U.S. Strikes on Syria Greeted with Skepticism

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

April 21, 2018

The United States and its allies have taken military action against Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government against its own population. The limited air strikes were aimed at sending a message to the Assad regime that the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated. However, few in the region believe that the Syrian president will be deterred. Worse, some have suggested that the Syrian conflict has become so complex that there can be no simple, short-term solutions. That may be why the recent Arab League meeting drew the attention of regional observers, hoping to see action, only to be disappointed by the lack of meaningful progress in tackling the various challenges the region currently faces.


Unsurprisingly, Tehran Times’s Mohammad Ghaderi condemned the air strikes, suggesting the U.S. and its allies are playing a “dangerous game,” which they are unlikely to win. Reacting to the retaliatory actions taking place over the weekend, Ghaderi claims that they: “also reflect the lack of rationality and reveals the dangerous game of the European partners and their American ally in Syria. Over the past five years, France and Britain, along with the U.S., have made every effort to overthrow the ruling system in Syria, but to no avail…. Ultimately, the United States, Britain, France, the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia will pay a very high price for the air strikes. The Oval Office and its allies have seriously miscalculated the consequences of the attacks and made security mistakes. It’s as if Washington and its partners have not learned their lesson in Syria and the West Asia region for the last five years.”

The airstrikes were also greeted with little enthusiasm by the Khaleej Times editorial, which, underscoring the complexity of the Syrian conflict, believes the strikes are a case of “too little, too late”: “The Syrian conflict is a proxy war many times over. Therefore, the level of foreign involvement means that the war will not cease until external actors decide that it should. But who will decide? So far the Assad regime and its allies, mainly Russia and Iran, have had an upper hand at making territorial gains and regaining major parts of the country back from the rebels. The United States has mainly remained a bystander, not taking any moral responsibility. It’s time the U.S. developed a coherent policy and gathered the support of its allies to resolve this crisis. Strikes in isolation won’t go a long way.”

There is a sense across the region that, as this Al Ahram editorial points out, once the dust has settled the Syrian people will be the ones who continue to suffer: “The ugly reality is that Syria has now turned into an open front to settle regional and international conflicts, whether between the United States, its Western allies and Russia, or to expand the regional ambitions of powerful countries such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. While the Syrian regime holds a major part of the responsibility for such a disaster for failing to deal with the democratic, peaceful demands of its people, regional and international intervention has only made the situation much worse. In the middle of all this are the Syrian people who continue to pay the heaviest price. One more American military strike will certainly not change this sad reality.”

Turkish commentator Nuray Mert, writing for Hurriyet Daily News, argues that part of the reason for the mixed response to the U.S. military action has also to do with the contested nature of “humanitarian interventions,” which she believes “is a contradiction of terms period. Those who believe in humanitarianism should oppose all sorts of military aggression and stand up against those disguised as humanitarian interventions. It has utter importance, not only in the name of peaceful politics but also in the name of the credibility of international humanitarianism. After all, it is the abuse of universal values and hypocritical politics, which [strip] humanitarian ideas and efforts of their credibility and pave way to the rise of anti-Western conspiratorialism and anti-Semitism as its counterpart. Finally, for pro-peace politics, the maxim is ‘no war, no cry!’”

In Israel, the conversation regarding the instability in Syria has revolved around the question of Iran’s growing influence. Since the airstrikes did little to confront that influence, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ron Ben-Yishai believes the Syrian president and his Iranian backers will not have been too concerned about the events over the weekend: “The strike landed overnight by the United States, France and Britain on chemical weapons facilities in Syria was too limited in scope to cause any lasting damage to the regime, and has certainly not exacted such a price so as to make Assad think thrice before deciding to deploy such weapons again…. The meager price the murderous regime was forced to pay, however, has also shown that so long as Assad enjoys Russian patronage, he can continue on his path undisturbed…. Assad speaks only one language—that of might—and his regime’s senior officials only fear one thing: loss of control over Syria. Anything short of threatening the regime’s survivability is simply not considered a threat.”

Turning their attention towards the meeting of the Arab League member states which also began around the time the strikes took place, some observers argued that lasting stability in the region would be possible only when Arab countries take a leadership role. That was the message of a recent The National editorial, calling for a new approach to regional stability, that went beyond Syria: “Although a welcome intervention, the joint actions by the US, UK and France on Saturday were more restrained than many hoped and are unlikely to spur real change. They also seemed to exist without a broader plan in place to end this long and ruinous conflict. Undeterred, Mr Al Assad is expected to turn his attention to Idlib – the last pocket of rebel activity – where many more are likely to die by his sword…. After seven years, the conflict needs a rethink and Arab nations need to ensure they are central to the dialogue. With Palestine and Iran also on the agenda at the Arab League summit, the stakes could not be higher.”

Baria Alamuddin proposes a similar argument in an op-ed for Arab News, especially considering the perceived unreliability of Western countries: “With the Middle Eastern policies of Western nations more fickle, uncommitted and unreliable than ever before, the Dhahran Arab League summit was an opportunity for Arab states to stand up and display strategic regional leadership…. A handful of rockets fired at Syrian chemical weapons installations will not alter the situation on the ground. With Donald Trump tweeting mixed messages about his desire to cut and run, a joint Arab role is required to obstruct the consolidation of enemy forces in Syrian territory toward a solution that allows Syrians to be free of violence and tyranny.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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