Saudi and Gulf rulers think their new hero will go on to overthrow Asad for them. They may be disappointed.
By Abdel Bari Atwan
Donald Trump’s missile strike on Syria has turned him into a valiant hero in the eyes of some in the Arab world. The social media outlets of countries that supported the bombing, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, have been heaping praise and applause on this president who had the courage to do what his spineless predecessor Barack Obama did not dare. Some referred to the latter as the black ‘slave’, matching the racism of their new idol.
This attitude is understandable. It is based on a belief that the new American president is set to overturn the balance of power in the battlefields of Syria and inevitably go on to overthrow President Bashar al-Asad and his regime, just as Gorge W. Bush did with Saddam Hussein in Iraq almost exactly 14 years ago.
But Trump’s Arab admirers could end up disappointed.The new US president may not go all the way in making their cherished dream come true. He might not even stage a repeat of Friday’s limited strike — either out of fear of the repercussions or in deference to the deep state in the US which is increasingly alarmed about the possible consequences of his recklessness.
In the meantime, much of the Arab media have for the first time been joining forces with the Israeli media in lionizing and applauding the American president, rating him higher than any of his predecessors and hailing him for not being afraid of Vladimir Putin. This meeting of minds between Arab media controlled by states that supported the missile strike and Israeli media goes hand-in-hand with preparations (and may have been designed to set the stage) for another kind of meeting: Arab-Israeli ‘normalization’ talks on political and economic issues, which have been taking place in secret and are shortly due to be made public.
The hopes of the US’ regional allies were most candidly expressed by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. While welcoming Friday’s strike, he said it was insufficient on its own and should be only the first many, and that he wouldn’t mind if one of them would target the presidential palace in Damascus. Perhaps that is what prompted Nikki Hailey, the US ambassador to the UN, to reassure him that further attacks could follow.
But judging from reactions in the US, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that there will be more attacks – much though this may disappoint those in the Arab world who are desperately awaiting them. Friday’s attacks were not part of a new American strategy, for the simple reason that there is no such thing as an American strategy. It does not exist. Some may argue that Trump’s strategy is to have no strategy, particularly in Syria. From what we have seen so far, Trump hates everything Obama likes, likes whatever he hates, undoes whatever he did, and does whatever he wouldn’t. That strategy is certainly one of a kind.
The Russian leadership has largely kept its own counsel and avoided saying much about its response or exposing its strategic hand. This silence probably worries the American side more than bombastic threats would. But the joint Russian-Iranian statement issued on Sunday was unambiguous. It declared that the US missile strike had ‘crossed red lines’, adding that ‘from now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is’. It affirmed that Russia and Iran would ‘continue our fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army”, and ‘will not allow the US to dominate the world and impose a unipolar system by means of direct military aggression against Syria, violation of international law, and working outside the framework of the United Nations.’ This is a strategic stand that goes far beyond the missile strike and has regional and possibly global ramifications. It affirms that the US attacks has brought Russia and Iran closer together and driven Moscow and Washington further apart: a totally counter-productive outcome.
Syrian warplanes continued to bomb Idlib province at the weekend including the vicinity of Khan Sheikhoun village — scene of the chemical massacre that was cited to justify the American missile strike. Russian aircraft have also been in action, with no objections from the US. It is as though Trump is saying it’s OK for hostilities to resume using missiles and conventional weapons, even if many children are among the victims, but for us Americas it is the use of chemical weapons that’s not allowed.
The Russian defence ministry meanwhile posed an interesting question: Given that the Shueirat airbase – from where the US says the chemical attacks were carried out – was hit by 59 cruise missiles, specifically targeting aircraft and storage sites, how come there was no trace of chemical or poison gas seepage from these planes and facilities after they were destroyed? How come the dozens of journalists and experts who visited the area over the next two days were unaffected?
We have no answer to that question because it is addressed to the Americans and Europeans who insisted that the regime’s warplanes were responsible for the chemical massacre. It is unlikely they will respond to this or other questions. Either they have no answers or, if they do, they will most certainly not reveal them to us or anyone else.
I recall when former US secretary of state Colin Powell took the stage at the UN Security Council brandishing images of mobile Iraqi chemical and biological warfare facilities, waving them to the whole world to justify the impending invasion of Iraq. At the time, I was on the panel of a live discussion on CNN, invited to give an Arab reaction to Powell’s presentation. I said – on the basis of verified information – that he was lying and that all Iraq’s WMD capabilities had been destroyed by US inspectors, and warned against the upcoming war on Iraq.
Powell later had the courage and integrity to appear on the same channel and others to apologize remorsefully for this iniquity, saying US intelligence had provided him with these pictures supported by misleading information (much as subsequently Obama apologized for the bombing of Libya, deeming it his biggest mistakein office). It turned out that the provider of this misleading information was an Iraqi named Rafed al-Janabi who had been recruited by the CIA. Like all such agents, after serving his purpose he was left out in the cold. The last I heard of him, we was working at a Burger King in Germany.
Which raises the question: Will Trump apologize in due course when he finds out who it really was who used chemical weapons in Khan Sheykhoun? And will there be apologies from at least some of these who are currently hailing his courage and applauding him? Once again, no replies or apologies can be expected from anyone.
truh about the sourve , had given notice that he was considering his retaliatory options, including military action, while his UN ambassador Nikki Hailey declared that when the Security Council was incapable of taking a decision her country would act unilaterally. The US administration issued its verdict and accused the Syrian government of committing the chemical massacre from the moment it was reported, without waiting for a credible, impartial and transparent international investigation. This affirms that plans for the aggression were in place before the massacre took place, and it was merely used as cover.
And, yes, it can only be described as aggression. It is reminiscent of past acts of US aggression against Iraq, Libya and Sudan, launched without UN authorization on pretexts that later proved to be fabricated and false. Like them, its aim was to flaunt America’s greatness and depict its president as a tough-guy by attacking a weak and war-torn country which cannot defend itself or retaliate.
We will not take lectures about protecting civilians and upholding human rights from a county like the United States which has attacked against at least four Arab countries in recent years and turned them into failed and dismembered states and arenas for bloodshed and terrorism. This is a country that caused the deaths of more than one million Iraqis and tens of thousands of Libyans, and contributed to the killing of 300,000 Syrians through its arming, funding and training of allies, clients and proxies. It is less qualified than anyone to talk about humanitarianism.
The chemical massacre in Khan Sheykhoun was an atrocity and its perpetrators are war criminals, whoever they are. But we need some solid facts about it. The Syrian government denies culpability, and many observers have pointed out that it would have been irrational for it to launch such an attack. Attempts have been made in the past to implicate it in chemical attacks in order to justify Western military intervention. A whole host of armed groups and their foreign backers have an interest in provoking such intervention, and in wrecking cease-fire arrangements and prospects of a political solution and perpetuating bloody anarchy. The US has a long record of fabricating charges as a pretext for military action such as in Iraq and Libya. In light of all this, we are entitled to demand firm evidence obtained by an impartial international investigation into the incident.
This missile strike could snowball into a regional or even global war that deluges the Arab world. Russia has denounced it in the strongest terms and at the highest level. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described it as a pre-meditated act of aggression that serves to strengthen the armed terrorist groups in Syria and likened it to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is liable to reshuffle all the cards in Syria and take the crisis back to square one, scuppering all peace efforts and initiatives and make an escalation of warfare, bloodshed and violence more likely.
Moscow has also suspended its understanding with the US on ensuring the safety of each other’s air-force operations over Syria. This may mean it plans to supply Damascus with advanced air defence missiles capable of shooting down intruding US or Israeli aircraft.
This American act of aggression will not bring down or seriously weaken the Syrian regime. But it could well prove to be the harbinger of more wars in the region. It is no coincidence that the regional countries that were the first to applaud it – Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel – are themselves engaged in wars of aggression against neighbours.
The Arab world now stands on the edge of a volcano, awaiting any tremor to trigger an eruption that could inundate the region’s inhabitants and render it a wasteland for generations.
Now is not the moment to elaborate on the domestic considerations behind Trump’s decision or the calculations of his regional allies. The urgent priority is to take a stand against this aggression.