Russia, Iran and U.S. are all looking beyond the defeat of ISIS in Syria. But the little game the great powers are playing is becoming increasingly risky.
GENEVA — The war against ISIS is in full swing. In Mosul and in Raqqa — the terror group's respective Iraqi and Syrian strongholds — a deluge of fire that grows less and less respectful of civilian life has meant that the presence of jihadists is gradually disappearing — at least under their current organization. But already it seems, preparation for the next war has begun. The Syrian army, but also those of Russia and Iran, are now applying themselves to provoking the Americans, all of them considering that the U.S. presence in Syria like a body that must be expelled.
Virtually direct confrontations are becoming more and more frequent, though they still remain limited for now. It is in nobody's interest for such a showdown to explode. Yet, a first Syrian warplane was shot down by the Americans on Sunday, and as Tehran fired missiles for the first time to better mark its territory, we are getting a taste of the risks that come when the great powers start playing a game of chicken.
Will future historians look back at the victory over ISIS as a simple episode in a bigger war, one that had started long before and that will continue long after its destruction? Most of all, they'll need to decipher what, for now, remains an almost absolute mystery: What goals are the U.S. pursuing, and more particularly the current administration?
Much more than Iraq, Syria is hostile ground for the U.S.
While Donald Trump continues to flounder, as he has been doing since entering the White House, his Syrian ambitions seem to merely come down to the "annihilation" of ISIS as promised in last year's election campaign. A take-no-prisoners war will not only contribute to feeding tomorrow's extremists, but also forgets one fundamental fact: In Syria, far more than in Iraq, the Americans are operating on hostile territory, both in terms of diplomacy and pure violence.
Whereas everybody is already considering their next move, the U.S. president switches between inflammatory comments against Iran, short-lived retaliatory measures (such the bombing of a Syrian base in April) and a strategic void that sends shudders of fear through both the seasoned diplomatic professional and the average citizen of the world. One plane shot down here, a weapons delivery there and a great Twitter tantrum in the middle of it all. In Syria, the U.S. Army is not operating from a position of strength. Is its commander-in-chief even aware what's happening?