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As France’s President Emmanuel Macron begins a three-day state visit with US President Donald Trump, their discussions are likely to focus on differences of opinion relating to Syria and Iran’s involvement in the conflict.  

Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East experts weigh in on the upcoming meeting between Macron and Trump, their differing views on Syria, and the potential impact of the visit.
Chechen, Dagestani, and other foreign fighters from Russia’s North Caucasus region (and Georgia’s Chechen-inhabited Pankisi Gorge) have formed some of the most formidable insurgent groupings in Syria’s conflict despite their small numbers. Over the past year, however, their activity has slowed to a crawl, and their actions and statements suggest many of these fighters may look to exit the conflict area soon.
A new chapter began in Eastern Ghouta, part of Damascus governorate, on March 22. The government-imposed siege ended in certain towns and Syrian regime forces seized control of areas through a negotiated agreement between the Syrian regime and its Russian ally on one hand and opposition factions—the Rahman Corps and later Jaysh al-Islam—on the other. The terms of the agreement allowed the regime to begin forcibly displacing people from their homes.
Libya was thrown into further flux this past week amid reports of the death of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. His exact condition remains unclear; Haftar was reportedly hospitalized in Jordan after suffering a stroke before falling into a coma after his transfer to a hospital in France. Other sources reported that eastern strongman passed away while in Paris. Reports of his death, while unconfirmed, will significantly impact the calculus of Libya’s major players, both domestically and regionally. Haftar’s death could serve as an opportunity to revive political dialogue, but it could also trigger an escalated conflict between Libya’s competing factions that would further fragment the country.  
Two unsurprising reactions followed in the immediate wake of the recent air attacks on Syrian chemical warfare facilities: Western commentators praised the raids while lamenting the absence of a Trump administration “Syria strategy;” and Bashar al-Assad defiantly declared victory while resuming aerial assaults (albeit non-chemical) on rebel-held residential neighborhoods. One might employ a medical analogy to appreciate the depth of malpractice being displayed: as the patient is dying from arterial bleeding, the physicians debate the surgical alternatives.
The morning after US, French, and British jets targeted chemical weapons facilities in Syria, US President Donald J. Trump took to Twitter to declare “Mission Accomplished.”

That declaration—the two words that former US President George W. Bush came to regret—has left many scratching their heads.

“I found the comment itself puzzling because I don’t know what exactly the president (or the briefers at the Pentagon press conference) mean by it,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. “They seemed to pitch it as meaning ‘successful operation.’”

Itani said there was no doubt that the strikes hit their targets without any loss of US lives or equipment. “But if ‘Mission Accomplished’ is supposed to mean that Bashar Assad has been deterred from using chemical weapons, the most that I can say is ‘maybe,’” he said.
The United States and its European allies have launched strikes against Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack blamed on Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

US President Donald J. Trump announced the strikes on April 13.

In remarks at the White House, Trump said he had "ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad."

Trump, who earlier this month talked about getting US troops out of Syria, said: “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."

The president said the strikes were aimed at preventing the use of chemical weapons, which he described as “a vital national security interest of the United States.”
The attacks on Syrian targets are not aimed at ending the regime of Bashar al-Assad, even though the United States called on that regime and its leader to step aside nearly seven years ago.  For this murderous crime family and entourage to be brought down, a much more sustained military campaign—one involving a robust ground combat component—would be required.  This is not the American objective.

Yet even as these assaults leave Mr. Assad with the title of president of the Syrian Arab Republic, they have the potential to do significant good.  It all depends, however, on what comes next.  If the follow-up falls short—as it did one year ago—the current round of sound and fury will signify precisely nothing.
Reports that Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar is in a coma will deepen the chaos in a country that has been in flux for the past seven years. Haftar is a military strongman whose forces have fought Islamist militias, but has himself proven to be an obstacle in efforts to unite Libya.

Media organizations reported that Haftar had slipped into a coma after suffering a stroke. He was flown to Paris earlier in April after falling ill in Jordan.

If Haftar is incapacitated, or dead as some unconfirmed reports suggest, it could create a vacuum which would be hard to fill, said Karim Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“There are no figures of Haftar’s stature who can control special forces, tribal groups, and Salafists all at once,” Mezran said.
In August 2013, then Turkish Prime Minister Recep, Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters that a coalition of states should force Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from power, following the regime’s use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. At a reception in Istanbul, Erdogan was clear, saying reprisal strikes “can’t be a 24 hours hit-and-run …What matters is stopping the bloodshed in Syria and weakening the regime to the point where it gives up.” To do so, he proposed “something like the example of Kosovo,” where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) engaged in a 78-day air war to “compel the president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, to end his campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.”


    

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