US President Donald Trump has got what he wanted; a chance to be commander and chief. But does anyone really believe that a military strike against President Assad, however deplorable he is, without a clear political goal will bring about anything positive? Since when has military intervention by the US made anything better?
I am not against military intervention per se. No realistic person is. But it is dangerous to assume military action will improve anything without a clear political goal and more importantly in the case of Syria, stating exactly what the political priorities are.
The early morning cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield, which President Trump’s administration believes is the location from where the chemical attack was launched, said the Pentagon “was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again”.
The implication of this statement seems to be that the US has not taken the genocidal policy of Assad over the past six years as seriously as the chemical attack on Tuesday. The message from this is clear: “slaughter Syrian people, just don’t do it with chemical weapons”.
“Thursday’s reckless and largely ineffective bombing does little but make US lawmakers feel good about themselves. At its worst, it deepens a war which the US has no idea how to end,” says the award-winning Muslim American writer Moustafa Bayoumi in the Guardian after questioning Mr Trump’s sudden fondness for the Syrian children having barred them from entry only a few weeks ago.
Now that Trump has escalated military action he needs to say what his goals are, having only a few days ago announced that the removal of Assad was no longer a US priority.
It is true that the Syrian conflict is extremely complex, but beyond all the complexities there have always been only two political scenarios: A Syria with Assad as president or Syria without Assad as president.
The US still doesn’t appear to know what it wants, in terms of a political outcome, and this constant shifting of priorities between wanting to defeat Daesh on the one hand and regime change on the other has created six years of a ‘bloody’ stalemate.
A swift end to the war, no matter which side won, would certainly have been the best outcome.
The reality is that Assad is one of the main reasons why Daesh exists in the first place: Assad’s survival has been predicated on the threat of Daesh and the swift rise of Daesh has been predicated on Assad staying in power.
Sadly for the 12 million displaced Syrians and the half million that have died, Obama and the west decided that a gang of terrorists posed a greater threat than a terrorist with an army, brutalising the Syrian people with chemical weapons.
The West made a choice to prioritise the threat of Daesh over the threat of Assad, despite the fact that Assad has been the greatest threat to the people of Syria all along. They reverted back to the tried and trusted formula of stability over human rights.
So far there is little to suggest that American political calculations have changed. What is the end goal? Are Syrians now to believe that US priorities have once again shifted and regime change will now take greater priority over defeating Daesh?
There was and still is a third way: Defeating Daesh and removing Assad did not need to be mutually exclusive. It only became so when the west started to believe in its own propaganda and inflated the threat of terrorist groups to unwarranted levels, especially given that Assad has been responsible for more acts of terrorism than all the terrorists in the region.
It was not beyond the realms of possibility to pursue a two-track political goal; defeat Daesh AND remove Assad without compromise AND without putting one before the other. The two, Daesh and Assad, are symbiotically connected.
It’s hard to see how anything else could have emboldened Assad’s resolve more than knowing that all he had to do was hang on until Daesh became a menacing threat and then wait for the west to change its political priorities so that his removal became a distant second to defeating Daesh.
The US is now at war in Syria with both sides at the same time. It is attacking Daesh with American planes as well as Assad’s own air force. This is not a coherent strategy by any stretch of the imagination. This may be a good start by Trump but he will come out looking less shrewd if he, like his predecessor, has no political solution to offer the people of Syria.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.