‘We don’t have a policy in Syria,’ one former US State Department official told me. ‘Everybody in the Middle East knows that whatever is said by the Pentagon, State Department or National Security Council lacks authority because whatever assurances they give may be contradicted within the hour by a presidential tweet or by one of the factions in the White House’
President Trump has told a crowd of cheering Polish nationalists in Warsaw that the great threat to the world is from “radical Islamic terrorism”, which should make it good news for him that Isis is losing Mosul, the heart of its self-proclaimed Caliphate and its de facto capital in Iraq. At the same time, US-backed Syrian-Kurdish forces are closing in on Raqqa, the last big Isis-held city in Syria, which they will capture in the coming weeks or months.
Isis has been the most powerful enemy of peace in the Middle East and beyond over the last three years, so why is its defeat in its two largest strongholds not making the region feel a safer place? Instead, the mood is edgy and fearful, bringing to mind the atmosphere in Europe in 1914 when many different conflicts were escalating and cross-infecting each other. It is not so much that the great powers are itching to fight each other in the Middle East, but, as in the period before the First World War, there are so many “wild cards”, in the sense of inputs or ingredients of uncertain value in the political mix, that almost anything could happen.