In the wake of reports that Syrian national forces were behind another alleged chemical attack in the city of Douma, strong-worded Tweets from President Trump made it abundantly clear that a proposed exit from Syria – an exit that Trump himself had proposed – is not in the cards. And, the possibility – if not likelihood – of unforeseen levels of aggression toward Syria and its allies is greater than ever.
The quarreling between Bashar al-Assad, his allies Vladimir Putin and the Iranian state, and an increasing amount of players including Syrian rebels, Kurdish forces, ISIS, the United States and Turkey has become a ceaseless conflict that won’t seem to die. ISIS was reportedly defeated in Raqqa, only for reports to emerge that they were on the rebound. After the Raqqa news, Russia stated that they would be withdrawing from the nation, yet their presence as Assad’s primary backer remains strong today.
Now, another alleged chemical attack which the West is claiming to have been ordered by Assad himself threatens to ramp up conflict once again, all but eliminating any chance of American forces imminently withdrawing.
The President’s response came Sunday, which is when he apparently became aware of a chemical strike in Douma. Trump quickly arrived at the conclusion that it was Assad, and by extension his foreign allies, who are to blame for the attack, likely basing that conclusion off similar attacks in the past attributed to the Syrian leader.
‘Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!,’ Trump Tweeted.
Douma is a city held by Syrian rebels, the primary faction which has opposed the Assad regime since the onset of the Syrian civil war. Reports stated that at least 40 people had lost their lives as the result of the chemical strike. Referring to the Syrian dictator as “Animal Assad”, Trump alluded to the latest attack as “another humanitarian crisis”, a nod to the 2017 chemical strike which elicited a reciprocal response on a largely abandoned Syrian airfield courtesy of the US Air Force.
But, contrary to the 2017 strike, the tone directed towards Vladimir Putin, not only in the United States but globally, has shifted toward the bellicose. Post-election allegations of meddling have been followed by public chiding for a nerve agent poisoning which Western leadership has ascribed to Putin, and the inclusion of Putin by the US President with respect to a chemical strike in Syria is yet another indication that relations between Russia and the West may be near a tipping point.
Considering the graphic nature of reports surrounding the attack in Douma, the inclusion of Putin as an accomplice to the attack will only serve to portray Russia and its president as the foremost menace on the global stage, an image that – while perhaps warranted – several Western leaders both in and out of public office have worked very hard to solidify. The images associated with this latest attack will, for many, strike a deeper nerve than the thought of a former Russian double agent and his daughter being poisoned, non-fatally.
‘First responders said they found families suffocated in their homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths. The opposition-linked Syrian Civil Defense were able to document 42 fatalities but were impeded from searching further by strong odors that gave their rescuers difficulties breathing, said Siraj Mahmoud, a spokesman for the group, which is known as the White Helmets.’ (CBS News)
Trump went on to Tweet another message that virtually guarantees further action in Syria. By openly lambasting President Obama for a lack of action against the Assad regime, Trump makes the implication that this chemical attack will be followed by further action from U.S. forces.
‘If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!’
Perhaps Trump is right, but as with so many of his anti-Obama tirades, that reality really doesn’t make a difference at this point. It’s been over a year since Trump took office, and the Syria issue persists. To be fair, should Assad have been removed from power under the Obama administration, it’s quite possible that the situation in the region would be less stable, not easier for Trump to deal with now.
Further, not too long ago, the President indicated that U.S. troops were readying to leave Syria. Though that never appeared to be in the stars, one has to wonder why a chemical attack attributed to Assad’s forces has so apparently and so radically changed Trump’s course of action regarding “Animal Assad”. Surely, escalated conflict will now be attributed to the fact that Assad, in light of Trump’s earlier comments, forced the U.S. president’s hand.
It appears that we are in an age of pendulum diplomacy, and the pendulum has just now swung from near-exit from Syria to the brink of heightened conflict, not only with Syria but with its allies, Russia and Iran.