Will there be a war on Syria with disastrous consequences for the rest of the world? This is a disturbing question now that Russia has warned the United States of "serious consequences" following the decision of the Trump administration on Friday (7 April) to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Al-Shayrat military airfield of Syria, 20 miles north of Homs. The highly precise guided bombs were launched from two warships, USS Ross and USS Porter, in what was a clear "unilateral", and hence illegal, action from the Trump administration. There was no sanction whatsoever of the UN Security Council as should have been the case.
Apart from the legality of the missile attacks on Syria, which the Obama Administration was trying to launch since 2013 but in vain, the episode, the manifestation of what Jacob Heilbronn, editor of the National Interest says “The Trump doctrine”, reveals that the American decision “is not one based on military exigencies or anything as mundane as a strategy. Rather, this doctrine is based on the impulsive and hawkish and unilateral exercise of American firepower, whenever and wherever Trump pleases. This is a foreign policy, in other words, based on Trump’s mood of the moment, as feckless as it is reckless.”
There are strong merits in Heilbrunn’s argument. Trump’s willingness to use US military might in Syrian civil war (between the Assad regime and Islamic-extremists-led opposition groups; here one is not talking of the menace of Islamic State, which is occupying vast territories of Syria) is not in tune with his other policy of blocking the entry into the United States of people from six countries, including Syria (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Somalia being the other five). Trump is not even willing to hear the theory that people who died because of the chemical explosions and the resultant poisonous gas, the avowed explanation behind the attack, did not emanate from the chemical weapons of President Bashar al¬Assad, but from those under the possession of the fundamentalist opposition-factions kept in a place that came under the attack of the Syrian government, leading to the explosion.
Thirdly, Trump seems to have deviated from his “America First" slogan, which, in essence, meant that America must gradually adopt an "isolationist" strategy by not sharing its resources and manpower in outside wars, and utilising, in the process, the “saved” resources for a massive buildup of military power to meet the rising Chinese challenge. Fourthly, and this is a corollary of the third point, Trump’s actions confuse his regime’s policy towards Russia, which, in turn, happens to be the principal source of support for the Syrian regime. After all, improving ties with Russia was one of the principal electoral promises of the US president. One could, of course, argue that attack on Syria may well be ‘a short-term distraction from his domestic Russia woes, a number of which he has helped to create with his ham-fisted efforts to disrupt the multiple investigations of his electoral campaign and Russian hacking of the Democrats’ mails”, but given the “long-term” consequences of a “short-term action”, it is certainly not a wise move.
But the most ironical dimension of the Trump doctrine is that it came just a day after (Thursday) Hillary Clinton, whom the president defeated at the polls last November, announced that the Trump administration should “take out [Assad’s] airfields.” In other words, Trump has finally seen some traces wisdom in Hillary Clinton! But then, let it not be forgotten that if any world leader who played the most important role for the outbreak of Syrian Civil War in 2010, then it was none other than Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state in the Obama administration. Hillary always used the issue of the chemical weapons as a ruse for the attack on the Assad regime, even though it was not convincing even to the Pentagon. And mercifully, she could not convince Obama, something that she has now done with Trump!
In any case, what exactly are the chemical weapons that are commonly used or misused? That is the nerve gas (chlorine gas, mustard gas, sarin and arsenic agents — that affect the nerves). And these are very easy and cheap to manufacture. Therefore, chemical weapons are called the poor man’s weapons and far less effective than other conventional weapons. These can be manufactured at an individual level. Viewed thus, how can one be sure that these weapons are not manufactured by the Syrian rebels? This is the question many experts have asked. After all, if the example of the American intervention in Iraq is anything to go by, then American allegations and the realities on the ground often do not match. The world is yet to find out the secret weapons of late Saddam Hussein, discovering and destroying which was one of the principal justifications for the American intervention in Iraq.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that America has been at war with Syria since the days of Hillary as the secretary of state. It was Hillary who provided resources, arms, training, and other forms of support to the Syrian rebels. In that sense, the US, like its allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has been a “state¬sponsor” of the Syrian rebels for a long time now. It is akin to Pakistan‘s role in our Kashmir. Of course, this phenomenon is nothing new in international politics. As Erica D Borghard of the Columbia University has pointed out, since 1945, 134 of 285 rebel groups enjoyed explicit support from a state sponsor, while an additional 30 groups are alleged to have received external state support. “War by proxy is an attractive policy option for states when they are hesitant to use force directly. The clandestine and informal nature of many of these arrangements allows states to challenge adversaries while providing plausible deniability for actions committed by non¬state allies," Borghard says.
In the case of Syria, the foreign policy goal of America and its allies is the removal of Assad regime by hook or crook, though it is coated with many layers of sugar. Thus we hear “the Arab Spring” in Syria, removal of a dictator, protecting the rights of all Syrians, and countering terrorist activity etc. But then, there are two ways of looking at Arab Spring. It is a failed phenomenon as its supposed goal of ushering in democracy in the Middle East has been grounded. Secondly, democracy is not exactly a number game where the majority has got every power to the extent of being sectarian and the minority none—true democracy means rights of equality and justice.
In this regard, Arab Spring has been a story of huge disappointment. Its promoters like the US and France have shown double standards. While justifying changes in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and now Syria under the pretext of furthering democracy, the Western countries have closed their eyes towards Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sheikhdoms, which are certainly not citadels of democracy and have directly or indirectly furthered the cause of Wahabism or Islamic fundamentalism all over the world. In fact, it is not a coincidence that Saudi Arab and Qatar have contributed generously to the Clinton Foundation in New York.
The concrete effect of the Arab Spring has been those extremist elements within the Sunni community — and their great promoters in the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and now to a considerable extent in Turkey — have become powerful and the forces of multi¬ethnicity and secularism are getting weaker. Syria seems to be a victim of this process. There is no denying the fact that Syria is not a democratic country. A country which has been ruled for more 40 years by one family is not an ideal democratic country in the absence of democratic institutions such as independent judiciary and media. Syria, like all other Arab countries, does not have a democratic culture as such. But one great asset that Syria has is its secularism and multi¬ethnicity.
As I have visited Syria, I can vouchsafe that it is arguably the most secular country in the Arab region. Here, and this is most important, you find the women as liberated as they are in any Western country. The continuing survival of the Bashar al¬Assad regime in Syria is not only due to the support of the minority Alawite sect, making up about 12 percent of the country’s population, of which the Syrian strongman is a member. It is also due to the backing of the Christian community, which makes up about 10 percent of the population. They have a deep and understandable fear of the sort of instability and sectarian recriminations that followed Saddam Hussein’s fall in Iraq. There are other minority groups, such as Syrian Kurds and Druze, who have either continued their support Assad or have resisted the urge to join elements of the protest movement for similar reasons. Though Sunnis (59 percent of the population) account for the overwhelming majority of the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime, there are other Sunnis within the ruling Baath Party’s rank and file that would have few prospects in a post¬Assad Syria and so have not opposed the status quo. Assad’s wife and most of his ministers happen to be Sunnis. The regime also enjoys the support of the country’s Sunni merchant class and the business community.
Importantly, the Assad regime has not supported any terrorist activities aimed at the Western countries for decades. It never supported Al Qaeda, Islamic State and had nothing to do with 9/11. On the contrary, a significant faction of the anti¬Assad rebels does have ties with Al Qaeda and have attracted foreign jihadis. And these rebels are being funded now by the Western countries. In fact, the Assad regime is a collateral victim of the American policy in the sense that America’s real enemy happens to be Iran, which is Syria’s greatest ally in the region after Russia. Here, the religious dimensions have aggravated the issue further. Both Iran and Syria happen to be ruled by the Shias, whereas Saudi Arabia, which has promoted Islamic fundamentalism all over the world, wants the Sunnis, who constitute the majority in Syria to rule the country.
Secondly, there is that factor of oil politics. Qatar and Saudi Arabia want to kill the proposed Iran-Iraq¬Syria gas line that will transfer gas from Iran to Europe directly from the Lebanon coast. Because, by so doing, Qatar will be selling gas to Europe via the alternate pipeline through Iraq and Turkey. The Americans bless this Qatar¬Iraq¬Turkey route, as this would be linked with the US-backed Nabucco pipeline, carrying gas supplies from the Central Asian Republics. Besides, it will lessen the dependence of Europe on Russian gas.
But now the question is whether the above geopolitical goal of the Obama administration has been accepted by Trump, whose Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had strong Russian connections. If so, then there is all the more reason to take Heilbrunn seriously.
Updated Date: Apr 08, 2017 18:58 PM