt US business, such a pipelines from the gulf to Eurasia.  However there’s no indication that we’re outwardly attempting to topple the regime, and only respond when it comes to chemical weapons, so this isn’t a conspiracy to open up the Levant for US business, but rather, in my opinion, an altruistic and just venture.  





For Macron, well it’s more complicated .  The French ousted Syrian Amir Faisal in 1920, occupying Damascus and bringing in 15,000 members of the Armee du Levant to enforce direct rule.  French officials deprived local authorities the right to govern, putting in place governments to prolong their own rule as opposed to growing indigenous leaders, and therefore when they left, the Syrians had no clue how to govern themselves.  





The French promoted fragmentation amongst Druze, Damascenes, Aleppons  and Alawites in order to preempt any consolidated resistance to French rule; Syrians identified with their religion and/or ethnicity as opposed to with the Syrian Arab Republic.  When the Druze revolted, the French army brutally surprised their uprising in October of 1925.  










Critics will note the irony of British and French aggression in the old mandate.   Yet thank god for French intervention in Mali, and  we wish there would’ve been less hesitation in Rwanda and East Timor, not to mention the Congo, Cambodia, Darfur and the South Sudan.  It’s sometimes more imperialistic not to intervene in a situation that was an empire’s own making. Christopher Hitchens used to quip that since the British enslaved Africans and took them to the US to work on plantations, they were therefore many times more responsible for freeing and repatriating them.  Would those arguing against intervention say the British shouldn’t have done the latter? 





Assad understands this, as his father intervened in Lebanon in ’76 to save the Maronite Christians fighting against the leftist Muslim/PLO alliance.  This drew Syria further into the Lebanese war.  





One thing the anti-strike group is right about is, to steal from Herman Melville, It’s hard for the US to claim to “bear the ark of liberties of the world” when we  veto UN resolutions on Gaza, and Yemen, not to mention our unapologetic support for the brutal oppressive Bahraini government.   As Aaron David Miller told me “US values are not US interests.”





But again, this is about chemical weapons, which must be controlled.  Seventy people we’re killed in reba-held Douma, and hundreds more injured, thanks to what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “highly toxic chemicals.”  This particular case warranted response because we believe they used Sarin, and chlorine was banned by the OPCW in 2013.  Bad things can, and will if we don’t intervene, get worse.  This does raise the question, however, of why now?  Over 1900 people have died in chemical attacks since the outbreak of the civil war.  





Unfortunately, as 2020 presidential hopeful Laurence Kotlikoff told me in a phone interview, this strike was ineffective, and the buildings we destroyed could be rebuilt, quick.  This was echoed by General McKenzie “I would say there’s still a residual element of the Syrian program that’s out there”  The CIA likely made such an weak strike to avoid drawing the ire or Iran and Russia, creating a wider conflict.  In a telephone interview, former diplomat Aaron David Miller said the issue isn’t what did happen, but more importantly what didn’t, namely provoking Iran and Russia.  Don’t be shocked if we’re back in the same situation a year from now.  





Yet the White House claims to have taken out the ‘Heart’ of Assad’s chemical weapons program, as the New York Times headlined. 





Was this Assad?  We may not  know for years,  but Occam’s Razor tells us it’s a pretty safe bet to say that this gas has his hands all over it.  One of Obama’s biggest foreign policy failures may have been his naivety in dealing with the Syrian’s over chemical weapons, during which Adam Garfinkel has been crying foul over for years; The Syrian’s disposed of old weapons while even more perilous ones came in the backdoor thanks to the DPRK. (https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/03/01/syria-chemical-weapons-portfolio-thickens/





Did Assad smell blood when Trump said he was withdrawing from Syria?  Maybe, but this just be a figment of  Westerner’s imaginations.  Syria has it’s own problems, and Assad is overstretched in the Levant, making him revert to using gas.  





Was it legal?  Don’t ask me.  But Clinton’s NATO strikes in Kosovo certainly weren’t, but thank god for those.  





So nothing changed in Syria.  Few Americans wants large swathes of ground troops sent back to the Middle East, and the Russians won’t leave because if they do Assad will go.  Russian Oligarchs, are highly invested in the SAR — Tartus serves as Russia’s only warm-water port.  This administration can't be as naïve as the last in hoping that Assad will bow-down and reform.  





Overall the US faces a binary choice: Either deal with a Syria led by Assad, or undergo a massive, boots on the ground, long-term battle in order to topple the regime.  Unfortunately, the US has had a tough time finding a horse to ride – a Syrian rebel group they can train and arm – so this would likely require thousands of American soldiers.  After Iraq and still in Afghanistan, the American people hardly want this.   Russia’s presence makes it close to unthinkable.  








So the status-quo will perpetuate, but hopefully this puts Trump in a stronger position headed into important crises with Iran and North Korea.  This strike was very limited, and hopefully Damascus, Tehran and Pyongyang get the hint and scale back their weapons aspirations.   





If they don’t, the message is that the US is not a paper tiger and will act militarily in favor of it’s interests, be it in Korea, Iran, the South China Sea or Venezuela.  





This was the right response, and it’s the beginning of serious confrontation - diplomatic, political- military-twitter - with even bigger nightmares this summer.  





Trump was right to strike Syria, however he should’ve taken out more targets.  Cholrine and Sarin will continue to be used against civilians. 





Follow Dan on twitter @Dsmith1794.  Readers can email questions to gi5651@wayne.edu