Western hawks come to roost in Syria, but will Trump torpedo the coalition?
Grasping at a tenuous casus belli in Syria, major Western powers appear anxious for a military showdown. But many allies have declined to join the war party. Will others follow?
What is it about springtime that brings out the worst side of the West's neoconservative pro-war faction?
On March 20, 2003, a coalition made up of the US, UK, Australia, and Poland opened a military campaign against Iraq; on March 19, 2011, the US, UK, and France led a NATO charge against Libya; and now here we are, in early April, and the usual suspects are rearing their ugly heads for yet another regime change, this time in Syria.
But this time around, the warmongers are facing a dramatically changed landscape. First, despite efforts by the Western powers to portray Syrian President Bashar Assad as the latest menace on the block, so evil he would even resort to chemical weapons when military victory was in the bag, many people are expressing heated skepticism over that story.
One such critic is Peter Ford, the former UK ambassador to Syria. This week he told BBC Radio Scotland in an interview that the "correct response is obviously to get inspectors on to the alleged sites of the alleged offences" as opposed to sending off the military in a mindless "stampede to war."
Another major difference between Syria and other regime change victims, like Iraq and Libya, is that the Syrian theater is a sold-out show, with a number of serious military powers, including the US, Israel, Turkey, Iran, and Russia jockeying for position. To call such a situation dangerous would be the understatement of the century.
And now that the Western powers have convinced themselves in true Salisbury style that it is "highly likely" that Assad used chemical weapons, without the benefit of an investigation, they are now staring down the barrel of a possible military conflict, or even a global conflagration involving Russia.
It should come as no surprise that several NATO members, many of which still cling to the illusion that theirs is a non-aggressive 'defensive' bloc, are politely declining the offer to send a military contingency to Syria.
Canada, for example, America's neighbor to the north, said it would not participate in any military campaign against the Arab state.
"We are not looking to be present in Syria," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an interview with Radio-Canada this week.
To his credit, Trudeau mentioned one aspect of the Syrian debacle that is glaringly missing: diplomacy.
"We are working diplomatically and politically to try to find solutions… it's a potential conflict zone that could grow and affect other countries, but we continue to work with our partners," he said.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also declined to take part in any upcoming fireworks:
"Germany will not take part in possible military action – I want to make clear again that there are no decisions."
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his country would limit itself to providing 'logistical support' in any potential military campaign, and I would imagine from a very safe distance. Rome clearly understands a thing or two about the hazards of imperial overreach.
Meanwhile, those countries that are rabidly pursuing regime change in Syria, poorly disguised as some sort of benevolent humanitarian campaign, are facing some tough criticism.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, who reached an agreement with her cabinet "on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime," got an earful from Jeremy Corbyn who said it appeared that the British government was waiting for its marching orders from Washington.
"The Government appears to be waiting for instructions from President Donald Trump on how to proceed," Corbyn said, while demanding that May seek a vote in the House of Commons before moving on Syria.
The Conservative Party, mindful of the stunning August 2013 defeat suffered by former Prime Minister David Cameron in the House of Commons when they voted against his efforts to join Barack Obama in a military offensive against Assad, does not appear to be in a democratic mood.
Corbyn rounded off his criticism by saying the Trump administration "is giving alarmingly contradictory signals." On that point, the Labour leader seems to have been a bit more conservative than his political leanings warrant (Incidentally, on the very same day Theresa May was fishing for support from her cabinet, French President Emmanuel Macron said France "has proof" that Assad used chemical weapons. Proof from Paris, however, has not been forthcoming).
On April 11, Donald Trump, responding to Russia's warning that it would shoot down any missiles aimed at Syria, fired off a tweet that bounced around the planet like a hot potato.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and "smart!" You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
The problem with such outrageous statements is that they are painfully difficult to walk back on without tremendous loss of face, and not least of all for egomaniacs. And although the US leader retreated from that statement in his very next tweet, probably realizing he went too far, the damage was done.
"First of all the tweets from President Trump is undoubtedly the most disturbing statement ever made by any US president and calls into question the very sanity of the person issued it," as former British MP George Galloway summed it up.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis provided a much-needed show of restraint when he said that the US and its allies "don't have evidence" that the Syrian government was to blame for the chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
It is this sort of nerve-racking mixed signaling from Washington, combined with reckless bravado from Trump, which could serve to thwart any military offensive on the part of the US, UK, and France. The people along with their governments will quickly tire of the foolhardy game of 'nuclear chicken' with Russia and demand accountability and transparency before the missiles start flying. After all, "this is not a video game," as Nicholas Burns, former US ambassador to NATO, reminded.
In closing, it is worth remembering that seven years ago to the day (April 15), Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Nicolas Sarkozy penned an opinion piece on the reasons why it was necessary to wage war against Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
It is worth reading again today.
"The United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Gaddafi has destroyed – to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society," they wrote with misguided enthusiasm.
Today, Libya remains a hotbed of terrorism, disease and decay, a pathetic ghost of its former self, which was once the most socially developed nation on the African continent. Those are lessons not easily forgotten, but sadly they have been as the Western world gears up for a potential war that will have dire consequences not only for the Syrian people, but for the entire planet.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.