The storm is being driven by the forces of nationalism, historic conflicts, a sense of justice and injustice, and the absence of a coherent diplomatic strategy. It is fed by ill-judged rhetorical bluster which creates political hostages to fortune.
The United States – almost certainly in conjunction with the two biggest European military powers Britain and France—is on the brink of responding to the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Russian-backed Assad regime.
Russia has vetoed all attempts to resolve this repeated atrocity through the United Nations.
Moscow has warned that if Western forces attempt to bomb Syrian air bases, ground forces, or chemical weapons depots than it will shoot down any missiles involved in the attack. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, ominously added:” If there is a strike by the Americans, then…the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,”
If there is a Russia attack on an American destroyer or submarine or the British sovereign airbase in Cyprus… well, then the storm will have hit.
This approaching disaster did not materialize overnight in a vacuum. It has been brewing for years. Obama’s foreign policy was weak, especially in Syria where his infamous Red Line exposed an unwillingness or inability to act decisively.
Trump has been no better. He dropped a hail of bombs on a Syrian airbase after a chemical weapons attack last April but it was a one-off. He too has failed to develop a coherent response to the Syrian civil war. This is unsurprising because he has intentionally decimated his own diplomatic corps.
Trump has been over-focused on North Korea, the economic threat of China, immigration, the Mueller investigation, dismantling legislation from the Obama Era and initiating a spate of trade wars driven by 19th-century nationalistic ideals of the type that led to world wars in the 20th century.
Putin is every bit as bad when it comes to nationalism. His stated aim is to restore Russia to the glory days of the Soviet empire. His problem is finding the means to achieve this end. He is spending heavily on military hardware, about 8 percent of GDP. But the GDP is down because of Western sanctions and a corrupt and criminally mismanaged economy.
But at the same time, Putin views the West as weak, ineffectual and politically divided. Trump is a joke. His commitment to NATO is in doubt. The EU and Western Alliance have been damaged by Brexit. Racist-inspired populism is dividing almost all the Western countries.
Putin, however, does not want a war. He would lose, and if he didn’t the cost would be a pyhrric battle for all concerned. So he conducts a running hybrid guerrilla war on several fronts to unbalance the West and continually test and weaken its resolve in much the same way that Hitler did in the 1930s. He sends green men into Ukraine; shoots down airlines; murders dissidents seeking refuge in Britain; conducts cyber attacks against the Baltic States; bombs aid convoys and interferes with the US presidential elections.
Each time Putin is accused, and each time—in the face of overwhelming evidence—he denies the accusations and puts forward a set of “Alternative Facts”. The latest, involving Syria, is that the White Helmets were responsible for the latest chemical attack, which, according to the Russians, never happened anyway. The White Helmets are a band of Syrian volunteers dedicated to rescuing the victims of the Syrian civil war. They were nominated for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
Putin has firmly planted his flag Syria. The Assad regime has become to Russia what Israel is to America: A priceless geostrategic asset in a vital region of the world which neither can retreat. While probing away, the Russian president may have created the ultimate test for Western resolve and backed himself into a corner from which a storm could be his only escape.
Tom Arms is editor of LookAheadnews.com