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Trump's missiles will not fix Syria

The US and its partners are bombing Syria. They have been since 2014. And they are not the only ones.US and Ru...

Posted: Apr 13, 2018 5:05 AM
Updated: Apr 13, 2018 5:05 AM

The US and its partners are bombing Syria. They have been since 2014. And they are not the only ones.

US and Russian planes fly over either side of the Euphrates. Turkish planes are striking in the north. Since September, Israeli airstrikes inside Syria have been on the increase.

On the ground, Iranian forces are ever more present and a magnet for further potential Israeli attacks.

This is the deadly, toxic mix into which more missiles may be lobbed. Syria is a country where two superpowers are already militarily involved, along with a host of regional rivals. Trust between parties is non-existent and escalation is a serious risk.

So the question that needs asking -- and to which as yet there has been no answer -- is this: what could further military action achieve and what would be the end goal of such action?

The regime may or may not have used chemical weapons in Ghouta. It certainly has used them in the past. According to Human Rights Watch, 85 chemical weapons attacks have been reported in Syria, with around 50 attributed to the regime.

Yet the evidence for the latest attack is not definitive -- and only an independent inquiry with full powers can provide this. If the kind of action that President Trump describes is really about chemical weapons use, then this must be the next step.

Punishing the regime is the publicly stated rationale. This happened last April, when Trump launched 59 cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria. Was this punishment, or perhaps nothing more than an inconsequential fireworks display?

The base was back up and running within 24 hours. A month later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was inside the Oval Office, listening to Trump as he handed over classified intelligence.

If the US -- along with its French and British allies -- does launch more strikes, what would be different?

It is hard to identify targets that would have a more effective outcome than the kind of airbase that Trump hit last year. Degrading the Syrian regime's military machine is an option, but it will not prevent the defeat of what is left of the regime's armed Syrian Arab opponents.

Regime change by missiles is not possible. And the West should be wary of the destruction of the state and its institutions -- given the disastrous example of what happened in Iraq.

However, even less clear -- but just as important -- than the immediate outcome of more missiles is Trump's agenda in Syria. One week, he declares he wants to withdraw US forces from Syria; next he is promising that missiles "will be coming, nice and new and 'smart'!"

One moment he embraces the Russians, the next he is goading them. His agenda has never included humanitarian concern for Syrians -- a group of people he has denied entry into the US. He has also cut aid funding to that country.

Trump has consistently outlined two key US aims in Syria, neither of which includes regime change: defeat ISIS and push out Iran.

He believes that ISIS is defeated -- a questionable assumption -- leaving him with Iran.

Iran has been central plank of Trump's otherwise-thin foreign policy since he took office. He wants to tear up the nuclear deal and has befriended both Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Both men are fierce critics of Iran.

But it isn't just the US that wants rid of Iran. It is pretty much every single other actor operating in Syria, including Israel, Turkey, the Gulf States and -- yes -- Russia.

And what has been the impact of Trump's threat inside Syria? The Syrian regime has had to turn to Russia as the sole power that can protect it from the US. Russia's influence has been boosted because simply, the Iranians cannot scare off the Americans.

Remember, it is not Russia's presence in Syria that Trump has a problem with -- it is Iran's.

As this drama unfolds, watch carefully for how it impacts Iran. You might get more of a clue as to the President's ultimate endgame in the Middle East.

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