MORE THEATER IN SYRIA
In the early morning hours local time on April 14, the American, British and French militaries launched a coordinated volley of missiles on three targets in Syria. As expected the attack was limited in scope, hitting Syrian regime installations, including a research facility near the capital Damascus suspected of developing chemical weapons and two storage facilities near Homs, but carefully avoided Russian and Iranian bases.
There was some confusion as to the extent of the military action after U.S. President Donald President Trump, in his address announcing the strikes, said they were part of a “sustained response.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis, minutes later, contradicted the president, calling them a “one-time shot.”
The contradictory messaging is typical of a U.S. administration that appears to have little by way of a coherent strategy in Syria. At every turn, it has been outmaneuvered by others, primarily Russia and Iran, but also Turkey, which has walked a fine line by courting the Russians and Iranians while maintaining its shaky relations with the U.S., a Nato ally.
It’s unlikely the strikes will have any meaningful effect on the trajectory of the Syrian conflict. After the chemical attack in Douma, the last remaining rebel forces in the area agreed to a Russian-brokered deal to vacate north to Idlib, where the Turkish military is monitoring a de-escalation zone that has ostensibly turned into a crowded holding cell for the vast array of rebel groups in Syria, including the Syrian branch of al Qaeda. That, along with a swath of territory near the Turkish border where rebel forces backed by Turkey ousted the Kurdish YPG militia, which has nominally aligned with the regime, are the only notable pockets of rebel control left.
The regime has, for all intents and purposes, emerged the victor in the civil war. Turkey, meanwhile, has positioned itself as a potential dealmaker, vowing that it will turn over the areas it now controls to the regime but only if its demands are met, namely a promise that the Kurdish YPG, which it considers a terrorist group and an existential threat to Turkey, is eliminated.
Far from being the clear and emphatic message the U.S., Britain and France claim these strikes represent, the reality is that they instead demonstrate the degree to which these western powers have lost relevance in Syria. No doubt, the missiles provided a grand display of high-tech weaponry, but strategically they amount to little more than fireworks.
ADNAN R. KHAN / Middle East Correspondent, MACLEAN’S