Syria strikes re­veal grow­ing Mid­dle East ri­valry

Global Times US Edition - - FO­RUM - By Zhao Ming­hao The au­thor is a se­nior re­search fel­low with The Charhar In­sti­tute and an ad­junct fel­low at the Chongyang In­sti­tute for Fi­nan­cial Stud­ies at Ren­min Univer­sity of China. opin­ion@glob­al­

US, Bri­tish and French forces fired over 100 mis­siles at Syria last week­end, ac­com­plish­ing a so-called “per­fectly ex­e­cuted strike.” Dur­ing his visit to Peru, US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said the US was “pre­pared to con­tinue this ef­fort un­til we are as­sured that chem­i­cal weapons will never be used again against in­no­cent civil­ians in Syria.”

Al­most ev­ery US pres­i­dent has launched a war dur­ing his ten­ure in the past decades. Trump, who sticks to the Amer­ica First doc­trine, is no ex­cep­tion. The air strikes on Syria re­minded peo­ple of the 2003 Iraq war. The Gorge W. Bush govern­ment vowed to pu­n­ish the Sad­dam regime for its pos­ses­sion of “weapons of mass de­struc­tion.” How­ever, no ev­i­dence of such “weapons of mass de­struc­tion” were found af­ter over­throw­ing the Sad­dam govern­ment.

The mess of the Syr­ian civil war and the Mid­dle East is more com­plex than in 2003. Richard Haass, pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, pes­simisti­cally be­lieves that the Mid­dle East is mired in a new Thirty Years War. The Thirty Years War fought pri­mar­ily in central Europe be­tween 1618 and 1648 re­sulted in mil­lions of deaths.

A “per­fectly ex­e­cuted strike,” US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump claimed, only caused lim­ited civil­ian dam­age, but that is not the real dan­ger. Hours be­fore the strikes, UN Secretary-Gen­eral Antonio Guter­res warned in an emer­gency meet­ing of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil that “the Cold War is back – with a vengeance, but with a dif­fer­ence.” Many in­ter­na­tional ob­servers have the same feel­ing that the world's con­flict and cri­sis management mech­a­nism is fail­ing.

The Syr­ian civil war has be­come a com­pli­cated proxy war. The more ex­ter­nal forces are in­volved, the more dif­fi­cult it is to end the war. Trump in early April said he was in­clined to pull US troops out of Syria soon. But now with con­tra­dic­tory pol­icy goals, the US has been “locked and loaded” in the re­gion.

The US got in­volved in the Syr­ian is­sue with the pri­mary goal of com­bat­ing Is­lamic State and other ter­ror­ist forces, but now, its strate­gic cal­cu­la­tion has be­come more prom­i­nent in con­tain­ing Iran and Rus­sia's in­flu­ence in the re­gion. The air strikes on Syria re­veal grow­ing geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion in the Mid­dle East.

Iran is a strong sup­porter of the Bashar al-As­sad govern­ment. Tehran wor­ries that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will scrap the Iran nu­clear deal in May. Mike Pom­peo, the newly named secretary of state, is known for his tough stance against Iran and his nom­i­na­tion clouds the Iran deal. Mean­while, the mil­i­tary base in Syria's port of Tar­tus is vi­tal for Rus­sia and Moscow has rea­sons to safe­guard it to show its in­flu­ence as a global ma­jor power.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has con­demned US-led mil­i­tary strikes in Syria as an “act of ag­gres­sion.” The pos­si­bil­ity that Rus­sia would take re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures can­not be ex­cluded. More chaos will fol­low. It has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to find a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the Syr­ian cri­sis amid Western coun­tries' con­tin­ued provo­ca­tions of Rus­sia that were ex­ac­er­bated by the in­ci­dent in which an ex-Rus­sian dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal was al­legedly poi­soned in the UK by a nerve gas agent.

It is against in­ter­na­tional law to use force against Syria, which is a sov­er­eign state, with­out solid ev­i­dence that the coun­try used chem­i­cal weapons against its own cit­i­zens or with­out UN au­tho­riza­tion. As the govern­ment forces are scor­ing vic­to­ries, there was no need for them to use chem­i­cal weapons in eastern Ghouta.

Iraq War dragged the na­tion and the re­gion into big chaos and caused mil­lions of deaths, Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don fi­nally ad­mit­ted that their in­tel­li­gence about Iraq's weapons of mass de­struc­tion was false. No one wants to see the same tragedy hap­pen again in Syria.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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