As Firecrackers, fireworks lit Sri Lanka up from its surface and the sky, United States joined by the United Kingdom and France unleashed a barrage of missiles targeting three chemical weapons research and storage across Syria. President Trump after a series of intense Tweets, ordered the strikes, second on Syria since he took office, the earlier missile attack was in 2017.
Multitude of narratives have emerged on the causes and fallout of the attacks, Trump is facing domestic heat by authorizing the strikes and international legal pundits are calling the attacks as a brazen violation of international law. Democrats are accusing Trump of violating the constitution and appropriating the war making power around the presidency.
Reaction to the Missile Attack
Trump faces major criticism from his core voter bank, the conservative Americans, public intellectuals, media personalities and activists, who drove his presidential campaign, fought bitter battles with liberal political machinery. Trump’s key political slogan was ‘America first’ promising less involvement in global conflicts, pulling out US troops mainly from conflict zones and bringing back jobs to the United States.
Conservative analyst and anchor Alex Jones, accused Trump of attacking Syria based on a false premise of a chemical attack. Thus from the liberals to conservatives along Americas political spectrum, Trump seems to be facing stiff resistance and condemnation for the recent attacks on Syria. He also is criticized by another section of Republicans who have been calling for military action in Syria, that limited strikes cannot demonstrate American strength thus highlighting the need for major military involvement in Syria.
The latest missile strike from a strategic perspective has little or no significance for the United States if its objective was to remove Assad from power. Assad has seen the worse any political leader could witness in the last seven years.
A surgical missile strike carefully avoiding hitting any Russian military assets that has no real bearing on threatening Assad’s current political position has no real strategic value. The attack was in reaction to the reports of a low level chemical weapons usage in the town of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta to dislodge the last Syrian oppositional forces controlling the township.
The attacks on April 7 killed nearly 75 civilians. A week later on April 14, a coalition of American, British and French warplanes, warships and submarines unleashed a barrage missiles targeting Syria. Assad yet succeeded in gaining a tactical victory as the rebels fled Douma and the Syrian military took control of the last rebel controlled region in the province.
Politics and Strategy
For President Trump it traps him in a strategic quagmire, few weeks ago when he announced the gradual pull back of American troops from conflict zones, there are two thousand US troops operating in Syria. Trump is not totally at fault in Syria he inherited a flawed Syrian strategy from the Obama administration.
The Obama administration fearing conflict with Iran created an alternative Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) which were trained and financed through covert CIA operations. The FSA has disintegrated into many factions with some crossing over to ISIL affiliates and other extremist entities.
Trump administration’s complacency in Syria and its capitulation to regional power struggles lost its key ally in Syria the Kurds who spearheaded anti ISIL operations in Syria under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDJ).
Military Industrial Complex
Real winner in this latest attack on Syria is the Military Industrial complex, both in United States and in Europe. The total number of missiles fired at Syria were 105, the American cost of the missiles were nearly US$ 225, the Storm Shadow missiles fired by the British costs a whopping 1.5 million Sterling pounds apiece.
Lockheed Martin, the giant global security and aerospace company would have been very happy on their latest version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Attack Munitions (JASSM). A new million dollar-a-piece missile that can be launched by an air platform could penetrate air defences of the adversaries. Nineteen of these new missiles were fired alongside conventional tomahawk cruise missile.
The missiles were fired from airborne platforms and sea borne ships and submarines based in Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The three directional attack was to spoof and deter Assad’s Russian installed Air defences. Thus from the perspective of American and European defence manufacturers it was good news, that most of the missiles struck their targets whereas the Russian missile defence system did not deliver.
According to the Lockheed Martin Company website the new JASSM is a long-range, conventional, air-to-ground, precision stand-off missiles for the U.S. and allied forces. Designed to destroy high-value, well-defended, fixed and relocatable targets, JASSM’s significant standoff range keeps aircrews well out of danger from hostile air defense systems.
The missiles may threaten Assad but it will solidify his ability to still be in charge in Syria as it would take more than an air campaign or surgical strikes to engineer a political decapitation. The Americans have been flying air missions over Syria especially against ISIL targets since 2014, which also has resulted in deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians and destroying cities such as Al-Raqqa and Deir Az Zor.
"April 7 attacks killed nearly 75 civilians and on April14, US, British and French warplanes, warships and submarines unleashed a barrage of missiles targeting Syria"
Thus Americans have no support or the faith of Syrian public, even when it is attacking Assad since it also had contributed to vast number civilian deaths. Thus America bluntly to put is engaging in Syria with no real strategy.
Conspiracy theories are rampant about the recent chemical attacks, many analysts claim that it was staged by American and French covert operatives for Trump to attack Syria. They question why the facility was attacked on the same day that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived Damascus, to investigate the chlorine attack in Douma.
While there is no plausible answer to why the United States opted for the recent missile strike, taking a moral high ground when actually its humanitarian operations are winding down, when it is taking less refugees from Syria.
There has been only 11 Syrian refugees accepted last year to the United States, thus what the number of critics bring out is that 15 missiles which were a million dollars apiece were fired into Syria for one refugee that was accepted.
The US attacks are deepening its adversarial relationship with Russia and at the same time since it is using stand-off weapons and prefer to be distant from the actual conflict zone, it is helping the soft partition of Syria among Turkey, Iran and Russia and deepening the potential for further conflict and instability in the region.
Sri Lanka may not have a direct lesson to be learnt from the recent strikes, anyone interested in studying and learning about strategy, the American attack is a classic case of a strategic blunder coming from a great power that actually demonstrates its weakness rather than strength. Strategy can never be contingent on narrow military strikes especially using a single platform if it cannot be backed by a political objective.
The Writer is Director, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)