Three days ago, Syria suffered a horrendous massacre when Bashar Assad and his regime forces used chemical weapons in Idlib and 72 people, mostly children, lost their lives. The Syrian crisis has been going on for six years and is worsening day by day.
The Assad regime first used chemical weapons in August 2013 in Eastern Ghouta, causing the deaths of 1,400 civilians. U.S. President Barack Obama, at the time, had been saying that “the use of chemical weapons” was the red line in Syria. However, when Assad first used chemical weapons, Obama did not say anything acted in total opposition to what he had been saying to up until that point.
This silence on the part of the Obama administration encouraged the Assad regime and its backer, Iran. The regime massacred civilians in Menas, Talmenas, Sarmin, and lastly in Khan Shaikhoun with chemical weapons. Various reactions to the massacre in Idlib on Tuesday were conveyed by the U.S. and certain European countries.
German government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer said, “The use of poisonous gas is a war crime. Those who are responsible for this inhuman crime must account for their deeds. Assad and his regime are included in this. The German government regards Russia and Iran as responsible too, due to their position as allies of the Assad regime.”
Likewise, French President Francois Hollande, stated, “I call on the international community to respond to this war crime.”
These reactions rising from Europe have no counterpart in actual action on the ground as of today. It will not be possible to find a response tomorrow either. European governments, Germany and France foremost among them, have withdrawn into themselves and are confronting their own crises. They regard the Syria crisis only as a “refugee crisis.” They don’t even have a proposed solution for how they are going to respond to the threats that will be created by “foreign terrorist fighters.” Nor do they have a perspective on a political solution to the Syria crisis.
The leadership crisis ongoing in European countries shows itself the most in their approach to the Syria issue. Europe regards Russia as the greatest threat above everything else, and while it cannot confront Russia over Ukraine, it cannot even begin to imagine taking Russia on when it comes to Syria.
Considering the U.S. administration’s new discourse on the Assad regime and the Syria crisis, it is not possible to say the same thing. Donald Trump had said that he might accept the Assad regime as legitimate during his electoral campaign and in the first days of his presidency.
President Trump, while slamming Obama’s Syria policy also took up its paradigm that the Syria crisis is no longer an “Assad regime problem but one of the Daesh terror organization.” And in fact, during an interview with a European TV channel, Assad had said, “Trump’s announcements are hopeful and Syria will most likely be a collaborative work between Russia and the U.S.”
Following the chemical attack on Tuesday, Trump said the following, “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many many lines.”
Trump continued to say, “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
Holding the Obama administration responsible for the miserable sight in Syria, Trump said, “I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly.”
The deliberate vacuum created by the Obama administration in Syria brought with it Russia’s intervention on Sept. 30, 2015 and Russia taking up the mantle of being the Assad regime’s main patron. The Obama administration’s policies put the Syria crisis in an even worse Gordian knot and it is not going to be pulled apart at this point in Syria. But the dismantling of this knot might also bring with it a new military and political sight with the intervention of the U.S. on the ground.
Trump, engaging in an operation against the Assad regime, would put a serious strain on U.S.-Russia relations. However, Trump has also seen that if he does not show a presence on the ground, he will lose all initiative in the region.
It is much more likely that Trump will choose to manage the tension that will appear rather than waiting so that tensions do not occur. This will mean that Trump will re-insert the U.S. into the politics of the Middle East. Undoubtedly in this process the U.S. will have an opportunity to repress Iran as well.
The painful picture shown in Syria today verifies Turkey’s emphasis on the presence of the Assad regime as being at the center of the Syria crisis and its thesis that these crimes against humanity will not end before a political resolution for the Syria crisis has been found.
Unfortunately, European countries, instead of demonstrating a realistic position against the Assad regime, are choosing to make an enemy out of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has democratic legitimacy and has been leading the most consistent struggle against the Assad regime.
In other words, Europe is choosing to be Assad’s partners-in-crime.