As tension is mounting around North Korea, the situation in Syria is still shrouded in confusion. Trump has stated in an interview with the New York Post that the US is “not going into Syria”, which seems clear enough, but goes against earlier statements by Rex Tillerson, Nikki Haley and General H.R. McMaster who have all hinted or more at the possibility of going after a regime change in Syria.
The President, who ran on a platform of non-interventionism, is now surrounded by neoncon warhawks, openly pushing the agenda of overthrowing Assad’s regime. Trump’s most unwavering followers insist that the Syria strike was one of his famous “4D chess” moves, and there are some plausible theories to that effect (showing resolve and killing the left’s Russia-narrative). But the two most likely scenarios, given the mixed signals from the Trump administration, are: Trump played his voters by promoting non-interventionism during the campaign, or Trump is being played by the neocons who are seeking another all-out war. Whichever will turn out to be true: if Trump goes full-neocon, he stands to lose a large portion of his fanatical and influential fanbase.
Team Trump changes
Team Trump saw some surprising changes in the days and weeks leading up to the Syria strike. Michael T. Flynn was dropped as national security advisor in February 2017, in what could cynically be considered a sacrifice to mainstream politics and media accusing the Trump administration of colluding with Russia. His successor, McMaster, removed Steve Bannon from the National Security Council (as per Susan Rice’s advice – which she came up with when she was not too busy unmasking Trump team wiretaps). And with him, the NSC’s primary advocate for non-interventionism. In Bannon’s place, Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law), saw his influence rising.
McMaster is being linked to warmonger David Petraeus, and Kushner has donated repeatedly to Hillary Clinton – also not averse to interventionism, as illustrated by her role in the Obama administration.
Bannon was kicked off the NSC on April 5th.
The strike on Shayrat airbase took place on April 6th.
War hawk John McCain was fairly satisfied with the strike, although he would really like to see more war. The Syria strikes made Trump more popular with mainstream media and politics, but see him losing support with his original base. But now suddenly, Trump is “presidential”. It may be surprising to the casual observer, but war is actually very mainstream.
In the UN Security Council Meeting it was up to Bolivia to remind the world of Colin Powell’s Bush-era WMD-narrative and pointing out that America’s unilateral strike against Iraq bore a striking resemblance to the attack on Syria.
According to Trump’s son Eric – and confirmed by spokesman Sean Spicer, a heartbroken Ivanka Trump “weighed in” on her father’s decision to strike against Syria in response to the gas attack. Which may help to make the President look human, but is actually a deeply disturbing notion. As for those who support Trump (or the ideas he represented during the campaign): we are right wing because we are rational human beings. Emotions are no basis for geopolitics. Or, as Mycroft Holmes put it: caring is not an advantage.
Assad’s responsibility for the gas attack that triggered America’s strike goes largely unquestioned in mainstream media and politics. The problem with determining who was behind it is that everybody who has intel also has a horse in the race. Personally, I tend not to believe the side that creates fake twitter profiles posing as 7 year-old girls who just happen to be all about neocon aggression policies.
Some reason that Assad had no motive to carry out a heinous and cruel gas attack like the one on Khan Shaykhun. But others disagree. We know that Assad has been forced to dimantle his chemical weapons factories, while the jihadi rebels still have control over two of them. But, Assad may still have chemical weapons stockpiled, even if he is not able to produce anymore now. Rebel groups like Jebhat al-Nusra do have checmical weapons, motive to carry out a false flag attack and have proven in the past not to be above killing the innocent and helpless.
One of the main sources blaming Assad for the gas attack were the “White Helmets” in Syria, who have in the recent past been accused of actually being jihadist terrorists and of creating fake rescue videos.
America’s strike on Syria was likely illegal, since firstly Trump had no congressional approval, but also because even if Assad was behind the gas attack, there had been no attack by Syria on the US. We have the UN and NATO for these situations. Sure, these are toothless tigers and we’d be better off without them. But as long as they exist, let’s use them for their intended purpose. Trump was right back in January, when he called on all NATO members to pay their fair share. By continuing America’s role as world police, he is directly undermining his demands. Many world leaders are cheering the US on, but they are able to stay on the sidelines and should it ever turn out the Assad’s regime was not responsible for the gas attack, they will never have to answer for the retaliation strike.
The way forward
If Trump keeps his word, there may not have been much harm done (geopolitically speaking – with no intention to disregard the personal tragedies of those directly involved in the strike). On the other hand, reports indicate that General McMaster is pushing for a ground war in Syria involving 50,000 American troops or more. Will Trump have the final word and block these plans, or has the die been cast?
There are some very powerful people hellbent on keeping the US at war. I’m sure Obama was hoping to be a peace president when he entered the white house. And for now I still believe that Trump believed his non-interventionist campaign rhetoric, but either Trump is being duped by the deep state, or his voters have been duped by him. Whichever it is, should the Trump administration continue the aggressive, neoncon foreign policy of the previous administrations, the outcome is the same: more war, more chaos, more Muslim migration to the west under the guise of a refugee crisis, more people dying on Western streets in islamic terror attacks.
If the neocons get their way and the Syrian regime change goes ahead we can’t rule out that we’re on the edge of World War III. So far, Putin has been patient, and China is playing along in dealing with North Korea, but these facts are not a given.