Well then. It looks like Trump has successfully “wagged the dog,” as it were, and he was apparently willing to risk terminal war with Russia to do it. Thursday night’s unilateral cruise missile strike was illegal and extraordinarily reckless but, from Trump’s perspective, it seems to have largely paid off: The Russians are more or less keeping their cool, and our lunatic president is being favorably compared in the US media to Barack Obama, who now looks like a veritable dove by comparison.
Most importantly, the neo-McCarthyists will be hard pressed to credibly maintain that Trump, who has just undermined Putin in the most blatant way imaginable, is taking his orders from the Russkies.
As Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated: “US actions further destroy Russia-US relations. If earlier it was explained using the need to fight against terrorism, now it’s an obvious act of aggression against the sovereign state of Syria.”
A statement from the Kremlin expressed a similar sentiment: “Vladimir Putin believes that complete disregard for factual information about the use by terrorists of chemical weapons drastically aggravates the situation. This move by Washington has dealt a serious blow to Russian-US relations, which are already in a poor state.”
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was more ominous, declaring that the attack was “one step away from military clashes with Russia,” meaning Trump nearly triggered World War Three.
The White House described the strike as a “proportionate” response to the massacre that took place in Idlib province, where al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) has set up its own mini theocracy. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said during an emergency Security Council meeting that the illegal use of military force was “fully justified” because Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. She added that the US is “prepared to do more” if he doesn’t get the message. In other words, Assad brought the attack upon himself.
But of course we understand this to be nonsense. Here’s an axiom: If you’re actually serious about punishing someone for a crime, the first thing you do is make sure they’re guilty. The US didn’t do that. In fact it did precisely the opposite, immediately proclaiming that Assad had ordered the gassing without supplying a stitch of evidence. It then introduced a preposterous Security Council resolution and went ballistic when Russia vetoed it. That’s when it became necessary for us righteous Americans to, in the words of Haley, “take our own action.”
Meanwhile the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons stated that an analysis of the “alleged chemical weapons attack” was just getting started. On Friday they published an update, which spoke again of a Fact-Finding Mission “to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes” (my emphasis).
So the US and its allies couldn’t even get the chemical right. They said repeatedly that it was sarin, despite the fact that images showed first responders (the dubious White Helmets) treating victims without gloves on and showing no signs of exposure to the deadly nerve agent. And get this: On Friday the New York Times published a propaganda piece stating that the Syrian government had “used what was probably the nerve agent sarin.” Two paragraphs later, the authors write that “the smell from the chemical assault lingered in the air in parts of Khan Sheikhoun on Friday, residents there said via telephone, Skype and internet messaging.” OK. There’s only one problem: Sarin is completely odorless. How good of the Times to debunk its own narrative for us!
In reality, it would probably take six months to determine beyond any doubt the type of gas that was used and where it came from. There’s a reason for this: Not a single independent observer is on the ground in that area of the country. Why? Because it’s governed by the sort of people who kidnap and murder journalists and aid workers. Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton expounded this in a recent article for Alternet, writing:
The reality is that Idlib is substantially controlled by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which has gone through a series of rebranding schemes but remains the same jihadist group it always was: Jabhat al-Nusra. In the province it rules, al-Nusra has imposed … a Taliban-like regime that has ethnically cleansed religious and ethnic minorities, banned music and established a brutal theocracy in which it publicly executes women accused of adultery.
They go on to make the obvious (yet typically ignored) point that US military action against the Syrian government would be a godsend for these Islamist swine, who saw their prospects for victory collapse in December with the liberation of eastern Aleppo, a former al-Nusra stronghold. Thanks to Trump, those prospects have been resurrected. Syria is a zero-sum game: A loss for Assad is a gain for his jihadist opponents, including ISIS. Trump pretended to understand this during the presidential campaign, scoffing at Hillary’s bombastic talk of “no-fly zones” and asserting that it was ludicrous to fight Assad and the terrorists at the same time. This was one of the very few issues on which Trump made any sense.
So why the about-face? Why would Trump attack Syria under a false pretext, knowing it would benefit the “radical Islamic terrorists” he claims to hate so much?
The Russians say it was a calculated move to divert attention from the ongoing slaughter in Mosul, where over 1,000 civilians—including “beautiful babies,” to use Trump’s language—have been killed by the US-led coalition since January. I think they’re on the right track: It was a cynical diversion, but more so from Russia-gate than from Mosul. Trump had tried to create diversions before—the Yemen raid and wiretapping allegations come to mind—but they ultimately fell flat. The gas attack in Idlib was an enormous opportunity. With a single belligerent action he could, and did, (1) reassert some degree of control over the public discourse, (2) cast himself as a strongman in contrast to Barack Obama, (3) quash the idea that he’s in league with Vladimir Putin and (4) curry favor with the reliably hawkish mainstream media, who celebrated this major international crime with almost total unanimity.
It’s pretty remarkable how easy it is for a US president to win over his most strident critics: Just start dropping bombs. Nothing brings Americans together like a declaration of war. Trump evidently understands this now. God help us all.