Just as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared set to sweep to complete victory and put an end to the 7-year-long bloody civil war in his nation, the situation there took a shocking turn last Saturday, when the rebel-held town of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region was struck by a suspected chemical attack.
According to the Syria Civil Defense, more commonly known as the “White Helmets”, the suspected chemical strike against the town has resulted in dozens of civilian casualties, mostly women and children.
The following day, US president Donald Trump strongly condemned the attack, and lashed out at “Animal Assad” as well as Assad’s ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, warning that there would be “a big price to pay” for those who had perpetrated the attack.
As expected, while the Syrian government has vehemently denied any involvement in the alleged chemical assault, the Russian foreign ministry has referred to the attack as a “hoax” staged by the rebels themselves.
And it appears both Damascus and Moscow do have considerable grounds for making such an accusation.
It is because as Douma, the last rebel stronghold across Syria, has already been surrounded by government troops and the Jaish al-Islam forces that are occupying the town had begun to crumble, it was only a matter of time before Assad’s troops could retake the town with ease.
Given that complete victory was already within reach, why would Assad risk angering the West and order an “evil” chemical strike against the besieged town?
As such, we believe we cannot rule out the possibility that somebody else could have been behind the atrocity that took place last weekend.
Meanwhile, as Trump has recently announced that he would withdraw US troops from Syria, it appears the attack on Douma couldn’t have come at a worse time, as it has suddenly gotten Washington into quite a predicament.
It is because on one hand, the suspected chemical attack has rendered Trump’s plan to withdraw his troops morally indefensible.
Then on the other, if Washington does stick to its plan of pulling out American forces from Syria regardless of international reactions, the Kurdish militias which it has been sponsoring could face annihilation, thereby disrupting US strategy in the region.
Of course, the US could adopt a deceptive tactic and get equivocal over its exact timetable for withdrawing its troops on one hand, and then continue to support the Kurdish militant groups in Syria on the other so as to serve its best diplomatic interests.
Nevertheless, generally speaking, the way events are evolving in Syria at the moment is definitely not in America’s favor, and it is inevitable that Washington will find itself stuck in a dilemma as to whether or not to withdraw from Syria as planned.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 10
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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