Thoughtful strategy? Rifle at a shot? Moral action? Gesture of diversion? The conflict Syria is such a swamp, for the United States as the other powers involved, it loses its Latin. Will allied strikes bring some clarity? Perhaps. But there are still many unanswered questions and misconceptions. Here is a first sorting.
This is not a new Iraq.
James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, could not be clearer: it is a "one-time shot", an attack that does not call away. Very worried about the risk of skidding with Russia and Iran, Mattis had resisted for several days to a massive shipment of missiles. Trump, for his part, was more enthusiastic for a consistent strike. But we must not forget that it was he who, a few weeks ago, ordered the forthcoming departure of the 2,000 American soldiers stationed in the east and north of Syria: "I want to get out of it. The time has come, "he said, as Mattis was more reluctant, saying in November:" We're not going to just go away. "
In any case, American opinion is massively hostile to a military engagement involving boots on the ground (committed soldiers) in this region. This is even more true for Trump's highly isolated isolation base.
This is an action that makes us forget 2013 …
The famous "red line" that Obama had drawn – the ban on Assad d using chemical weapons on pain of military response – has left bad memories, especially to François Hollande. Obama, we remember, had finally chosen to give up this response. There is, therefore, in the attack of yesterday, a certain moral clarity: a country can not resort with impunity to the use of chemical weapons against civilians. This is what General Mattis said after the strike of 2017: "Some things are simply inexcusable, unacceptable and serve in the worst way not only the Geneva Convention on chemical weapons, but the civilization itself. "
This is an opinion that many share among Democrats. In a tweet Anne-Marie Slaughter, Hillary Clinton's right-hand man who would have had a good chance of being secretary of state if Clinton had been elected, said: "The use of chemical weapons brings us back to the two world wars, where they were a routine weapon of war and genocide.There MUST be a traced line, where part of the world says "that's enough", even if we draw this line with great inconstancy. "
… But it's not 2013
Before comparing favorably Trump to Obama, some clarifications are needed. First, the 2013 chemical weapons attack was the first major attack; that of April 4 follows about fifty attacks of this type, certainly of a more modest scale. Then, Barack Obama had justified his non-action by the promise of the Russians to prevent Assad from reoffending. Obviously, they did not keep this promise.
This is a temporary solution
Hailed at the time, the American strike of April 7, 2017 did not have a dissuasive effect on the Syrian regime . First, because it is impossible to strike directly at the stockpiles of chemical weapons, on pain of seriously exposing the civilian population. Secondly, because the Syrian regime will continue to want to compensate for its military weakness by using weapons of this type.
As Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria, explains to the "Washington Post": "If we want a lasting deterrent, it can not be an attack with no tomorrow. [Assad] will test us , and we'll have to hit again. "
It's no surprise to Russia …
Moscow has had several days to prepare for this flurry of missiles, and it is clear that precautions have been taken to avoid a direct military incident between Russians and Americans. As confirmed by Jon Huntsman, the ambassador to Moscow: "Before taking action, the United States has been in communication with the Russian Federation to reduce the risk of Russian or civilian casualties."
Has Moscow warned Assad of the choice of targets? Probably. But the objective of the American strikes was not to destroy the chemical arsenal, an impossible mission, but to "punish" Syria and issue a warning.
… but it is indeed the return of the Cold War
Impossible to understand this missile strike without placing it in a context of Russian provocations, so uninhibited that it became impossible not to answer them. The first was the attempted assassination of the double agent Sergueï Skripal and his daughter Yulia, on March 4, with a Novichok neurotoxic agent, extraordinarily dangerous. For once, Moscow had crossed a bright red line in the eyes of Westerners. Then there was the carelessness with which Moscow denied the reality of the chemical attack in Syria, going so far as to invent an extravagant fable of staging with civil actors. Insulting, for Washington and its allies.
Less than a month ago (March 20), Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his electoral victory and invite him to the White House. Since then, much water has flowed under the bridges of Moskova and Potomac, especially as the American president has just joined two muscular opponents of Russia: John Bolton, adviser to National Security, and Mike Pompeo, secretary State.
This is not the sign of a coherent strategy in Syria
Jim Mattis himself recognized after the announcement of the departure of the last American soldiers in Russia: America, in this region, has "contrary impulses", on the one hand Trump does not want to deal with this conflict, on the other he wants to force Assad to respect some minimum humanitarian standards.
With the strikes of yesterday, we are far from the point in terms of reaching this last objective. For this, says Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former adviser to Hillary Clinton, it would meet a series of conditions. First, "stand up against crimes against humanity, serious and systematic war crimes, and genocide". Then, and with other nations, "take economic, political and military action against Assad every time he violates these standards – cluster bombs, indiscriminate shelling of civilians and hospitals, famine in entire areas" and "reception of Syrian refugees". Finally, launching "targeted strikes", sparing civilians as much as possible, to indicate to Assad the limits he can not cross.
His conclusion? "This is NOT the strategy we are pursuing, we have not pursued it under Obama, and certainly not under Trump, which is why a limited strike, in response to the use of chemical weapons, is incoherent and even dangerous, in many ways. "
It is an action with dubious legality
Morally justified? Without a doubt. But the lack of a green light from the United Nations and of the US Congress sets a precedent that could prove dangerous in the future, in the hands of an autocrat like Trump. It also plunges into contradiction all those who, in France and elsewhere, had condemned the American intervention in Iraq in 2003 in the name, precisely, of non-compliance with international law.
In the United States, the lack of authorization of strikes by the Congress has attracted criticism, including in the Republican camp. "While it is true that Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable for his illegal use of chemical weapons against civilians, the strikes are conducted without congressional authorization, which is unacceptable," said Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democratic Senator. .
"I did not read the Constitution of France or Great Britain, but I read ours and it does not give the President anywhere the authority to hit Syria", adds Thomas Massie, a republican congressman of Kentucky.
It is not a diversion action
The American missiles had not yet exploded that already, the theories of the conspiracy were given to heart joy. The most popular: it is a diversionary operation, intended to make forget the concerns of Trump with the special prosecutor Robert Mueller and the search carried out at his lawyer, Michael Cohen. Variation (or complement) of this: Trump wants to forget his acquaintance with Moscow by playing the blow against the Russians.
Absurd. Trump has no interest in diversion, each passing day allows Mueller to progress in his investigation, and the floor of Manhattan to advance in the examination of documents and computers seized at Cohen. These two perspectives terrify Trump, and one can even speculate that the Syrian affair has hindered Trump in this area, delaying decisions that may well come soon.