With Trump’s inauguration, policy in Syria had begun to take a different direction.
After having failed at regime-change, with the insurgency badly defeated, on the defensive, and fighting amongst themselves, it appeared the rebels’ sponsors had realized the futility of their efforts and started to discontinue their support.
The Trump administration also reportedly ended the CIA’s train-and-equip program. This represents a long-standing feud between the Pentagon and the CIA. The Pentagon had vehemently opposed the CIA’s rebel program under grounds that it was empowering radical extremists which would eventually turn their guns towards Americans, and if successful would turn Syria into country of chaos ruled by warring factions of jihadists, similar to Libya.
However, the sectors of power that Obama represented largely centered around the financial institutions and the intelligence apparatus, and therefore the CIA won the tug-of-war and the rebel program continued. Under Trump, the program was ended and the CIA’s control over foreign policy was diminished, while the generals and military officials were largely granted discretion to conduct overseas operations with little oversight from the chief executive. The interests therefore steering foreign policy are largely those of the weapons and defense contractors, and the profit-incentives of the military industrial base as a whole.
Given this, instead of covertly funneling aid to al-Qaeda, Trump began increasing the coalitions’ bombing of the group, and adopted a different regional strategy. This increased bombing only materialized however after al-Qaeda had been routed on the battlefield.
Nevertheless, the strategy became one of overt military occupation and a partitioning of Syrian territory.
The purpose of the US-led “anti-ISIS” campaign had up to this point been to project the image that the US was fighting the group while simultaneously allowing them to prosper and militarily bleed out Iran and Russia. In this way, the presence of ISIS was redirected into a useful pretext which legitimized an illegal military presence in Syria which otherwise would not have been possible. As well, the universally despised attitude toward ISIS could conveniently be transformed into a mandate for annexing and occupying Syrian territory. The strategy could shift from “Assad must go” to “defeating ISIS.”
Signaling this shift, the Trump administration had announced that it “accepts” the “political reality… with respect to Assad,” and that “foremost among its priorities” from here on out would be “the defeat of ISIS.”
Concurrent with this was an agreement reached between Trump and the Saudi king after their meeting in mid-March, where it was decided that the Gulf would re-open supply channels to their proxies and occupy Russia on the battlefield therefore allowing the US to concentrate on dividing northern Syria and establishing their occupation.
Within this environment, it appeared that some kind of negotiated settlement might have been able to materialize, wherein Russia would agree to the US annexation in return for some other concessions. Powerful factions within the US were vehemently opposed to this however and were determined to reverse it.
The chemical weapons incident in Khan Sheikhoun effectively accomplished that and upended all of the previous hopes for a settlement.
After the horrendous attack, killing upwards of 70 people, procedures were underway for a thorough UN investigation to determine culpability. Without having completed that process, and without any evidence presented, the Trump administration launched a barrage of cruise missiles and attacked a Syrian military installation which was being used to fight ISIS. The timing of the attack prevented the investigation from going forward.
This was a clear violation of international law and a blatant act of aggression against another state. According to the Nuremburg Tribunals, an unjustified act of aggression represents the “supreme international crime,” high above all the others. The pain and suffering of the victims was cynically exploited as a pretext for such an aggression, unsurprisingly to the high moral acclaim of Western officials and media personalities. The attack, hailed as a “beautiful” display of our weapons, which revealed the “heart” and compassion of President Trump, reportedly murdered half a dozen Syrian soldiers, as well as four children.
Who cares? It was our moral duty to punish Assad for killing children, by killing other children, albeit the justified and morally honorable way, with US bombs.
Even more egregious, the attack was almost certainly carried out by the rebels, dominated by al-Qaeda and a rabble of other sectarian extremists. Washington would have you believe that Assad, having given up all of this chemical weapons in 2013 and barely escaping a Libya-style overthrow, after now having devastated the rebels on the battlefield, securing his greatest military advantage out of the entire conflict, would on the eve of important international congregations aimed at ending the war and directly after those aggressing upon him had declared their acceptance of him staying in power, launch a militarily insignificant attack with the kind of weapons that are literally the one thing that could endanger his rule and lead to a US invasion, all to kill civilians and a relatively insignificant amount of fighters which was even lower than the amount normally killed using conventional weapons. Assad may be a brutal autocrat, but he has never displayed any signs of being insane.
The opposition, however, has everything to gain from this. Desperate, staring at defeat, a reduction in supplies, and a US administration abandoning it’s former “Assad must go” policy, the last recourse they had was for a “red-line” to be crossed which could justify a US invasion. It having been widely reported that they, in fact, have access to chemical weapons and have utilized them in the past.
Not surprisingly then, the US intelligence community largely holds the Russian explanation, that Assad’s forces bombed a rebel storage facility containing chemical weapons, to be true, and the official US line to be false, sources from the CIA stating that it was their belief that “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was likely not responsible for the lethal poison-gas incident in northern Syria.” One intelligence source said “the most likely scenario” was “a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy… that the U.S. government would no longer seek ‘regime change’ in Syria.”
War is a Racket
In the aftermath of the attack, it has become apparent that the entire motivation behind the Democratic Party’s antagonism towards Trump, along with the CIA, the neocons, and the rest of the liberal interventionists, had absolutely nothing to do with opposition towards Trump’s racism, xenophobia, attacks against civil rights, or even any connection with Putin, the accusations of course lacking any foundation in evidence. Instead, these were pretexts used to wage an all-out campaign of manipulation with a single goal in mind: pressuring him to continue carrying out the previous administrations’ strategy of overthrowing the Syrian government and maintaining a war-footing against Russia.
This is why the liberal resentment was solely focused on undermining the one aspect of his platform which was actually worth pursuing, cooperation with Russia and a détente of the increasingly dangerous confrontation that had been festering between the two nuclear powers. By portraying Trump as nothing more than a spy for Putin, the liberal establishment was able to guarantee that business-as-usual against Russia would be resumed, under threat that their efforts would be directed toward undermining the Presidency if it did not.
Explaining the situation, the Wall Street Journal reported that “in Washington, probes by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Congress into possible connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia have restricted the new administration’s ability to cut deals seen as conciliatory to the Kremlin in the near term without provoking an outcry from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.”
Exposing this antagonism for the opportunistic warmongering that it was, following Trump’s attack, in reality a war-crime for which Trump should be impeached and tried, all of his most forceful opponents of only a few days prior are now simply fawning in praise at their “great commander-in-chief.” The pressure has effectively been called off, though Trump will realize why that is and will remember again in the future when it is reapplied. After having found such an effective mechanism for insuring that the proper course is maintained, it will continue to be utilized.
In addition to having mitigated domestic opposition, the attack will likely remedy the problem of Trump’s approval ratings, which were below that of any comparable president. Nothing more effectively rallies a country around their leader like a war. In this sense, being a celebrity personality who’s foremost concerns are seemingly how others view him, the incident was largely orchestrated around boosting the president’s national image. Trump will now be seen as the “strong” leader who attacked the evil Assad and wasn’t afraid of Russian threats, while Obama was the “weak” president who wouldn’t do the same even without Russia protecting him. It appears that such a reckless attack was largely the result of one man’s ego.
However, it also represented the increased power and influence of the military, Trump having vowed to listen to his generals in the same way that Obama did not. When it comes to military officials, every solution resembles a nail, and are “solved” through military means such as missile strikes. As well, the power of the military industrial base to secure profit-making interests through state policy was also on display. Most notably the defense contractor Raytheon, who manufactures the missiles that were used in the attack, and thereby stands to gain when the government resupplies its arsenal. Their stock also instantly surged following the incident, adding nearly five billion dollars to its overall market value. Even more to the point are the reports which suggest that Trump still holds shares in Raytheon, and therefore will directly profit from this and from similar decisions in the future. Oil stocks as well have precipitously increased.
History, it seems, is repeating itself, with Smedley Butler’s classic “War is a Racket” coming to mind.
The attack also is related to the Trump administrations’ strong ties with Israel and the AIPAC lobby. Shortly before the chemical incident took place, Israeli jets had interfered on the side of the Islamic State and targeted Syrian army positions. Syria shot at the jets violating their airspace and forced them to retreat. The same airbase that Trump attacked was the one from which the Israeli jets were targeted, Trump giving his friend Bibi a gift in the form of retribution.
In a similar vein, the order was given during Trump’s dinner with the President of China, and comes with a message in mind. The message is that “my threats aren’t hollow,” and carry force behind them, referring to recent bellicose statements directed towards China if it refuses to “solve” the situation in North Korea. This, unsurprisingly, has only further encouraged North Korea and others to continue acquiring nuclear capabilities to deter against American aggression. This is what the North Korean’s nuclear program is all about after all, at least according to US military intelligence.
Nevertheless, Trump now has immense incentives to continue pursuing confrontation with Russia and Syria.
For what it was worth though, the actual attack represents a small-scale and largely symbolic accomplishment. It did not greatly damage Syria’s military capabilities, the airbase reportedly already being back in operation. It does, however, carry with it extraordinarily dangerous and potentially unforeseeable consequences.
A Lifeline for the Jihadists
The situation in Syria was already extremely precarious. For the first time in the modern period fighter jets of two nuclear powers were circling each other within the bounds of a single state in defense of opposing ground-forces; one false move could’ve potentially sparked a WWIII scenario. Trump’s careless actions have only further hurdled the world towards possible catastrophe, further strengthening the opinion of the world’s population that the United States is by far the greatest threat to world peace, with constantly-invoked official adversaries trailing far behind.
Directly after the attack, Russia severed the communication channels between itself and the US military. The agreed upon “deconfliction” precautions have been abandoned while the memorandum of understanding used to prevent military confrontations and air accidents has been tabled. US jets are now operating in Syria under constant threat of being targeted by the Russian air force and the Syrian army. Given this, former members of the US-led coalition have suspended their involvement and evacuated their aircraft, saying it is no longer safe to remain. Others are likely to follow. One false move could bring us to the brink of a cataclysmic confrontation. Wasn’t this decision just wonderful?
On top of all this, the maneuver has greatly damaged Russia’s credibility. The US effectively called the Russian narrative a lie and exposed Putin’s “protection” of his allies to be hollow. The Russian military has been discredited and their already strained relations with Syria and Iran have only further been maligned. Unsurprisingly the Russian’s are furious.
Importantly however, it seems likely that some kind of an agreement was reached when the US notified the Russians and warned them of the attack. Important military equipment and personnel were evacuated from the site. The question however is what concession Russia received in return for allowing Trump to save-face after his “red line” comments and what will be the Russian response. Already a Russian warship is steaming toward the Mediterranean while further steps are being taken to increase Syria’s air defenses.
The other direct consequence was the strengthening of ISIS and al-Qaeda, who unsurprisingly exploited the attack to launch their own offenses. The military installation that was hit was a main base from which attacks against ISIS were carried out. It was instrumental in keeping nearby ISIS militants at bay and protected the surrounding inhabitants from ISIS attacks. Following the incident residents say they now fear an assault, stating that “women and children have already started to leave Shayrat to go to Homs city. We’re not afraid of airstrikes. Our fear is the [ISIS] attack from the east.” For the residents, all these airstrikes amount to is “proof that the U.S. helps Daesh.” Perhaps this is what the New York Times meant when they said “It was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction, and justice done, when American cruise missiles struck an airfield in Syria on Thursday.”
All of the most reactionary forces on the ground praised and welcomed the strikes, and its main beneficiaries were ISIS and al-Qaeda. How glorious.
Furthermore, the implicit message that Trump has sent to the jihadists is that the international media and the US administration will not attempt to deliberate over evidence and demonstrate factual culpability, but instead will automatically blame Assad for any chemical weapons attacks. This effectively gives them a mechanism by which to call in US airstrikes should they ever need to improve their battlefield positions or gain the support of foreign intervention. Far from deterring dangerous weapon use, this provides an overwhelming incentive for chemical weapons to continue to be deployed, especially in terms of the Gulf monarchies should they ever need to redirect Trump towards an explicit “Assad must go” policy.
Leaked memos from Saudi Arabia say that Assad must be overthrown at all costs, because if he is not then Syria’s primary goal will be “taking revenge on the countries that stood against it, with the Kingdom… coming at the top of the list,” which represents “a high degree of danger for the Kingdom.” The Saudi rulers make clear their view that the main stumbling block in the way of achieving this is the “lack of ‘desire’ and not a lack of ‘capability’… to take firm steps” on the part of the United States, and therefore they “must seek by all means available and all possible ways to overthrow the current regime in Syria.” (emphasis added)
Isn’t it wonderful how we taught Assad a lesson?
Given all of this, the pressures leading towards war and destruction will continue, as will the strategy of occupying northern Syria while denying the Syrian government from controlling the totality of its former territories. Rebel jihadi supply lines through Turkey will continue fueling the conflict, and with it the innocent deaths, while the money and weapons from the Gulf will continue to be forthcoming in an attempt to sink Russia down into the Syrian quagmire. This course of action, based on motivations of regional dominance, will continue to be the largest stumbling block towards peace that will further prolong the already 6-year long conflict.
Obstacles to Peace
Russia still has a fresh memory of the debacle in Afghanistan during the 1980s and desperately fears another repeat in Syria, especially given the newfound influence they have now been able to establish with the buildup of their military presence around the Mediterranean. The conflict in Syria provided them the opportunity to accomplish this. It is therefore within their interests for a quick political settlement to be reached and for a termination of the conflict, along with a cleanup of the Russian-nationals fighting in the ranks of the jihadists, and to further consolidate and exploit its newfound position as an influencer in regional Middle Eastern affairs. This comes into stark conflict with their Iranian and Syrian partners who are urging Russia to continue the offensive and reclaim the totality of Syrian territory.
Because of this, Russia would likely be willing to exert the pressure necessary to force its allies to accept a settlement which includes extraordinary concessions. For this reason too, Russia will likely acquiesce to the US-backed balkanization effort in some form in order to freeze the conflict.
At the same time, the Americans and Europeans desperately want to see Russia get bogged down in another Afghanistan scenario, not the least of which because Russia was instrumental in preventing their regime-change efforts. It is for this reason that the US and the EU do not have a coherent plan to end the conflict, but do have a strategy of partitioning Syrian territory which will likely result in an all-out corporate resource-grab afterwards, allowing Western investors access to exploit the area and obtain the rebuilding contracts that will then be signed. This being paramount in their calculations, the reactionary al-Qaeda forces on the ground again become a useful asset rather than an enemy to be destroyed, while the ISIS pretext justifies the annexations.
Following the completion of partition, the strategy will shift directly back toward regime-change, only with newly acquired territories and levers of pressure from which to exert such demands. The eventual goal is a complete eviction of Russia from the Mediterranean and from its ability to frustrate Western ambitions for regional hegemony.
Fueling this is the imbedded and institutional nature of an American policy of regime change toward all non-compliant states, euphemistically referred to as the “axis of evil.” These policies are not at all related to the changing personalities which happen to occupy the White House from time to time. This is because government policy is representative of the very narrow class interests of those who dominate the socio-economic hierarchy. That is, the dominant plutocracy made up of the individuals and interests who own the private economy and enjoy control over vast consolidations of wealth and resources. It is from this dominant business-class that the top level positions within the executive are filled, and from these interests that policy is crafted and legislated. This has been shown in prominent political science studies which explain “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” Or, in other words, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” while decision-making is confined almost exclusively to the top 1%.
This is why prominent political analysts have concluded since the 1950s that “at every level of the administration of the American state, domestically and internationally, business serves as the fount of critical assumptions or goals and strategically placed personnel.” Policy therefore stemming from “the most powerful class interests” which inform the “nature and objectives of American power at home and abroad.” It is the “ideology and the interest and material power of the physical resources of the ruling class of American capitalism” which determine courses of action, “the latter [the material power of their physical resources] being sufficient should consensus break down.” This “economic ruling elite” being “the final arbiter and beneficiary of the existing structure of American… politics and of United States power in the world.”
This the reason why US policy towards Syria has remained consistent for nearly a century. The CIA has been attempting, since its inception, to overthrow the Syrian government since the middle of the 20th century, through countless administrations and countless fluctuations between Democrats and Republicans. The core policy remains the same, so it should be no wonder that the current incumbent would opportunistically seize upon an opportunity to attack the Syrian state. These actions cannot solely be laid at the feat of the liberals nor domestic political concerns.
Instead, the overthrow of non-compliant regimes is a staple of US policy because doing so secures the economic and material interests of the dominant ruling class within America. It is within their interests for governments to allow their economies to be penetrated by Western corporations seeking to exploit their markets, and to denationalize state assets and coveted resources for the exploitation of foreign investors. Furthermore, these interests are further secured through regional support for US military aggression and occupations. This is why so much emphasis was put upon securing control over Iraqi oil and the establishment of US military bases in Iraq, and why similar aggressions are not pursued against client states which comply with these developments. Syria, although it began to allow Western economic penetration, has on the whole frustrated attempts for greater access. In addition, Syria has opposed US military aggression in the region, such as their attempts to undermine the occupation of Iraq.
The Logic of Imperialism
The other major issue is the pipeline war between the US and Russia over the natural gas field which bisects Iranian and Qatari territory, the largest in the world. Qatar’s attempts to connect their holdings directly to European markets was denied by Assad, while an Iranian and Russian-backed pipeline was put into motion. It is only after the ball began rolling on the Russian-Iranian-Syria pipeline that the insurgency was fostered against Assad.
This is why Trump has used this opportunity to further aggress upon the Syrian state, now writing up a new batch of sanctions to apply under the pretext of chemical weapons use. The sanctions, after all, are an economic siege against the entirety of the country, and are fueling much of the suffering and the fleeing of refugees. These new ones will continue a tactic of brutalization of the civilian population with little effect against the government, the strategy being to force massive economic suffering as a means to pressure the current regime. This is also why the US again is demanding Assad’s ouster, saying “There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.”
As self-righteous pundits, officials, and intellectuals who should know better wax poetically and bask in their own self-righteousness over how moral and justified this immoral act of aggression was, it is not hard to see why the world considers the US the leading threat to peace and a leading terrorist rogue state.
The US and its clients, who have all hailed Trump’s belligerent attacks on moralistic grounds, are the only states rampaging through the region attacking countries at will while destroying any that stand in their way. The US now, and the British before them, have consistently opposed and overthrown any truly progressive, democratic, and secular movement or government that has emerged in the Middle East while at the same time propping up the forces of extremist-Islam and fueling the spread of violent jihadism throughout the region. This is because the US has, since the 1950s, pursued an agenda of global domination and has insisted on securing its ambitions through tyranny and oppression.
Imagine, for an instance, that Syria manufactured a false claim and said the US military used chemical weapons against them, and used that pretext to launch a cruise missile assault on an American base in American territory, murdering the innocent civilians living nearby, including four children. Now imagine that on top of that, the officials and intellectuals from Syria didn’t apologize, but instead hailed the intolerable injustice as being a display of “justice done,” something that was “beautiful,” which elicited a “sense of emotional satisfaction” and was righteous and good, showing how heartfelt and compassionate they are.
How malicious and sociopathic would we view those officials?
Yet we all carry on, blind and drunk off the desire to dominate and control.
The logic of imperialism, is truly wondrous to behold.