Trump's mission accomplished

Published 16.04.2018 23:14

That is what U.S. President Donald Trump said about last weekend's strikes against Syria. He believes the "mission" was a success, without specifying what the mission in question was exactly. If we only take into consideration the military aspect of the operation, we can indeed say that it was a success, as all targets had been hit apparently. This is not surprising per se, as we are talking about a coalition of the three most powerful armies in the world, the U.S., the U.K. and France. Given their combined power, it would have been surprising if they could not destroy these limited number of targets. Nevertheless, in order to avoid an escalation with Russia, these were probably informed in advance, so they could withdraw their soldiers and materials beforehand. The point is, we do not know if, on their side, Russia warned Assad. In other words, we do not know if Assad found the opportunity to transfer his chemical weapons to a safe place, or not.

As the U.S. president speaks of a great success, we can only imagine that all of Syria's chemical capabilities have indeed been destroyed. We will only know about it if the inspectors of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) could gain free and unlimited access to Syrian army's facilities. Their findings will be of crucial importance, as Assad's chemical arsenal may be used, in the future, to drag him before the International Criminal Court.

The coalition justified their intervention by saying that Assad was killing his fellow Syrians with chemical weapons. The thing is, after the Western military strikes, Assad is still in power, and the Syrians did not get any humanitarian aid. So maybe the "mission" Trump is evoking was something completely different.

It seems that the mission, as Trump is describing it, was not about overthrowing Assad or conveying humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. Trump only had some limited strategic calculations while going ahead with the operation, and he certainly thought a lot about Russia while doing it.

One of the immediate results of the attack was to glue the Western allies together. NATO appeared once more as an efficient tool, France lost the chance to build a balanced relationship with Russia, and the U.S. and Russia succeeded to demonstrate that they, and nobody else, are the two masters of the Syrian crisis. Moreover, in this context, it will not be possible for Iran to distance itself from Russia; and the Turkey-Russia-Iran trio is now relatively less significant for the resolution of the crisis.

In the next phase, France and the U.K. will insist to get a seat at the U.S.-Russia negotiating table. Nonetheless, in the absence of Iran and Turkey, these negotiations cannot provide a sustainable solution. However, if all these sit around the same table, these negotiations will not really work, either. Maybe the U.S. only planned to join the Turkey-Russia-Iran trio, but the other Western partners did not allow them to do so. The U.K. probably thought that sending Trump alone to negotiate with Russia would be too risky. Maybe that is why British Prime Minister Theresa May rushed into this operation, without even consulting the British parliament as she was supposed to do.

After all, the only good outcome of this operation was to make sure that the Syrian regime will not be able to use chemical agents again. Besides, the operation prevented Iran from enlarging its influence zone in Syria. Nevertheless, it is hard to see, in the short run, what the operation's result will be with regard to the People's Protection Units (YPG) or the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It is hard to see, too, if this operation will make sure that no more Syrians will die in this war, if displaced people will be able to return home, or if the normalization of the region is nearer. In other words, perhaps the strategic "mission" is accomplished, but the humanitarian one is nowhere to be seen.

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