President Trump is in the process of building a new coalition of allies to participate in a multi-nation “strike force” attack on the Syrian government. This talk of coalition action reflects the rapid escalation of plans since US officials embraced Saturday’s allegations of a chemical weapons strike.
Officials said as early as Sunday that the claimed Saturday attack would lead to a US military strike, and President Trump indicated this would happen “very soon.” Instead of a one-off strike, as with last April’s tomahawk missile bombardment of Syria, the US seems to be envisioning starting a whole new war over it.
This new US-led war in Syria doubtless suits much of the administration just fine. After all, this time last week US officials were trying to talk President Trump out of ending US military involvement in Syria. Now, they seem to have a pretext for an open-ended conflict.
This does make starting the war something of a scramble, despite officials still presenting themselves as not wholly decided. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been invited to investigate the allegations, and with no concrete evidence the Saturday attack even took place, such a finding by the watchdog could easily derail the war. That, of course, means US officials are going to want to get it started before the OPCW has a chance to do anything.
They won’t have to worry about a direct UN Security Council investigation, however, as the US and their allies rejected a Russian resolution calling for such an inquiry. This was seen as retaliation for Russia rejecting a resolution that would just blame Syria for it without a proper inquiry.
This raises the risk of the US coalition getting into a conflict with Russia. Already, Russia has warned of consequences if the US attacks Syria over the allegation. President Trump has not only indicated Syria will “pay the price,” but that Russia is going to have to pay as well. If that happens, the war quickly expands from regional to global.
French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken out early and often about intervention in Syria, and has pointed to his nation, along with Britain, being committed to a “strong and joint response” with the US.
Macron, however, suggested he does “not want an escalation,” but rather that the strikes should be against Syrian chemical facilities. That’s always been considered unwise, even assuming Syria had any extent chemical facilities, as it risks leaking chemicals across the region.
But Syria disarmed their chemical program before the war really began, and dismantled all of those sites. This means there aren’t really operating facilities to be bombed in the first place. And despite Macron’s protests, escalation seems to be part of the point for many involved.
The US, France, and Britain will doubtless lead this new coalition, and Australia is expected to join, with Saudi Arabia expected to be drawn into the conflict. Turkey is potentially to be invited too, though Turkey’s recent military acrimony toward its NATO allies may make that complicated.
Israel, who is always attacking Syria at any rate, will likely not join such a coalition formally. They have, however, provided all indications that they will escalate their already frequent attacks. In fact, Israel launched their first salvo Sunday night.
If this indeed the full-scale war it’s shaping up to be, the risks are many. Another war will further destabilize Syria. Saudi involvement assures that the war will quickly include Iranian and other Shi’ite forces in Syria. All of this, as well as the risks of the war expanding across the border, should give officials pause. Instead, it seems all the reasons the war is a bad idea are just adding to the momentum to get it started before something gets in the way.