Written by Dmitri Evstafiev; Originally appeared at Eurasia.expert, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The strike by the US and its satellites on Syria in the morning of April 14, 2018 became the most acute foreign policy event of recent times. The main political conclusion from this is that the foreign policy of the major powers of the world, that is, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and a number of others, in the medium term will be determined not so much by foreign policy logic and classical rules of diplomacy, but by the domestic political context. To a large extent, respect for classical diplomatic decency and the hope of using diplomatic tools and mechanisms as a means of containing destructive tendencies are superfluous.
We will highlight the main political aspects that emerged during the preparation and implementation of the US strike on Syria. They will remain relevant for a long time, and not only in relation to Russia.
First, the situation around Syria demonstrated the limits of American military capabilities. The available forces and means, concentrated in one of the three key regions of the world for America’s interests, have proved sufficient only for a one-time strike of average strength and intensity. The United States conserve resources for a second strike of a slightly smaller impact, but are unable to carry out a military campaign in 7-14 days, in sufficient time for a significant weakening of the enemy, which has developed and qualitatively balanced armed forces. It will take a relatively long time to concentrate forces, where the enemy will have to behave relatively passively and not try to carry out preventive measures of a military-security nature.
It seems that the modern American armed forces are not capable of operations in the format of a “major regional conflict”, which formally remains the basis of US military planning. The American armed forces de facto restructured to operate as a show of force and intimidation.
For this reason, Donald Trump’s announcement of the restructuring of the armed forces and the restoration of American military power can be much deeper and difficult than it looks now.
Second, regardless of the growing internal elite pressure, Donald Trump is creating a system for important political decision making in Washington, built on the concentration of power in his hands. Not only all personally disloyal, but also “doubtful” persons are excluded from the decision-making process. The mechanism of political decision-making, which is close to the individual, that is, built on the dominance of personal relations and sympathies as opposed to institutional influence, is fundamentally contrary not only to the power system that was formed in Washington in the period after 2000, but also to historically established principles.
Note that conditionally Trump’s “sole” decision was still fulfilled, and the number and quality of leaks regarding the decision was moderate, that is, did not go beyond the usual for US policy. Attempts to challenge the decision, both from a political and from a legal point of view, were made after the strike, and have hardly any impact. So far the sole decision-making concern only foreign policy issues, which is probably an element of Trump’s strategic compromise. It is the coalition of decision-making on domestic economic issues (in line with its social stabilisation programme, to which even some members of the Democratic party have joined) in exchange for a free hand in foreign policy.
The very fact of breaking the system of institutional bureaucratic collegiality in formulating decisions is important. This will have significant strategic implications including in terms of building US relations with Russia and other Eurasian countries. These relations are becoming much more unpredictable than ever in history.
Third, the United States were not able to truly draw the support of any Middle Eastern countries for its operations. Even the anti-Assad countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar (from the base where the strategic bombers B1 took off), Jordan or Egypt showed exemplary political restraint even after the fact.
The only major player who publically supported the American action turned out to be R. Erdogan, whose enmity towards B. Assad is deeply personal. For Erdogan such a public statement was a good way to at least partially mitigate the negative relations with the United States. This indicates doubts about the American ability to be an effective stabilising force in the region, but more importantly, explicitly demonstrates the unwillingness of the majority of Arab regimes to play in the region “for escalation”.
If the political dialogue in Syria has any results, conditions will be created for the beginning (initially among the Arab elites) of a broad political dialogue with the participation of extra-regional mediators (Russia, China, India, and possibly some EU countries) on new principles of relations between the countries of the region.
This dialogue can bring the end of political and institutional destruction, linked with the so-called “Arab Spring”.
Fourth, note the apparent lack of economic motivation in the American actions around Syria, in contrast to the situation characteristic of the “zero” years.
The United States presently do not have an economic “agenda” in Syria at all, neither in the short term nor in the long terms. It is doubtful whether the United States have an economically motivated action plan and, in general in the Middle East, as Washington is beginning to speak openly.
The ability of the United States to manage economic processes around Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea is now limited and the conduct of military-security actions did not strengthen them.
The policy pursued by the Donald Trump administration is sharply different from the previously used US models of behaviour in the region. The behaviour of the United States and the model that Trump preaches in foreign policy, and which is based on the priority of the economic component, do not correspond.
This may indicate that the United States is politically ready to play out a scenario of controlled chaos in the Middle East, aimed in the medium term against Iran, and the only factor that still holds Washington from drawing this scenario is the fear of rapprochement between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Fifth, there is the creation of a “narrow NATO”, that is, a group of nations, which supports the US in everything or almost all issues. This group of nations consists of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Canada. This union is rather an informal military-political union, rather than based on an institutional framework, which implies, that in its framework, the United States did not assume any obligations towards its allies.
It is possible such reformation will happen in the Middle East. Donald Trump’s attempts could be called “pragmatic unilateralism”, in which American allies are losing the right to seriously influence Washington’s decisions, obtaining the right to receive dividends, actions in the channels of American politics that they can receive. But in none of the important European countries did the ruling elites have any alternative models of behaviour, except following (albeit with some reservations, as in Germany) in the channels of Washington’s policies.
“Political Atlanticism” is still unshakable, although it is becoming unprofitable economically. This reality should be taken into account. The “collective West” exists politically, that is, on the level of ideological constructs and declarations, but undergoes serious erosion from the operational point of view.
For Russia, this trend is favourable, although it is not necessary to strengthen the ideological consolidation of the “collective West” with excessive rigid propaganda.
Sixth, the situation around Syria has clearly demonstrated the dominance of propaganda motives in Washington’s foreign policy.
The US is confident is its ability to extract maximum image profits from any foreign policy situation. Moreover, it is assumed that no significant propaganda counter-attack on global information platforms can be imposed on them.
And that the US will be able to ensure the dominance of its versions of events, regardless of how it corresponds to reality. The US were able to test for its public opinion the technology of a constructed political reality that partially worked with respect to public opinion in EU countries.
This manifested itself in full in the global media’s coverage of the preparation for the attack on Syria and the attack itself. Regardless of the complete controversy, it was the American-British version of events that dominated. Including the completely detached from reality statements on the effectiveness of the use of missiles.
Attempts to impose on Americans a meaningful counter-narrative, using global communication formats or creating their own channels of such communications, resulted only in a partial impact.
And this applies to the efforts of both Russia and, for example, China.
Dmitri Evstafiev, professor NRU “Higher School of Economics”