US Foreign policy under US president Donald Trump has once more signaled to the world that the present US administration is incapable to define a coherent foreign policy agenda. The recent attack against the Syrian military airbase Khan Sheirat was ordered by President Donald Trump on April 6th – giving the presidential go ahead for the firing of 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles from a US Marine base in the Eastern Mediterranean that hit the Syrian airbase in Al Sheirat. The US president declared this as a “retaliatory strike” in response to the chemical attack that supposedly had been launched by Assad’s forces in Idlib (April 4th), killing 80 civilians. Trumps declaration was echoed by American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley who blamed Russia to carry responsibility for the chemical attack, having been unable to control Assad’s chemical weapons. Similar statements were made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In Europe the most fervent supporter for Trump’s action is British Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, who has cancelled his planned trip to Moscow , arguing that he would rather prepare the G7- Summit with his partners and talk to Foreign State Secretary Rex Tillerson, what to tell Moscow during his upcoming visit to Moscow. Like during the Iraq war when Britain’s Tony Blair went out of his way to call for a military intervention against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, so this time Great Britain wants to make maximum profit out of its “special relationship” with the US. From other heads of state such as from French President Francois Holland who in two weeks is facing presidential elections, as well as by German Chancellor Angela Merkel statements were made expressing “outrage” about Assad’s chemical attack (for which no proof has been given yet), expressing “understanding” for the US military action.
One should not be astonished that France and Great Britain – the signers of the Sykes Picot treaty 1916, which at that time completely redrew the map of the Mideast- have always adamantly stood at the side of the US government in order to demand “regime change” in Syria. In reality, contrary to the “narrative” which is circulating here, the conflict in Syria has never been a conflict about defending “Western values against Assad”. It’s fundamentally a geopolitical conflict – a fight for power and influence and part of that Great Game is the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and indirectly Israel. The relentless campaign for “regime change” in Syria is following the same logic of the Iraq war, which has plunged the region into chaos, followed by the regime change in Libya. All these conflicts have led to a de facto strengthening of the IS and the dirty proxy war in Syria right now more to with oil interests and geopolitical zones of influence.
Leading commentaries in the European press (for example the German press) qualify the recent attack as a “limited” punitive act, but also as a “turning point “ in the Syrian war, which could provoke a dangerous escalation and bring US / Russian relations to a halt. Russia from its side has promptly reacted stating that the US military strike constitutes “a clear break of international law (Lavrov), while the Russian defense ministry (according to Tass News agency) has officially announced that as of April 8th the hotline communication operation with the Pentagon, which was based on a memo of understanding aimed at observing and preventing incidents and secure the flight safety in the course of an operation in the Syrian Arab Republic, will be cancelled.
Skeptical voices in Germany
In a ZDF (second national TV channel in Germany) special feature about the escalation in Syria, on April 7th two German Mideast experts were interviewed. Among them Michael Lüders, who has written in 2016/2017 two well- informed books, the last one entitled “Those who harvest the storm- How the West had plunged Syria into chaos” (2017 Verlag C.H. Beck), In this book he illustrates that the Western “narrative” calling for a “regime change” in Syria and the fight for “Western Values”, as well as the portraying of the so called “Free Syrian Army” are based on false informations that are spread by the western press. He lengthily reports about various CIA instigated coups and putsch attempts against Syria since 1949 and documents the regime changes which were manufactured in Iran and Egypt by the same networks. While he leaves no doubt about the “brutal” nature of the “Assad clan”, but underlines that this does not justify a “regime change” and that the European support for US policy is often simply hypocrite. In the ZDF interview Lüders emphasized that the information available right now is “not sufficient” to clarify what has really happened: “A suspicion is not yet a proof.” He emphasized that militarily the Syrian troops are advancing. So why should Assad use chemical poisonous gas in a situation which is not comparable to 2013, when he stood with his back against the wall? He also underlined that all sides are “lying” in this war and that one should not adapt to the view of those who think that the situation can only be solved by “military” means.
In his recent book Lüders had investigated the poisonous chemical gas attack 2013 in Ghouta ( Syria), which at that time was qualified by President Obama as the “red line.” The US was ready to militarily intervene and refrained from it, after an agreement had been reached with Moscow that Russia and the UN would guarantee the elimination of the chemical weapons in Syria. Lüders referred to a study which was compiled by the investigative American journalist Seymour Hersh, a study which got suppressed by the US press and could only be published in the “London Review of Books”, April 2014. The title of the article was “The red line and the Rat line.”According to Hersh the US Secret Services knew since spring 2013 that several Syrian rebel groups produced chemical weapons. According to a briefing by the DIA on the 20th of June 2013, Hersh reported, that the Al Nusra -Front had an own department for the production of Sarin. With its many supporters in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the Al Nusra Front had enough supporters which could deliver the necessary chemical material for the production of Sarin.
Another interesting view was expressed by German Mideast expert Markus Kaim from “Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik” (German Institute for International and Security Affairs, which is one of the most influential German think tanks on foreign and security policy in Germany and is advising the German parliament and government). When being asked why Trump has reacted this way, he qualified the recent military attack as an attempt by Trump to divert attention away from the fact that in the recent weeks many projects at the domestic front have failed (immigration law, his health policy etc.) Trump domestically feels under pressure and wants to prove that he is a “man of action.” On the other side, he noted that Trump’s foreign policy lacks a clear line. During the election campaign Trump fully supported Obamas policy dating back to August 2013, when Obama refrained from attacking militarily Syria. He then pleaded for establishing “safety zones in Syria” and now again he changed his line by ordering a military attack. Trump’s foreign policy is going “back and forth” not being based on a strategically well reflected policy. Kaim pointed out that Russia had been pre-warned 3 hours before the attack, that the damage was relatively small and that he thinks that both sides have an interest to solve the conflict politically.
It remains to be seen whether with this “game changer” -Trumps military attack-, a new initiative will come to the fore, when US state secretary Rex Tillerson visits this week Moscow or whether the world will sink deeper into the Mideast quagmire.