For a brief while, last Saturday’s missile strikes on Syria were a faint echo of the start of the Anglo-US blitz in Iraq (23 March 2003). Fifteen years after, the bombardment from the skies in response to Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack on the rebels in Douma appears to have been limited and short-lived.
The striking feature of the latest offensive must be that the latter-day Concert of the US and Europe has been decisive in terms of action launched. The West has for once shed its prevarication with its unusually robust response to what must rank as a mortal violation of international law.
It is open to question, however, whether the Western blitz in Syria will have an enduring impact on the course of the civil war, which festers even seven years after the Arab Spring. Whereas there have been changes of guard ~ for the better or the worse ~ elsewhere in the tormented region, Assad soldiers on.
There is little doubt that it has been a small-scale offensive, and this might well bolster Assad’s confidence to step up the war against the rebels. The repression of the rebels has claimed 400,000 lives since 2011.
It is fairly obvious too that the objective of the concerted strike was not to dislodge the repressive regime in Damascus, if the raison d’etre advanced by Donald Trump and Theresa May is any indication ~ “The idea is to deter future chemical weapons-related atrocities”.
For all that, it has been a mild punishment by any reckoning, indeed more “sound and fury signifying (little or) nothing”. The claim by Britain’s Defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, that the strikes would have “enormous effect in significantly reducing” the use of chemical weapons is merely a claim.
There have been several chemical attacks in Syria since the first in 2013; a similar attack with Sarin gas occurred in Khan Sheikhun last year. Trump responded with air strikes.
The regime was not deterred then, and it may not be now. Small wonder that Assad has been able to get away with the persistent violations of civil rights and international law on warfare… with impunity and in total defiance of the comity of nations.
The Western powers may have carried out the bombing, but they do lack a coherent strategy for toppling Assad. The allied action is not a definitive blow against the Syrian President.
Which explains the disappointment at the level of the country’s opposition, the political hawks in Europe and the US, and Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Yet there is collective relief that the Syrian crisis is not escalating to a conflict between the US and Russia, which is said to have a hand in the outrages from Salisbury to Douma.