The recent U.S.-led airstrikes have raised serious concerns about the possibility of another world war with harsh rhetoric being exchanged between U.S. and Russian officials. Considering their limited scope, it quickly became clear that the strikes changed very little, if anything, on the ground. So, what was the main objective of the airstrikes? What was accomplished and what made U.S. President Donald Trump victorious? To find the answers to these questions we need to focus on the objectives. However, we need to first clarify that these strikes were not for humanitarian purposes and were not executed to punish Bashar Assad.
Western officials clearly declared that the purpose of the strikes was not to change the regime in Syria or to intervene in the Syrian civil war, so it can be said that they were intended to punish the regime. That is, Western states seem to have had qualms with the Assad regime since the eruption of the war and have repeatedly declared that they see no alternative to the regime. They want Assad to remain in power, but weakened, as this would maintain the status quo that benefits their own interests. Since mainstream Islamic movements and political parties are the main supporters of the Syrian opposition, the West does not want these popular political groups to replace Assad's authoritarian regime. As usual, the West prefers a friendly, despotic regime to an unfriendly, democratic one.
Similarly, Western officials do not plan on ending the humanitarian disaster or the mass killings in Syria. The West only wants Assad to be more careful about the weapons the regime uses to kill its people. The Assad regime kill more than half a million people and forced more than 7 million to leave their homes over the past seven years. Unfortunately, so far, these striking numbers have not disturbed Western governments. Western countries are more concerned about whether the refugees will move to Europe. Their refugee status, not humanitarian conditions, matters more for the West.
We also need to rethink the main purpose of the airstrikes. The first objective was to reshuffle the balance of power in Syria. After the eradication of Daesh in the region, the severe defeat of the PKK's Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's protection Units (YPG) militia by the Turkish military in addition to the trilateral summit held in Ankara by Turkey, Russia and Iran, the West has tried to foil the plans of these three states. The main goal of Western countries was to halt the Syrian resolution process, which they refuse to take part in. The loss of Syria would mean a loss of Western power in the Middle East. However, it has become obvious that Western governments are unable to set up regional order in the Middle East by neglecting Russia and alienating Turkey and Iran.Instead, the West went straight for the region's Achilles heel, i.e., the Assad regime, to create division between Moscow, Tehran and Ankara. The West knows well that the main friction between Turkey, Russia and Iran is the future of the regime. While Ankara has supported the removal of the regime from the beginning, the Kremlin and Tehran have been protecting Assad from the opposition. By targeting the regime, Western countries may appease Ankara, but it will not deter Turkey from cooperating with Russia and Iran so long as the West supports the YPG and continues to alienate Ankara in the region.
The third objective of the airstrikes is related to the domestic politics of the respective Western administrations. In the U.S., Trump has been trying to change the political agenda in the U.S. to avoid possible impeachment. Therefore, he exploits the Syrian war and his role as a tough guy for domestic consumption. Facing increasing criticism in domestic politics in France, President Emmanuel Macron also wants to be remembered as a success, and a Syrian intervention might provide the necessary hype. Lastly, the British government found a chance to drive Russia into a corner after the most recent diplomatic crisis.
Based on Western declarations, the only objective of the airstrikes was to stop the use of chemical weapons. However, considering the regime's previous use of these weapons, the West has not been completely sincere about its objective. None of the Western governments took the use of chemical weapons into consideration in 2013, when the Assad regime used them to kill more than 1,000 people. It seems the airstrikes simply exploited the use of chemical weapons to sway the power struggle in the Syrian civil war.
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