Military strikes on Syria: what does it mean?

The US and its ‘allies’, the UK and France have bombed multiple government targets in Syria in an early morning operation targeting alleged chemical weapons sites. Explosions hit the capital, Damascus, as well as two locations near the city of Homs, the Pentagon said. "The nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality," President Trump said in an address to the nation from the White House at about 21:00 local time (02:00 BST).

At a Pentagon briefing shortly after Mr Trump's announcement, Gen Joseph Dunford listed three targets that had been struck:

  • A scientific research facility in Damascus, allegedly connected to the production of chemical and biological weapons.
  • A chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs.
  • A chemical weapons equipment storage site and an important command post, also near Homs.

Early reports indicate that 110 cruise and air to land missiles targeted two ‘chemical weapons’ facilities and one command centre inside Syria. But some reports claim that Syrian air defences had brought down the majority of missiles. In any case, all these sites had already been evacuated. This was because Russia, which had been informed of the attack in advance by the Americans, had passed on the warning to their Syrian allies.

Syrian state television said government forces had shot down more than a dozen missiles and claimed only the research facility in Damascus had been damaged. Three civilians had been injured in Homs, it said.

An empty gesture

This is an exact repetition of what occurred 12 months ago, when the Americans launched around 50 Tomahawk missiles against an empty airfield in Syria. Whatever limited damage had been caused was rapidly repaired. The actual effects on Syria’s ongoing Civil War were precisely zero. And although this time they launched twice the number of missiles, it is evident to any thinking person that the practical effects in Syria this time will be less than zero.

Tomahawk launch Public DomainThis is a repetition of 12 months ago, when the US launched 50 Tomahawk missiles against an empty airfield in Syria / Image: public domain

There are a number of peculiar aspects to the present operation. It is alleged that the motive behind it – now they say the only motive – was the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in Douma. The Russians and Syrians have repeatedly denied that any such attack took place. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has stated categorically that the Russians have irrefutable evidence that the whole thing was a put-up job organised by the Jihadis in Douma with the collaboration of an unnamed foreign power.

From a military point of view this morning’s attack can be of no significance. It cannot have caused any serious or lasting damage to Assad’s military potential. Nor can it aid the so-called rebels to regain what they have lost. To all intents and purposes, Syria’s Civil War is now at an end. Assad is in a stronger position than ever. All talk of removing him by Western intervention now is just so much hot air, and they know it.

Bashar al AssadTo all intents and purposes, Syria’s Civil War is over. Assad is in a stronger position than ever / Image: public domain

The accusation of chemical warfare has been used repeatedly by the West to justify aggressive actions against Syria, aimed at tilting the military balance in favour of the so-called rebels (in reality Jihadi extremists linked to Al Qaeda, who were recently described by a prominent British Tory MP as “maniacs”) and topple Bashar al-Assad.

However, they are suddenly singing a different song. Theresa May is stressing that the present attack is nothing to do with regime change in Syria. They are only limited actions with limited goals – to deter the use of chemical weapons, et cetera et cetera. Behind these pathetic comments one detects a note of impotence, fear, even panic. And that note, far more than the public belligerence, boasting and breast-beating, is far nearer to the truth.

"The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons," Trump was careful to add in his speech this morning.  The intention of the present action is not to win the war or to topple Assad – aims which are entirely beyond their ability to achieve. It is an empty gesture, aimed at convincing the world that American power is still a factor of some importance. It was also dictated by Donald Trump’s need to shore up his position in the face of a sustained and determined assault by his enemies in Washington and prove his anti-Russian credentials.

Donald Trump Image Flickr Gage SkidmoreThe strike was partly dictated by Donald Trump’s need to shore up his position in Washington and prove his anti-Russian credentials / Image: Flickr, Gage Skidmore

Fear of provoking Russia

In his earlier address, President Trump had said: "We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents." But Gen Dunford confirmed the wave of strikes had ended. And US Secretary of Defence James Mattis hastened to assure journalists, saying that "right now, this is a one-time shot". Despite the Pentagon’s denials, it is quite clear that Russia was given advance notice of the targets. Gen Dunford said the US had specifically identified targets that would "mitigate" the risk of Russian casualties.

Suddenly the Western leaders are falling over themselves to assure the world (and particularly Moscow) that, having made their point, they have no wish whatsoever to continue showering missiles on Syria. Nor do they wish to provoke Russia any further. In the last few days, after the initial hysterical media campaign and belligerent statements from the White House, Trump’s tweets have been unusually moderate in their tone.

Although there has so far been no response from Russia, its ambassador to the US said the attack on its ally "will not be left without consequences". The main reason why there has been no military reaction is because none of the missiles have come anywhere near areas covered by Russian air defences. If they had, they would have been shot out of the sky. The Russians even warned that they might counter-attack, hitting the bases or ships from which the offending missiles were fired.

It is quite clear that wiser heads in Washington have prevailed and a more serious confrontation has been averted. In the last 24-hour period, submerged throughout all the present crisis, presidents Trump and Putin have been in regular phone contact, as have the Russian and American military. This fact, far more than the shrill shouting and bawling in London and Paris, reveals the real situation.

Despite his nickname ‘mad dog Mattis’, general James Mattis is quite an intelligent man who understands very well the potential consequences of precipitate military action in Syria. After the disastrous experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, neither he, nor the Pentagon, nor the American public have any appetite for being drawn into a ground war in Syria. Paradoxically, on this occasion, the American generals have shown greater sense than many of the politicians.

Will Trump seek a deal?

If we know anything about the present occupant of the White House, the recent escapade will probably be the first step in an attempt to reach an agreement with Putin – which was Trump’s intention from the beginning. Donald Trump is an isolationist. He has less than no interest in Syria and would like to do a deal (he prides himself on being an ace dealmaker) with the man in the Kremlin. Having shown his muscle and his determination to “stand up to Russia”, the stage is set for negotiations and “deal-making”.

Does this seem unlikely? It is no more unlikely than Trump’s declared intentions to negotiate face-to-face with that same ‘Little rocket man’, whose country he promised not long ago to wipe off the face of the earth. On the contrary, he will argue that now that he has saved the planet from World War Three and put Russia in its place, the time has come to negotiate peace and put an end to an expensive and useless arms race.

Boris Johnson Russia poisoning Image EU2017EE Estonian PresidencyIf Trump moves to make a 'deal' with Putin, it would embarrass the likes of Boris Johnson, who has been beating the war drums against the Kremlin / Image: EU2017EE

Such a move would be the smart thing to do from Trump’s point of view. It would certainly put his enemies in an awkward position both at home and abroad. It would also embarrass the likes of Theresa May and her Foreign Secretary Boris, the buffoons who have been baying louder than the rest of the pack about the ‘Russian menace’ and will now have to find ways and means to eat their own words. We wish them, bon appetit.

After seven years of civil war, Syria has been devastated, and millions of people have been killed, maimed or forced to leave their homes. Syria has been torn apart and may never be mended. All right-minded people desire fervently to end this bloody conflict. However, those who shout most loudly and insistently about humanitarianism and peace are the ones who are doing most to pour petrol on the flames and keep the war going. The main culprits are the American imperialists and their servile, cynical, boot-licking lackeys in London and Paris.

The “righteous power” of Britain, France, and the United States of America is the power of imperialism that at no time and nowhere has represented anything other than the cynical interests of the ruling class. The whole history of these powers is precisely one of barbarism and brutality, particularly against the peoples of the Middle East.

What concerns these ladies and gentlemen least of all is the fate of the poor people of Syria who remain silent victims of their cynical intrigues and manoeuvres. Their talk of peace and humanitarianism is only a hypocritical cover for the pursuit of their own selfish interests in the Middle East. In the words of the Roman historian Tacitus: “And when they have created a wilderness, they call it Peace.”