Opinion: Syrian airstrikes send a clear message | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 14.04.2018
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Opinion: Syrian airstrikes send a clear message

The good news is that World War III has not started. But the bad news is that nothing in Syria will be improved by Western powers' airstrikes, writes Christian F. Trippe.

We won't know for some time how close the world has come to the brink of war between the two nuclear superpowers, the US and Russia, in mid-April 2018. For now, it seems clear that the US, the UK and France have held back and that their attacks have been limited to targets in Syria related to the production and storage of chemical warfare agents.  While it is difficult to get a clear picture of anything that is going on in Syria and caution is necessary in dealing with any reports, it seems, according to available information, that there have been practically no civilian casualties.

Read more: Germany backs airstrikes in Syria as 'necessary and appropriate'

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A look back at the US policy on the Syrian Civil War

Military rationality?

In recent days parallels have been drawn increasingly to the Cuban missile crisis, the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the USA in 1962. Looking at the public statements being made, it seems the world has certainly reached such a point again — at least going by Donald Trump's crazy tweets and the grandiose threats that have been made by Russian officials. But back then, it was a matter of maintaining the primacy of politics over the military generals and a Kubrickesque "Dr Strangelove" mentality on both sides. This was successful 56 years ago and the crisis remained a political one.

Deutsche Welle's Christian F. Trippe (DW/B. Geilert)

DW's Dr Christian Trippe

Now, however, in the last few days before the airstrikes on Syria, warnings were heard on both sides of the Atlantic that sometimes sounded like anxious prayers: Hopefully the rationality of the military will prevail this time. The rationality and expertise of military generals versus the ignorance and ruthlessness of politicians — you need to have a special kind of political humor to find this funny.

Careful choice of targets

Just to recap: There are currently several thousand Russian soldiers in Syria, who are fighting on the side of Assad's troops. Two months ago, Russian mercenaries were killed following attacks by the US Air Force in northern Syria. This did not lead to a crisis. The US-led coalition against the "Islamic state" has been operating in northern Syria. This time, the air raids' targets were selected to avoid hitting any Russian soldiers.

The dialogue between the US and Russian military leaderships seems to be stable. Experts have reported for some time that the professional and reasonably trusting exchange between high-ranking people in uniform on both sides has hardly suffered — despite the new East-West confrontation.

Syria is perhaps the most complex theater of war in history. Again and again, troops whose countries are either nominally still allied or politically deeply hostile have come into confrontation on Syrian soil. Russia's intervention on Assad's side and Syria's alliance with Iran have decided the ultimate outcome of the Syrian civil war. The so-called retaliatory strikes by the three Western powers will do nothing to change this. However, this does not mean that they are pointless.

The airstrikes have a clear message

Washington, London and Paris have made two things clear with the airstrikes: firstly, that the use of banned weapons of mass destruction is not without consequences, and, secondly, that the cynical denial and cover-up of war crimes is unacceptable — no matter who is involved or currently running the propaganda machine. Moreover, the Western powers do not want to just up and leave this geopolitical area, despite their recent history of misguided, unclear and fickle politics in the region. The Middle East is facing a restructuring that should not be decided only in Moscow and Tehran. This is the double message of the attacks on Assad's chemical plants.

And lastly, it should be mentioned that the United States has not acted alone, but in cooperation with France and Great Britain — in a military alliance, but also in close political coordination. Such an agreement, coming in the second year of Donald Trump's presidency, is probably the only indisputably good news this Saturday.

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