21.04.2018 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Washington Has No Means for Attending its Goals in Syria

While the Trump administration and their allies, France and the UK, declared their ‘co-ordinated air strike’ on Syria a success, a “mission accomplished”, a closer look at the situation reveals that this strike, far from a success story, is no story at all, except that it has re-affirmed the fact that the basic US agenda in Syria was and continues to be regime change, an agenda that has already met a drastic failure and doesn’t stand a chance. In fact, the latest strike has also confirmed the fact that the US now doesn’t have a clear-cut strategy for Syria. The absence of a strategy again reflects that the US has lost in Syria and that it doesn’t have enough capacity on the ground i.e., its proxy groups to influence the situation. Even if the US had desired so, the strike and its nothing outcome has again proved that such strikes cannot and wouldn’t change the internal balance of power, currently held by Russia and supported by its allies. And, if the Trump administration was hoping that a missile strike, however co-ordinated and planned, against an ‘evil regime’ would stir a fresh uprising in Syria, this, too, hasn’t happened. Hence, the question: what has the strike really accomplished in terms of strengthening the US position in Syria? Nothing commendable! But it reveals a lot about the US’ future plans.

On the other hand, the strike has given a message to the so-called “rebels” and the Jihadi groups alike that they can continue to terrorize Syria; while the US would continue to provide them occasional air support plus the supply of weapons. While such an approach, ironically enough, is at best self-contradictory as it is opposed to the Trump administration’s avowed objective of fighting and defeating the ISIS, it also shows that by keeping Syria a target of such air strikes, the US wants to forcefully prevent Assad’s forces from reclaiming the whole of the territory they had lost to ISIS and other, foreign funded, jihadi elements and proxy groups. In other words, while the US and its allies have failed to send “Assad home”, their plan to partition Syria on the “Bosnian model” is still active, and by continuing to target Syria through such strikes, their intention is to weaken its ability to reclaim the lost territory, about 30 per cent of which is still under the US’ direct and indirect control.

While much of the US controlled territory is in the northeast—region that has oil fields where about 90% of the pre-war oil production took place but isn’t currently producing enough oil to even manage a local government, it is not the northeast that the US and its allies are really interested in; it is the Golan Heights, which Israel had illegally occupied in 1981, and is now aiming to take the rest of it as well. There are at least two significant reasons for Israel and the US to take this region. First, they intend to use this region as a buffer against Hezbollah and Iran. Secondly, it is the newly discovered oil resources of the Golan Heights that now greatly interest the US-Israel nexus, and that has consistently been targeted by Israeli forces in last few months or so. Partitioning of Syria would, therefore, enable Israel to annex the Golan Heights.

Will the plan work this time?

But would this portioning be possible for the US and its allies, or will this plan meet the same fate as the mission to send Assad home? The US air strike on Syria, which received military support from the UK and France and a diplomatic accolade from Israel, has also revealed that larger regional and extra-regional configurations are taking place not just on the Western front, but also Eastern, most important of which is between Russia and China, on the Syrian question.

This is pretty evident from the way the Chinese government run, Global Times, painted the whole scenario and castigated the US for its drastic actions. A GT editorial described the strike and the pretext that the US invented as yet another evidence of the US justifying interventions on “deceptive grounds”, and thus showing “contempt for Russia’s military capabilities and political dignity.”

While the fact of China’s multiple interests in Syria can hardly be disregarded, China’s approach to the current scenario reflects how close it is to the Russian perspective and that a formal strategic alliance between Russia and China on Syria cannot be simply ruled out. This is particularly so because, as GT stated in its editorial, the US and its allies are trying to showcase the ‘might of the West’ over the rest of the world. “Perhaps even Trump and his team have no clue what they want to do in Syria. They may want to showcase the might of the US and the West, send a warning to their potential opponents and boost the unity of the West”, the editorial said.

This is evident here that the US policy of strikes and the objective of portioning Syria into spheres of influence is self-defeatingly ending up in closing the ranks between Russia and China, both of which have direct stakes in Syria and will make a lot more difficult for the US and its allies to achieve their objectives.

China, as also Russia, Turkey and Iran, is correctly sensing that the ‘missile policy’ of the US plus Israel’s aggression are only going to turn Syria into a much bigger conflagration, one that will require a befitting response that will ward off the Western powers from plotting a wider regional instability from the Middle East to Central and East Asia.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.