Syria strikes reveal growing Middle East rivalry
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.