The destroyed Scientific Research Center is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki
The destroyed Scientific Research Center is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki

The joint US/French/British attack on Syria’s chemical-warfare facilities was undoubtedly a proper response on the part of the three participants in the face of President Bashar al-Assad’s barbaric butchery of innocent civilians through the use of chemical agents.

It is hoped that this incident, along with the Russian use of a toxic chemical to try to assassinate a former Russian security official and his daughter in London, which also aroused a vigorous diplomatic and economic response, will have the effect of discouraging the use of chemical substances in future.

However, it may, indeed, have a much more significant meaning. Since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, Western policies and strategies in the Middle East have been disastrous. They have fluctuated from the George W Bush administration’s overreactions and misguided belief in the possibility of imposing democracy at the muzzle of a gun, to Barack Obama’s embrace of Islam in general and Iran in particular.

The results of 16 years of faulty policy and strategy decisions have been: massive over-indebtedness in the US and elsewhere; chaos in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen; temporary empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; and most significantly, the facilitation of the formation of the unholy trinity of Iran, Russia and Turkey as joint hegemons in the Middle East in the face of the shrinkage of US and European involvement in the region.

The attack on the Syrian chemical-weapons facilities is the first time in years that three of the major Western powers have taken joint military action and they and others took coordinated diplomatic and economic diplomatic and economic action in the face of the outrageous Russian assassination attempt in London. It may be that after years of retreat, the West, led by the mercurial and unpredictable Donald Trump, has finally turned the strategic corner and will continue to take action to regain at least part of its former ascendancy in the Middle East.

This development, if it is indeed the case, would be most welcome to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. It would also benefit Israel and help in the budding strategic relationship of Israel with the Sunni quintet.

If indeed the strike in Syria is an inflection point in Western involvement in the Middle East, we can expect that further action will be taken against Iranian involvement in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and its support of terrorist organizations; continued isolation of Qatar; demands that Turkey either make a fundamental shift in its external policies or face expulsion from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and that Russia limit its involvement to protecting its naval and air facilities on the Syrian coast.

Perhaps that is too much to hope for from the present leadership of the West, but even some of it would be a welcome advance over the current dangerous and deteriorating situation.

Norman A Bailey is the author of numerous books and articles and recipient of several honorary degrees, medals and awards and two orders of knighthood. He also teaches economic statecraft at The Institute of World Politics and has experience on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and in business, consulting and finance. He is professor emeritus in the National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and a columnist for Globes, the Israeli business and financial newspaper.

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