NEO – What Comes After the US Missile Strike in Syria?


by  Salman Rafi Sheikh… with  New Eastern Outlook, Moscow

Syrian Special Forces are capturing jihadi leaders, while air strikes and artillery destroys troop and equipment

[ Editor’s Note: Mr. Sheikh has an excellent review of the Trump post-missile strike on Syria in terms of what it revealed about future US policy, or maybe I should say, the lack of one. His main point is that, without “boots on the ground”, the US has little power to affect the outcome. I disagree.

It is not just a matter of what the US does or does not do, since we have Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States up to their eyeballs in “boots on the ground”.

US TOW missiles have been flowing into Syria via Turkey on the northern front, Jordan on the south, and via the Saudis in the Deir Ezzor area; and they have done a lot of damage to the SAA and allies.

The so-called ceasefire is one in name only. The Saudi rump group, the High Negotiating committee participated only to jam up the wheels, pushing for its precondition that Assad could not be part of any transitional government, which the Trump administration even supported them on.

With Damascus winning the war in terms of liberating more and more territory, not only towns and people, but also more oil and gas fields, how could anyone expect Assad to “step aside” without an election deciding that?

So for my money, the US coalition is still focused on Balkanizing Syria. The Turks look like they are in northern Syria to stay; and what could make the US and Kurdish forces leave, after they have taken Raqqa? The Saudis will pour money and weapons into Deir Ezzor to keep that flank under their control. This is a long way from being over, if it ever is Jim W. Dean ]

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The SAA continues to roll back the Turkish-supported jihadis in Hama Province

– First published  …  April 26,  2017

After experiencing a lot of hype after the missile strike, we have reached a point where the US seems to have nothing to offer to the people of Syria except support for the powers that have played a central role in fomenting the crisis in the first place.

While the US president’s response to the so-called chemical attack did boost his domestic ratings and introduced a sense of conflict with Russia, he is yet to offer a practical strategy to wipe out real terrorist groups operating in Syria.

By now, we all know that Trump’s one strike, although initially over-praised as the beginning of a new era of US military engagement in the Middle East, was a lonely act and that such lonely acts achieve nothing but only escalate tension and allow the ruling elites to maintain a semblance of seriousness and firm resolve to fight the “evil” and restore the “good.” In geo-political terms, however, his resolve implies an absence of both a clear-cut strategy and refined political objectives.

No strategy!

Former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Even in the words of former defense secretary William Cohen, “One strike doesn’t make a strategy”, and that the “US policy on Syria remains unclear”, arguing further that the US “strike does leave one with the impression that foreign policy in the Trump administration is not being made by carefully evaluating a situation, assessing various options, weighing costs and benefits, and choosing a path. Instead, it is a collection of reflexes responding instinctively to the crisis at hand”.

A continued absence of strategy indicates that the US, even after launching 59 missiles in Syria, has failed to carve out some space for its own geo-political manoeuvers. Not only does Russia remain in the driving seat, but the US remains severely restricted by the options it can resort to.

Such a situation owes its existence not simply to Russian presence, although it certainly is an important factor, but mainly to the self-contradictory objectives the US is following in Syria i.e., the imperative of defeating ISIS and removal of Assad. Could it get any worse for establishment of peace?

Top US officials have so far failed to reconcile this contradiction, and it is this very absence of coherence that has eroded whatever impact the strike could possibly have left. While Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that Assad’s ouster is now a priority, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continues to insist that defeating the ISIS still tops America’s agenda.

This contradiction is being compounded by the fact that the Trump administration has so far been unable to break out of the Obama administration’s long aversion to another large scale military engagement in the Middle East. This is also evident from the way the US military has started to prefer using big-bombs instead of relying on boots on the ground in Afghanistan (read: the US drops MOAB in Afghanistan). The Syria missile strike is itself a clear indication of this very fact.

No ‘proxy boots’ on the ground too?

The Khan Shaykoun alleged gassing still has not had an independent collection of evidence

Resort to missile strike is also indicative of yet another fact that the US no longer has an advantage in Syria in terms of ‘proxy groups’ it has spent years in training and funding. Today the so-called “Syrian opposition” is divisive and has already lost a lot of territory to the Syrian army in the wake of the latter’s deep pushes inside the “rebel held” territory.

Therefore, the widely held belief in the West that the Trump administration might be able to bring Russia to the bargaining table is a mistaken one; for, the US doesn’t seem to have any bargaining chip vis-à-vis Russia in Syria. For one thing, the US does not have assets on the ground, a drawback that continues to impede, for instance, its long-in-the-making plan to liberate Raqqa.

While the Syrian government has stated its willingness to co-operate even with the West as far as the question of liberation of Raqqa is concerned, this is by far not the biggest issue the US is facing with regard to the up-coming operation.

Consider this: while co-operation with Assad on Raqqa seems out of the question for the US and its Arab allies, the US’ post liberation programme has serious flaws that can prevent its plan from going smoothly. For instance, while the US is looking for placing “rebel forces” in control of Raqqa after the operation, a big part of these forces consists of Kurds, who are far from on good terms with Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbour.

Turkey will probably not be happy to see a Kurdish-majority group gain governing power over a region near its border, as the Turkish government has long considered Syrian Kurdish militias, including those backed by the US, to be terrorist groups. Turkey has repeatedly bombed US backed Syrian Kurds for this very reason.

Will, therefore, the US’ “Raqqa liberation” plan end up as smoke in the air? The answer to that again depends upon how well and how soon the US can remove this contradiction—something unlikely to happen, given that Turkey’s Erdogan is highly unlikely to reduce tension with Kurds and accommodate them politically within Turkey’s new political system that is least accommodative for ethnic minorities.

What’s Russia going to do?

As said earlier, the US does not have a bargaining chip vis-à-vis Russia in Syria. Secondly, it is not Russia alone that is involved in Syria. Russia shares the burden with Iran, and it is doubtful that it would be willing to part ways with Iran in Syria. And there is equally no chance of Russia softening its stance on Syria, not after the US strike. In fact, Russia is likely to increase the extent of military and diplomatic support it has so far been providing to Syria.

The reason for this is simple: Russia’s Vladimir Putin has clearly stated that Russia has information that more ‘fake chemical attacks’ are being planned by the rebel groups as a means to escalate the war and drag the US further into the conflict.

Who benefits from this escalation is not difficult to understand. It is the same powers and the same actors who felt overjoyed when the news of US missile strike reached their desk. More than a coincidence, it is the “Sunni Arab” states who have been yearning for greater US involvement and the drama of chemical attacks has turned out to be a perfect excuse for them.

Russia, sensing this situation, is unlikely to back out; for, the drama of “chemical attacks” poses a direct question mark on its own credibility as a guarantor of the 2013 chemical weapons deal according to which all of Syria’s chemical weapons were destroyed under the supervision the UNO.

Therefore, behind a sinister campaign being run in the West about Russia being responsible for the attack is the policy of defaming Russia globally and an attempt at removing it from the driving seat in Syria, a situation that has seen a gradual reconquista by the Syrian regime, with Russian and Iranian support, of the parts of Syria held by different “opposition groups.”

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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  1. The first thing Putin thought about its to have a B plan. He knows Israel designs working through US, Turkey and Saudis, knowing from the beggining that supply line into Syria its under the menace of Turkey AF and USAF, any calculation to withstand a military efort in Syria must be combined with diplomatic negotiations otherwise a major conflict will ensue. Other than Assad, there is Hemeimat and Tartus a Russian presence in the Mediterranean. Without those bases, the navigation in that sea passes into NATO total control as well as the Bosphorous and therefore,the Black Sea, .practically meaning that
    SBMS and cruise missiles could be launched at closer range into Southern Russia and cover the Rumanian Early warning bases with unmolested US support. Assad may go as Israel solely and apparently wants but, in any time could be replaced by a succeeding military council with Russian support and then, NATO and Israel would be left without excuses to keep Syrian war going on.

  2. Well, the telling thing is: Russia allowed the US to strike Syria with Tomahawks cruise missiles. Russia has allowed repeated air strikes into Syria by Israel. Russia has allowed repeated similar US air strikes and, as well, the building up of US ground forces in critical areas of Syria- a prelude to the establishment of “safe zones. Russia has allowed Turkey carte blanche to send in as many ISIS as Turkey can. All this without retaliation. Russia has so narrowly defined its ‘rules of engagement’ in Syria that even if they were to wipe out ISIS to the last man, they would still lose Syria. Even the Israelis recognize: Syria doesn’t exist anymore! Russia never had a good strategy for preserving Syria. Even now, in the aftermath of the cruise missile assault at Al Shayrat airfield, Russia is scaling back its air capability in Syria. Pathetic.

    • What you describe are Russia’s activities at a tactical level in Syria which are probably as far as he dare go without losing support at home, blowing his budget or perhaps more importantly poking the US eagle with a sharp stick.

      Looked at strategically it makes sense. Russia over the past 10 years or so has steadily increased its defensive capabilities, both military and economic, virtually below the radar. This was almost certainly intentional as they didn’t want to alert the West until they had got to the point that they will probably be around the end of this year. That is, able to properly defend and support themselves. The last thing they want to do is risk that by tilting at a windmill in Syria. I suspect that they will be quite content with a ‘new Syria’ solely to the west of the Euphrates.

    • There is no such calculus for the fantasy “Syria west of the Euphrates”. Once the “safe zones” are established Syria is dead and Assad, maybe within weeks, is finished. What’s left of the Syrian army will be hemmed in by Israel and US backed forces on all sides, completely vulnerable and easily eliminated. With Assad gone, everything collapses. Russia loses its raison d’etre and leaves. Like I said Russia never had an effective strategy for Syria. All they have accomplished with their “rules of engagement” is to delay the inevitable–a US/Israel victory in Syria. Strategically, a waste for Russia of time and resources.

  3. US troops may well be sent to Syria soon, although the US public probably won’t be informed when it happens. Here’s an interesting and brief article that explains why this has very recently become much more likely. The title reflects the content:

    It seems the Pentagon has been unleashed. Generals will now decide troop levels, and which armaments to use, where and when. Once upon a time, we had a document that made it clear the war making powers of the US Federal government were to be exercised by elected leaders. That document is now considered a “quaint” relic from a past that is being rewritten daily.

    The conflict in Syria will not end until Israel gets what Israel wants: a balkanized Syria, divvied up between Israel, Turkey and Jordan, with some scrub desert set asides for the few survivors of a coming ethnic cleansing of any remaining Palestinian enclaves within the “Jewish State”. Then it’s on to Iran…

  4. The only redeeming quality of U.S propaganda is that only ignorant, dumbed down Americans believe it, nobody else does. Clearly the people of Europe don’t nor do the people in the middle eastern nations America and israel are trying to destroy believe any of Washington’s lies. Only ignorant brainwashed Americans.
    There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon though, actually more than a glimmer; it is the coming collapse of America’s economy and financial state that will eventually cause it to retreat from throughout the world, closing its bases and having to regress to a state of impoverished fiefdom from which it will take centuries to escape if it ever does. America will be forced to fall back to its own borders and having done so it will be surrounded by its former allies who will then view America as economically weak and unable to defend itself. As a matter of course, all freedom and liberty will be stripped from Americans and the nation will become a schizophrenic police state.

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