Late in March, both, State Secretary Zillerson and the Permanent Representative of the US at the United Nations made statements in the sense that a change of regime in Damascus was not a priority of US policy in the M. East. In doing so they simply admitted what has, by now, become obvious. The admission –subsequent mitigating explanations and tough language failed to convince–, was hardly less painful for that. It confirmed that a thuggish regime, sufficiently determined to go on, endlessly, slaughtering its hapless subjects, sustained and encouraged by equally murderous regimes abroad, can still prevail –even in a region which had until recently, as it was demonstrated during the Libyan crisis, remained under more or less effective US and NATO control. This time, however, the blame does not fall on President Trump, for all his bizarre penchant for the Russian instigators –and, no less, material perpetrators–, of the Syrian massacre.
For all its merits in the field of principles, for all the decorum and dignity they displayed on the international scene, having projected the attractive image of a US open to the world and free of prejudice, President Obama and his Administration failed –especially after Mrs. Clinton’s departure from the State Department–, in many instances, to assume even mild risks, tested by a Kremlin totally devoid of inhibitions were found wanting, and eventually committed grave, almost critical, errors, which generated almost irreparable consequences.
One may have all sorts of legitimate doubts as to the wisdom, or the planning, of the multi-national intervention in Iraq. Afghanistan, however, the launching platform of the 9/11 aggression against the US, was a totally different affair and the need of sustained military action and enduring presence there was self-evident.
President Obama’s decision to terminate the operational mission of US forces in both theatres left the US and, inevitably, the West, burdened with the worst of both worlds –the worst of intervention and the worst of non-intervention.
In Iraq, General Petreus had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat : the Sunni tribes were fighting against Al-Quaeda and pro-Iranian Shiite militias had been contained. The premature and almost total termination of US military presence in the country threw the Shia led government of Baghdad into the arms of the malefic theocracy of Teheran and soon, Shiite terror dispensed by Sadrists, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the Hezbollah was driving again the Sunni populations of the central provinces and the non-Kurdish part of the North, under the sway of the Islamic State, which had, in the meantime, emerged in Syria.
In Afghanistan it was obvious that it was too early to safely terminate engagement in ground operations. Drones, combined with intelligence, can attain remarkable results and inflict decapitating blows, but the Afghan army was not ready yet to assume the full responsibility of ground operations.
As to Syria, the US had assumed a firm commitment to intervene immediately as the regime would resort to the use of chemical weapons. Failure to honour that commitment, and the audible sigh of American relief at Mr. Lavrov’s shrewd proposal to proceed to the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, convinced Mr. Putin, and the Iranian theocrats, that President Obama and his Administration were too timid and no match for brutal, ruthless, thuggish risk takers like themselves.
Thus, the Russian Air Force is now operating in the M. East unopposed, carpet bombing civilian populations in support of a vile regime –as it had never happened even in the days of Soviet might–, and –not least–, Sarin gas has again been used against urban areas.
The Baathist regime of Damascus is iconic –and the last– of all the brutal militaristic regimes of Arab revolutionary socialism of the 1950’s and 1960’s which, sustained by the Soviet Union had, between them, destroyed the nascent parliamentarism of the colonial and immediate post-colonial era, fed the growth of violent Islamism and brought a sizeable part of the Arab World to its present chaotic state. The sooner its end rebecomes a US and EU priority, the better for the future of the M. East. Combating Islamist terrorism does not warrant clemency for the dictators who have generated it.