Escalation is the order of the day in Syria


by Ralph Keller

On 7 April, US president Donald Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles to be fired on Al Shyrat Airfield outside Homs in Syria [1].

This was a response to the Sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Shaykhun three days earlier, for which the Syrian government is clearly responsible. Its ally, Russia, did nothing to stop the gas attack, which claimed the lives of men, women and children. Donald Trump justified the missile strike by saying that “[i]t is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons” [2]. To many, the strike comes as a surprise and is even seen as a U-turn on Donald Trump’s non-interventionist stance during his election campaign. Be it as it may, we have seen a clear measure of escalation in terms of the US’ involvement in the Syrian civil war so far.

The killing since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 has claimed 470,000 lives, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research. In addition, the world has seen one of the largest refugee crises since World War II, with 5 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries and Europe, according to UNHCR. Attacking and forcing out his people, e.g. by bombing towns under opposition control [3], is the only way for the Assad regime to cling to power—with the aid of Russia and Iran. The US has also played a major role, as its failed Middle East policies have helped to create the Islamic State.

So are the new measures of escalation motivated by national security concerns, as Donald Trump claims? Was the Tomahawk strike intended as a ‘humanitarian intervention’ triggered by world outrage, which the pictures of dying children rightly sparked? Are the measures an attempt to enforce international law, which the Sarin gas attack violated, according to Margareth Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA? Or has the US finally seen enough of the Assad regime, which it previously supported, clinging to power since 1970?

I believe none of the above is the case. Instead, the US and Russia have shifted their global interests in Syria [4]. For one, if the US gets more control in Syria, it gets closer to the Black and Caspian Seas Oil reserves, which Russia seeks to prevent at all cost. Then, of course, there is the usual struggle for power and influence, with both NATO and Russia moving troops around in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The US missile strike turned out as nothing more than a media show [5] in the grand scheme of things, especially because Syria has many more airfields and planes! In light of this, and in light of Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees coming to the US, including babies, his tears for the children must be seen for what they are: a fraud, plain and simple.

Instead, there is cause for much greater concern as the escalation by the powers involved in the Syrian civil war might kick-start Word War III—if the conflict is not contained to the Middle East [6]. Indeed, by sending a fleet to North Korea, the US has also put it and China on guard for war, with Iran also standing by. Furthermore, NATO keeps moving troops to Eastern Europe ‘to face off with Russia’ [7]. This is clearly a dangerous and volatile situation because Russia is also moving troops around to confront NATO—and the US, all the way to the Arctic Circle.

The killing is inhumane, irrespective of which power does it. Indeed, a true humanitarian act would be de-escalation, and in particular a cease-fire with immediate effect. Assad should, of course, be held accountable for his crimes. But this must be left to the Syrian people without the continued meddling of the world’s major powers pursuing their interests. Only de-escalation will end some of the human suffering.









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