It seems to happen just about every September and April over the past years: every time the Syrian proxy war seems to have receded from international media attention for a period of a long summer or a winter, a mass attention-grabbing event or massacre happens to suddenly yank the world's (and the White House's) focus right back on the war and a return to intervention and escalation mode.
And curiously, this seems to occur the moment Assad and the Syrian Army alongside the Russians are on the path to overwhelming victory.
On Monday evening of Labor Day, President Donald Trump weighed in with what's clearly a veiled threat warning Syria and its allies via Twitter:
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
And immediately following, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted her own statement based on the president's words, while specifically invoking the US charge that Assad plans to use chemical weapons.
Haley wrote: All eyes on the actions of Assad, Russia, and Iran in Idlib. #NoChemicalWeapons
These latest threats confirm what we previously reported over the weekend: that the US is seeking to create a quagmire for Russia and Iran in order to pressure both countries to acquiesce to Washington's demands. In the case of Iran the White House is seeking new negotiations after the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) last May.
In 2013, top Obama Administration officials described their policy in the Syrian War as one of keeping the war going. The administration wanted a big seat at the table for a political settlement, which officials clarified meant ensuring that the war kept going so that there was never a clear victor. The Trump Administration is now slipping into that same destructive set of priorities in Syria.
The Washington Post last week quoted an unnamed Administration official as saying that “right now, our job is to help create quagmires [for Russia and the Syrian regime] until we get what we want.”
During the two prior Aprils, Trump ordered massive airstrikes on Syrian government targets after blaming Damascus for claimed chemical weapons attacks on civilians.
Trump's latest tweet, for the first time addressing the final showdown over Idlib specifically, singles out "the Russians and Iranians" as "making a grave humanitarian mistake" should they "recklessly attack Idlib Province".
Thus the president seems to be precisely calculating that the battle for Idlib can be used an opportunity for putting increased pressure and global attention on Tehran and Moscow.
So clearly, something big is coming possibly in the form of a "rebel" claimed "provocation" as the Pentagon and US officials have over the past week continued pushing the gambit, setting the stage to play the "Assad is gassing his own people" card should so much as an inkling of a White Helmets allegation emerge, in an unprecedented level of telegraphing intentions for leverage on the battlefield.
Except someone should remind the president that the "rebel" coalition in control of this major "final holdout" is but the latest incarnation of al-Qaeda, calling itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and has held the province, the capital city of which is Idlib city, since a successful Western and Gulf ally sponsored attack on the area in 2015.
IMPORTANT message from The #US Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL- Brett McGurk- on the situation in #Idlib #Syria:— Brasco_Aad (@Brasco_Aad) August 22, 2018
''Idlib Province is the largest ALQaeda safe haven since 9/11, tied directly to Ayman al Zawahri (current #ALQaeda leader) & this is a HUGE problem'' pic.twitter.com/99ulOLpZwi
Regardless, it now appears the US stands ready to respond militarily to even the most unlikely and flimsiest of accusations issued by al-Qaeda terrorists and groups like the 'White Helmets' which operate alongside AQ-linked fighters.
And why wouldn't Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham militants, now surrounded by Syrian and Russian forces and facing imminent defeat, redeem what's essentially the US offer to "call in the Air Force" against Assad's army? All they have to do is utter the words "chemical weapons attack!" to their friends in the Western media and in Washington.
But in terms of the trustworthiness of such a claim that's surely being prepared, all the president needs to do is honestly listen to his own top State Department official, Special anti-ISIL envoy Brett McGurk, who accurately described in an unusually frank assessment a year ago:
"Idlib provice is the largest al-Qaeda safe-have since 9/11, tied to directly to Ayman al Zawahiri, this is a huge problem."
But again, Trump's latest words appear more designed for leverage — unfortunately with the threat now on record (similar to Obama's 2013 "red line" threat) it matters little whether the president actually believes Assad will use chemical weapons or not.