Trump has decided to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles from two US aircraft carriers off the coast of the Mediterranean to strike the Syrian military base of Al Shayrat. The reason for this is the reaction to the massacre of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, Syria, where last Tuesday more than 80 people, including 28 children, were killed, poisoned by chemical weapons yet to be exactly identified. The intelligence and various non-governmental organizations allege the responsibility for the massacre to the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and the information they possess specifies that the planes which have dropped these chemical weapons have departed from the base of Al Shayrat.
In this Syrian military base, there also were Russian forces which apparently have been informed in advance of the attack. An exchange of information thus regularly happened according to the rules of engagement which is known as “deconfliction notice”, meaning alerts between forces engaged on adjoining sides with the purpose of avoiding accidents. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov has declared that Washington has “violated international law, committing an act of aggression against a sovereign State.”
Trump’s action, however, seems to be supported by the American people as well as by most of the political forces. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “USA’s message is loud and clear, we are with them.” British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke of “appropriate response.” Saudi Arabia, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declared its “full support” to this US attack. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus, declared that he considers justified this attack against the Syrian military airbase.
Surely, it is unacceptable what happened in Idlib in recent days, just as it is unacceptable what has been happening in Syria for years, but the children killed under conventional bombs seem to affect less than those killed by the gas. It’s true that at a certain breaking point, after crossing the “red line”, military actions are necessary to put an end to the massacres. It is also true that a weak US position has allowed Russia to become the major player in the Middle East. But it is also appropriate to understand what is actually happening in this historical moment and why this attack was carried out.
First of all, we have to ask ourselves why Assad would have decided to carry out a chemical bombardment violating the agreements made in 2013, on the very same day of the opening in Brussels of an international conference on the future of Syria, and after having received confirmation by Trump’s Administration that his ousting was no longer a US priority. Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo from Aleppo has declared: “Based on our experience, I just can’t imagine that the Syrian Government is so naive and ignorant to make such mistakes.”
A possible interpretation of this chemical attack is that Assad was prompted to the use of Sarin gas against the civilian population for geopolitical reasons, and particularly to defend the hegemony of the Shiite coalition comprising Iran, Damascus and Russia. The indignation of the Western population, connected to Sunni alliances, to an intervention violating international treaties would have alienated Turkey in the first place. Excluding Sunni Turkey from the Shiite coalition was certainly a priority for the regime. An alliance between Turkey and Russia, in fact, would have allowed the Turks to reclaim control over the territories of the Syrian Kurds. Furthermore, in ten days a referendum in Turkey is scheduled which would determine a significant constitutional change, increasing the strength of President Erdogan transforming Turkey into a presidential Government, taking away its constitutional secularism and thus bringing Sunni Islam to power.
But going back to the American military action and the reasons that led to this, it is relevant to note that President Trump has intervened without waiting for the results of the enquiry commission that would have determined the nature and origin of the use of chemical weapons in Idlib. He gave the order to launch missiles from American aircraft carriers without asking the permission of the Congress, as is allowed by the laws passed after 9/11. To take a recent example, in 2013 Barack Obama stopped at the very last minute a military strike against Syria – in retaliation to the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population – because the Congress had expressed a negative opinion.
So why this sudden action? Certainly, the personality of the American President, not prone to reflection, facilitates these impulses. But the bombing in Syria also has some interesting implications for the US. It could actually be a useful opportunity to intimidate Iran and North Korea, two nuclear competitors that have recently provoked the White House with their missile tests. Futhermore, the use of the army is for the USA an historical incentive to boost its economy. In fact, for more than a century there has been a constant in the economic history of the United States: a close correlation between military intervention and economic recovery (see tables by the Governmental Institution National Bureau of Economic Research). And last, but not least, Donald Trump is in the eye of the storm for the Russian Gate, and the risk of impeachment against him is increasingly real after authoritative evidence about the involvement of his Administration in illicit relations with Putin and the Russian entourage, that even intrude into treason suspects. Who knows, maybe he had to urgently change his course of action.
Surely, this American military action has re-established the international coalitions that were already in place in this strategic world war before the election of Donald Trump: the Sunni crescent composed of Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia backed by the US and Israel, and the Shiite crescent composed of Iran, Iraq, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah party backed by Russia.
While Trump initially seemed to undermine the current global geopolitical system approaching the Shiite crescent, now he seems to have suddenly changed his mind. Yes, in this whole messy situation the most destabilizing and worrying element is precisely Donald Trump, with his quick, sudden, unreasoned changes of mind.
In this international diplomacy, where the world is divided into two opposing military fronts which are already fighting a world war in the small, massacred Syria, it is very risky to act on the sole basis of sudden head shots. Last Friday, Trump administration’s officials had formalized that the current US policy does not consider ousting Assad a priority. Then, the White House has issued a statement condemning the bombing blaiming Obama for being weak in the Syrian conflict. Too bad that, during the election campaign, it was Trump himself to officially invite the then President Obama not to attack Syria. Yesterday, at last, Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, declared: “When the UN is unable to put forward the duty to act collectively, there are times when the States are forced to go alone”, and this morning the military attack on Syria was carried out. I think it’s unlikely that all this, which has happened in less than a week, is the strategic and critical path on which the use of weapons, including nuclear ones, should instead be based on.