Trump's Escalations of War in Syria--Sleepwalking into a Global Confrontation

Syrian President Bashar al Assad claims to have won the war and that he is merely mopping up remaining rebel groups. (Photo: (c) 2017 Reese Erlich)

Trump's Escalations of War in Syria--Sleepwalking into a Global Confrontation

With its escalation of the undeclared war in Syria, the Trump Administration risks a direct military confrontation with Russia.

On June 20, the United States shot down an Iranian drone flying near allied rebels in southeastern Syria. On June 17, a U.S. fighter jet downed a Syrian Air Force bomber, asserting that the Syrians threatened the ground positions of Syrian Kurdish allies.

Russian officials immediately warned that Russian radar would target U.S. war planes flying in western Syria. Russia said it would shut down the Russian-U.S. hotline aimed at avoiding accidental military conflict over the skies of Syria.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that warned U.S. planes would be in danger "if they take action that poses a threat to Russian aircraft." The United States has now attacked the Syrian military and its allies seven times, including one "accidental" attack near Deir ez-Zor last September that killed sixty-two Syrian soldiers.

The air war escalation is "extremely dangerous," Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan and an expert on the Middle East, told The Progressive. "Any time you have two great-power air forces operating in the same area with different war aims, the danger of conflict is extreme. The Trump Administration seems to be sleepwalking into a global confrontation."

Competing military forces are scrambling to take over territory abandoned by the Islamic State as it is driven out of Raqqa and other cities. The government of Bashar al Assad now controls much of western Syria and is moving to reclaim some former Islamic State areas in the east. Syrian Kurds control a strip in the north. Various other rebels dominate in northwestern and southern parts of the country.

The latest U.S. military attacks--along with those of Russia, Turkey and Iran--bring Syria closer to de facto partition, Cole said.

"The United States is trying to establish a sphere of influence in Syria. The Russians are asserting [their own] sphere of influence," he said.

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