BY: ÇETİNER ÇETİN*
U.S. President Donald Trump’s much-wondered foreign policy officially revealed itself with missile firing on Syria in the morning of April 7. None of what has happened will be taken into account from now on. Verbalism has dominated the U.S.’s policy on Syria so far, but the U.S. has taken the action now.
Bashar Assad’s barbaric war against his own people goes far beyond being disgusting and disturbing the conscience of the West. This war reinforces the idea that the Syrian President should not have a place in the future of the country. Assad is a war criminal who must appear in the dock as a defendant. The earlier Assad’s boss, Russian President Vladimir Putin, accepts this necessity, oppresses this dictator companion to stop the atrocity and gives support to sharing of power in Syria in an inclusive way, the better it will be for the Middle East.
The latest brutal attack, in which Assad poured hundreds of kilograms of toxic sarin gas on civilians, including children, is a violation of the international law and agreements entered into force after World War I. Apparently, Assad hid 200 tons of chemical weapons from the inspectors and thus deceived the United Nations (UN). The Syrian leader seems determined to re-evaluate this horror for a single reason: to show the Syrian opposition that they can no longer rely on the support of external forces, and that it can act without caring about the results, with Russia’s support in the air and in the UN. Perhaps there are still some Syrians who must be convinced that they have been left alone by the West.
Assad first deployed fighter jets to intoxicate the people in the town of Khan Shaykun and then deployed bomber aircrafts to hit makeshift hospitals, where victims having difficulty breathing were being treated. This ‘self-confidence’ that allowed all this carnage stems from a sense of indispensability.
At least for now, the U.S. is nearing the brink of an agreement with Russia on the idea that the Syrian leader, who has proven to be a dictator, is necessary in the war against Daesh. The attack to be conducted on Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Daesh in northern Syria, is gaining momentum and will probably be regarded as one of the most decisive challenges in the war in Syria. Trying to remove Assad from his position now can trigger the withdrawal of Russia from the already fragile anti-Daesh coalition. For now, Assad can politically survive thanks to Moscow’s ongoing support.
There is a realistic policy in Western forces saying that first Daesh must be oppressed and then Assad’s future must be discussed. However, Assad’s barbarism makes even this temporary cooperation absolutely untenable. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was right in her recent call on to “all third parties involved to ensure a transition period without Assad” – which has not yet received any serious support. As the U.S. has also been involved in Syria, directly, there is neither an option for a ceasefire or a runaway ticket from behind the bars for Assad.
Just last week, the U.S. administration said that they do not aim to topple Assad. Moreover, Trump had praised Assad during his election campaign. Now, however, he changed his position, thinking that Assad has overstepped the red line – which may lead to a war.
In retaliation for the chemical attack which left 86 people dead on April 4, a total of 59 Tomahawk missiles were launched on the Shayrat Airbase in Homs. Although Trump had rejected the idea of attacking on Assad’s troops until a few days ago, he decided to do so – which means a radical regression in Washington’s policy on Syria and leads to a potential strife with Moscow, the chief
defender of the Syrian regime. The Trump-led U.S. is also warning Iran and North Korea and is ready to open fire on those who violate the U.S.’s redlines.
When Raqqa is cleared from Daesh – which might happen in the coming months – it is a real risk that the city might be returned to Assad. This situation can be an example for the country as a whole, through which Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters proclaim themselves victorious. It is likely that the dispute between NATO-member Turkey and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Democratic Union Party (PYD) militants, who are the allies of the U.S., in this case. Assad is the one who will get the best of this dispute.
The war against Daesh should be accompanied by a Syria plan without Daesh. This means that a mechanism to replace the Assad will be introduced without creating a threat of the disintegration of the Syrian state. It also means that the U.S. administration is continuing its connection with the Middle East to prevent the return of the Daesh in a new format and that Moscow should work with the West on these issues, instead of turning the Syrian rubble into a Cold War battlefield.
Assad’s ambition to use chemical weapons will become a serious threat to the Kurds and Turkmens living in the country. Let us not forget the massacre carried out by Saddam Hussein, the former ousted dictator of Iraq. The worse-case scenario is the chemical gases stored by Assad in great secrecy being handed over to Daesh and used in Europe – a risk which should be noted.
*Çetiner Çetin is a Turkish journalist. He wrote this article exclusively for the Middle East Observer.