The U.S., France and Britain joined forces to rain missiles down on Syria's chemical arms facilities and depots for a one-time strike and then declared the mission a massive success. They also boasted that they had taught Bashar Assad a lesson.
Is this true? Did they really deal a blow to the Assad regime?
Late Friday and early Saturday, U.S., French and British war planes and missiles hit 16 targets throughout Syria. Two important facilities known to be key chemical weapons installations were attacked. They did not target the Assad regime in any way. They did not attack the Presidential Palace in Damascus. As an act of defiance, Assad was seen entering his palace, sending a message to Washington, Paris and London that he is here and firmly at the helm. Only the regime's chemical weapons installations and arms depots were targeted. Before the operation, the Syrian regime removed its jets, helicopters and heavy weapons from bases that were possible targets of the aerial attacks. The attacks also avoided Russian military installations and bases in Syria.
So what was achieved?
U.S., Britain and France seem to have given a message that they will not tolerate regime chemical attacks and will strike back if such crimes are committed. So if Assad dares use chemical weapons on his people, he will be punished again. However, that is not the real problem in Syria. Assad has probably killed only a couple thousand people with chemical weapons during the civil war, but has butchered at least 600,000 with conventional weapons and is continuing to do so unabated. Do the U.S., U.K. and Frnce have response to this? Not really.
It is really hypocritical to boast about punishing Assad given that this was a one-time, limited attack that hardly dented Assad's capabilities to kill his own people. It hardly gives any hope to ordinary Syrians that the three countries will come to save them from Assad's forces.
By entering Syria to push out Daesh and the People's Protection Units (YPG) further from of its border, Turkey has given hope to ordinary Syrians, at least in the north of the country, that there are people who care for their well-being and will effectively come to help them with solid support instead of one-time missile attacks. That is why Turkey has a say in and leverage over opposition groups in Syria and has been able to sit at the table for a solution to the Syrian civil war along with Russia and Iran.
French President Emmanuel Macron thinks that by sending some missiles into Syria, Britain, France and the U.S. can edge their way into the process to decide the future of Syria. They cannot do that with these missile attacks or by courting the PKK's YPG affiliate in Syria.
Judging from Macron's comments after the missile strikes, he thinks they have pulled Turkey to their side, distancing Ankara with Moscow and Tehran. But they are dead wrong. Turkey is a partner with Russia and Iran in the Syrian peace process and is there because it has leverage over opposition groups and supports all kinds of punishment against Assad, even if just a token gesture. Turkey is not an ally of Russia and Iran and is not thrilled that these two countries back Assad. But Ankara is also not happy with its allies still doing business with the YPG and is determined to finish it off in Syria.
So Macron, British Prime Minister Teresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump would be well advised to support the real opposition forces in Syria that oppose Assad instead of a band of terrorists. Then they may be able to edge their way into the peace process in Syria. This cannot be done with a few missiles that have a cost of $300 million.
Maybe they will have the Saudi crown prince finance this.