It has been revealed that US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, tried to urge US President Donald Trump to obtain congressional approval before launching airstrikes on targets in Syria last weekend. According to reports, President Trump was however set on the use of military force, and overruled the Pentagon chief’s advice. In other developments, Saudi Arabia is reportedly holding talks with the United States and Egypt about sending an Arab coalition force into Syria.
Sputnik: We’re hearing news that the US is in talks with Saudi Arabia to build an Arab force and send it to Syria. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has said that he is in talks with US National Security Advisor John Bolton to plan building this force – what do you make of this, what do you think its purpose is?
Sharmine Narwani: Look Trump wants to clear exit the debacle in Syria and eliminate the need to spend billions of dollars a year in maintaining US forces there and participating in the war. The recent chemical weapons allegations came shortly after Trump vocalised this desire; but the likelihood of an Arab force to physically base themselves in Syria on the Syrian-Iraqi border is virtually nil. We must view this new tactic with some suspicion. The US has always trumpeted ISIS as its main goal in Syria or the elimination of ISIS. If ISIS is gone, then what’s the need to have foreign forces based on that border? It seemed clear all along that containing Iran’s access from Iran to the borders of Palestine has always been the goal. It’s not as though Saudi Arabia and Egypt have stellar or significant nation-building expertise anyway. And they have many differences – the Saudis and the UEA for instance are heavily involved militarily in Yemen and are overextended there. Egypt has shown reluctance to participate in that Arab conflict, let alone another one with a government that it has actually sort of ideologically supported in the Syrian conflict. So it’s not likely to become a reality.
Sputnik: Of course in the lead up to the Western bombing campaign on Syria the US was saying that President Bashar al-Assad had used sarin gas, but we’ve now found out that they did not have sufficient evidence of this at the time. Also, the New York Times has revealed that Defence Secretary Jim Mattis urged Trump to get congressional approval for the strikes, but the president overruled him on that – what does this all tell you about the lead up to the events of last weekend?
Sharmine Narwani: If we look at the recent events leading up to the alleged chemical weapons incident, it took place under cover of two important developments: one was Trump’s declaration of exiting Syria, and removing US troops from there soon. The second would be the Syrian army’s very rapid defeat of terrorists in Eastern Ghouta and the reclamation of that strategically vital territory around Damascus. I think the sort of bringing up Sarine, the nerve gas sarin, it’s always kind of utilised as an emotional trigger, as is the mention of chemical weapons by itself and the general assumption if we’re talking about sarin would be that only states would have access to that particular substance, and not terrorist groups and non-state actors, unlike say with a substance like chlorine that is readily available. So I think it was very deliberately invoked, meaning sarin, to create an emotional response globally.
But Sarin has been used in Iraq by insurgents since at least 2004, in the form of IEDs. Turkey for instance, in May 2013, way later during the Syrian conflict, captured 12 Nusra members, Nusra is the Al-Qaida arm in Syria, they captured 12 Nusra members with significant amounts of Sarin and that was believed to be heading toward Syria. And major US-UK risk analysis firm IHS Conflict Monitor, in 2016, told us in a report that ISIS has used chemical weapons more than 52 times in both Syria and Iraq.
Sputnik: We’ve heard today that US senators are increasingly becoming concerned at the absence of a coherent US strategy in Syria, where do you see things from here?
Sharmine Narwani: Even during Obama’s term, we talked about there being a lack of coherent strategy. I would say that there is maybe a lack of a coherent verbalised strategy, one that was disseminated to the American public and an international one. There was certainly a strategy behind the scenes, one that was not vocalised and actions speak louder than words, so when we look at the arming, training and financing of terrorists when it was clear that there wasn’t enough Syrian support to topple Assad in the way leaders had been toppled in Tunisia and Egypt. We had the arming, training & financing but there was a very clear strategy, and the goal was number one, regime change, and two, to weaken the most important Iranian Arab state ally. So that was the strategy. When people say there wasn’t a coherent one they probably mean there wasn’t a coherent vocalised one. US actions have certainly shown us that regime change and weakening Iran were in fact the strategy in Syria and this is apparent today because the escalation still continues.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.