Analysis by Pier Francesco Zarcone*
LISBON (IDN) – Not knowing what will happen next, commenting in the immediate wake of the U.S. missile attack on the Shayrat airbase in Syria on the night of April 7 is risky but not sterile, at least to try to understand a bit more than the pre-packaged “petty lessons” of the mouthpieces of the United States, in Italy and elsewhere, were quick to recite.
Coincidentally, the muscular display of [U.S. President Donald] Trump comes shortly after the publication by IDN of an article the essence of which was the substantial uselessness of international law, given that the great powers violate it continually
Well, once again the United States has acted in accordance with “its” international law, consisting of a single article, animated by a clear unipolar imperialist logic: we do what we want, and what we do is fair and legal, and our massacres are simply “collateral damage”.
Once again, the futility of the United Nations has emerged, even if those saying so specifically are still few; nevertheless, it is undeniably ridiculous (albeit tragic) that while the UN Security Council was losing time with draft resolutions, the United States was launching missiles under the guise of the alleged responsibility of the Damascus government for the use of nerve gas in Idlib.
What is certain is that if the United Nations were to close its doors no one would notice, aside from monetary savings for Member States.
And just for a change, a charge with absolutely no evidence was sustained, based on the dixit Washington principle.
It has all the appearance of a repeat of [Iraqi President Saddam] Hussein’s alleged “weapon of mass destruction”.
Incidentally, those accustomed to think the worst are not surprised by the contemporaneity between the U.S. missile attack and an Isis offensive on the road to Palmyra (Tadmur)-Homs which fortunately was quickly countered by Syrian troops.
Given that no evidence exists, we can in the meantime reflect in a generic way on the use of nerve gas in Idlib.
According to the United Nations, Syrian deposits of chemical weapons had been destroyed; but irrespective of whether the Syrian government still has such weapons, considering that a few years ago the issue appeared to rush things in the direction of a U.S. attack – foiled only by the Russian intervention in favour of dismantling chemical deposits – then the well-established (though not infallible) criterion of for whose benefit would lead to excluding the responsibility of Damascus, unless Assad and company, but also the Russian General Staff, were to be considered a bunch of idiots.
In fact it was obvious that – Russian protection or not – if Syria had used chemical weapons, someone as irritable as Trump (moreover struggling with unresolved problems of Russiagate and kept in check by the neoconservative establishment) would have had to take some warmongering initiative.
It should be noted that, concerning the events in Idlib, no one has mentioned that earlier the Russians had alerted the United States about the fact that the so-called “moderate rebels” still possessed chemical weapons.
But it does not seem that that warning had troubled them too much.
From a military-technical point of view, the launch of the U.S. missiles could not be considered a great success: of 59, only 23 hit the target, the Syrian air base was damaged but not destroyed, and finally most of the planes (either because withdrawn in advance through intuition, or because protected by bunkers) were spared.
The pro-United States press claims that the missile action was really supposed to be no more than a warning, in order not to close the doors to Moscow and Damascus.
What has not been spared, however, are hopes for peace, given that Washington’s current tactical plans for the Middle East are not known – although its strategic plans have long been known: Balkanisation.
While Trump wanted to prove to be a real “tough guy” – unlike Obama – it is nevertheless undeniable that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin cannot lose face (and not just for a question of pride), so that the risk of a clash on the ground between Russia and the United States is more concrete than ever but, thanks to the vast technological modernisation programme that has been under way for some years, the Russian armed forces are no longer those of [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin’s time.
Journalistic speculations on the possibility that Moscow will “dump” Damascus appear more a wish than a reality because of Russia’s consolidated geostrategic interests in the area.
In any case, the clouds – to say the least sinister – continue to gather.
Aseptically, many newspapers report that the “rebels” in Syria (actually mostly foreign invaders) are calling for the total destruction of Syrian aviation, without noting that this would result in two tragic results: certain direct confrontation with Russia and weakening of the Syrian armed forces in the face of Jihadism.
Frankly speaking, no matter how many find it unpleasant, if in the meantime a politically and militarily credible (primarily for Syria) alternative to [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad were to emerge, various problems would be reduced.
But this is not so, like it or not, the collapse of the Damascus government would mean abandoning Syria to Isis and al-Qaeda, or allowing Syria to be swept off the map, pulverising it into myriad small states without political and economic weight, and at the mercy of the first to arrive.
It is not to be excluded that this is what certain Western circles want.
Leaving aside (through superstition) the hypothesis of direct confrontation between Russian and U.S. military forces, and also assuming that the bombardment in question was the classic one-off, without changing the situation on the ground much, if the US intention nevertheless is not to leave the field open to Russia in Syria, one wonders what Trump could do, and with which possible alliances, to impose a solution to the Syrian crisis.
Again without caring less about anyone, he could increase the presence of U.S. troops on the ground to take Raqqa, capital of the Isis “caliphate”, as soon as possible.
To do this, however, Washington would need greater air support than it currently has on the scene: this would mean establishing a no-fly zone (but Russia would at least object, if not worse), or the United States would have to deal with Moscow, which perhaps would not rule out Assad, given that the Russian presence in Syria came about at the request of the Damascus government, which is internationally recognised.
At the level of alliances, on closer examination – and notwithstanding the above-mentioned lack of alternatives to Assad – not much comes to mind, apart from the theoretical Kurdish card, which then is reduced to the Kurdish militias of Syria.
In fact, given the precise jihadist reality of “moderate rebels”, a formal alliance with them to outline a “new Syria” would be as much an act of honesty as a definitely ill-advised choice; it could therefore reasonably be excluded.
This leaves the Kurds, but after having used them Trump could at most only give them a strongly autonomous zone in Syrian territory, insufficient however for the purpose of a wider plan to reorganise the country.
In addition to this insufficiency, account would have to be taken of the predictable Turkish reactions – with repercussions on the south-eastern front of NATO – but also those of Iran and the government of Damascus itself.
Moreover, one must wonder if the Kurds themselves would play game.
The history of the Kurdish people is full of opportunist and uncertain allies who, when the moment is right (for them) sneak off and leave it exposed to all possible retaliation. In the case in question, this could happen after the conquest of Raqqa.
This is a conquest that is still to come, also given the precedent of Mosul, not yet conquered because of the tenacious resistance of Isis (by the way, here the massacres perpetrated by the US air force do not arouse international emotions).
* Pier Francesco Zarcone, with a degree in canonical law, is a historian of the labour movement and a scholar of Islam, among others. He is a member of Utopia Rossa (Red Utopia), an international association working for the unity of revolutionary movements around the world in a new International: la Quinta (The Fifth). This article originally appeared in Italian under the title Trump Mostra i Muscoli in Utopia Rossa. Translated by Phil Harris. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 April 2017]
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