It is often said that war is how Americans learn geography. But Syria has been a hot spot for several years now and most Americans don’t seem to know why. So in fairly brief terms:
Syria is an Arab country run by Bashar al-Assad, son and successor to the dictator Hafez al-Assad, who took over in 1970 as head of a Baath Party that was a contemporary of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. The elder Assad died in 2000. The country is technically a secular state, partly because Syria is majority Sunni Islam, and the Assad family belong to the Alawite sect which is a minority even within the Shia minority. As a result most Syrian Alawites are firmly behind the government because they know they would face reprisals if Bashar al-Assad lost power. This alignment has also led to the patronage of Shiite Iran and Iran’s ally Russia. However after the “Arab Spring” calls for democracy in the Middle East increased, and when Assad brutally suppressed such protests in Syria, it sparked armed opposition by 2011, escalating into the Syrian Civil War. The resistance started out as relatively liberal. However, in the last few years, evidence has surfaced that Assad has not only de-emphasized operations against fundamentalist groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he has allowed fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq to flee to his country during the parallel conflict in Iraq, and actually ceded territory to ISIS in order to build them up as a domestic threat, while he- and his Russian patrons- focused on attacking the Free Syrian Army and local Kurdish groups who are at least partly supported by the United States. The basic premise of Assad’s campaign to stay in power is to eliminate all alternatives to his rule except ISIS, so as to say, “you HAVE to keep this corrupt, one-party regime in control, or else you’ll be figuratively and literally raped by fundamentalist religious fanatics.”
In other words, the same sales pitch as the Democratic Party. Except Assad has done a lot more to destroy opposition than the Democratic National Committee did to destroy Bernie Sanders.
There is of course another wannabe strongman who got aid from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Trump Administration has come under increasing scrutiny- even from some Republicans- over what seemed to be suspicious contacts between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and people who were either connected to the Russian government or directly working for it. By April 3, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R.-California) was himself under suspicion for seeming to run interference on his committee’s own investigation. Then the next day, April 4, the Syrian town of Khan Shaykun, occupied by a fundamentalist militia, suffered a chemical attack with sarin gas, which depending on who you ask was either a Syrian airstrike or the accidental result of a Syrian conventional bombing that struck the militia’s chemical weapons stockpile. The result in any case killed at least 74 and injured hundreds more. This incidentally was not the first time the Syrian government had been credibly accused of gassing its own citizens. But the Trump Administration reacted harshly. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to a previous agreement Syria had made to disable chemical weapons stockpiles under Russian supervision, and accurately concluded, “either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent.” And even though on April 8, Tillerson said that “there is no change to our military posture” on April 7, Donald Trump ordered an airstrike of 59 cruise missiles on a Syrian airbase that was (allegedly) the base used for the Khan Shaykun bombing.
It came out, after the airstrike, that Trump’s decision was (allegedly) tipped by the influence of his daughter Ivanka. This was according to Ivanka’s brother Eric, who admitted in an interview that Donald Trump was very much against President Obama taking action in Syria two years ago. Not to mention, up til April, Mr. Trump had expressed a pretty consistent record of defending Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian tendencies. For instance in a February interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, when O’Reilly said Putin was a killer, Trump said, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?” Basically the Noam Chomsky for Dummies approach to history. But suddenly Trump is on TV talking about how “beautiful babies” were killed as though it were suddenly news to him that Putin does bad things and Assad is in his pocket.
If Trump really is that gullible, it only confirms my impression that Donald Trump is what the average Donald Trump voter would be if he had money.
But one thing the airstrikes did do was shift the focus. During MSNBC live coverage of the airstrikes, Brian Williams actually invoked Leonard Cohen in quoting “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” Even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.-New York) said “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” And polls showed that about 50 to 60 percent of the American public supported the strike, although there was still opposition to further involvement in Syria.
What is actually surprising is that much of the opposition to and suspicion of the attack came from Republican politicians, citing the Administration’s action as being taken without notice to Congress. Not that it will ultimately amount to anything, because the defining characteristic of the modern Republican is not a defense of capitalism or traditional values, but the willingness to do any degraded and retarded thing that Donald Trump demands that you do. But it truly is remarkable that the Party of Trump is willing to raise as much objection as they have, especially given that it would seem to align them with the traditionally anti-war Left. Indeed, they’re not only displaying more regard for Congress’ warmaking power than the Democrats are now, they’re showing more skepticism than they did under Obama.
It could be that suspicion was sparked by details of the strike after the fact. Two days after the US strike, Syria launched air attacks from the same airbase, using conventional weapons against the same town of Khan Shaykun. Satellite images reported from various sources indicated that the runways were not damaged. See, in order to minimize casualties – and thus the chance that military action would lead to an escalation with Russia – gave Russia advance notice of the strike to give them- and thus the Syrians- time to evacuate personnel and possibly stockpiles. Now, the Syrian air force strikes that have occurred since did not use chemical weapons, and the conventional wisdom is that Syria and its patron were sent a message. But if the Russians and Syrians were capable of coordinating with America’s military strike well enough to minimize harm to both humans and the target, then it wasn’t the Russians or Syrians that needed to be sent a message, because clearly the government can communicate well with them. The message was for the various suckers in America, like Brian Williams and the Democratic leadership, who take this kayfabe seriously.
According to MarketWatch, each of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles cost about a million dollars each and since Trump owns stock in the manufacturer, that helped his portfolio, which is of course the main thing that matters to him. Again, according to Eric Trump, “if there was anything Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.” But the lack of follow-through on the diplomatic front combined with the lack of further (publicized) military action in Syria means that the initial “shock and awe” of the airstrike gives everyone time to analyze how much or how little it accomplished, and in turn to question exactly how and why things went down the way they did. Not to mention why the Administration took a completely opposite policy from the one that they had held just a few days before in response to a Syrian regime whose use of chemical weapons was well-established. As with almost everything else, the more Trump tries to throw people off the Russia connection, the more obvious it becomes.
Which may be why there’s another war in the making even before whether we know that the first one is going to happen.
North Korea has been a dangerous state in Asia for some time, especially as it has developed nuclear weapons capability. As yet it does not have reliable missiles to strike the United States, though it has threatened to do so for years. There is also a tradition that on the anniversary of the first dictator’s birth, April 15, military parades, displays and tests are held to show the communist regime’s power. It was assumed by many foreign analysts that this year North Korea would engage in another nuclear test simultaneous with the test of an intercontinental missile. (As it turned out, yesterday’s missile test failed seconds after launch.) But up to that point, the Trump Administration was ratcheting up tensions by sending a carrier force to the Korean Peninsula, with Trump saying “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
In defense of the current Administration, though, the Clinton Administration tried to negotiate with North Korea to stop it from getting nuclear weapons- and ended up giving it the civilian nuclear tech they needed to develop nuclear weapons. Then both Bush and Obama, to varying degrees, kept the situation on the back burner just hoping it wouldn’t get any worse. But now it has, because this is what happens when you negotiate with a government willing to control its own people through starvation. You can’t negotiate with Kim Jong-un because he’s insane and unreasonable. What we need is a leader who is also insane and unreasonable.
No really. Up til now, no one has had the perspective to understand Kim. We need a negotiator who is also a pudgy, spoiled princeling to approach him on the same level. Donald Trump could bridge that gap. He’d be like Dennis Rodman, only with less natural coloration.
This might be possible because according to another much-quoted news story, Trump was willing to admit that the situation might not be cut and dried after getting a ten-minute “history” lesson from Chinese president Xi Jinping. Who would have thought that resolving the Korea problem could be so complicated? But then, who thought that healthcare could be so complicated? For that matter, who would have thought that an Easter Egg Roll could be so complicated?
I’m beginning to sense a pattern here.
Some of the more paranoid (and perceptive) leftists have been warning for quite some time that at some point in the near future, especially as Trump’s continuing controversies become more of a liability for him and the Party of Trump, he will engineer some emergency to wrap himself in the flag and seize special powers, similar to what Hitler did after the Reichstag Fire. Now in the last few weeks, the schemes of Trump and the Legion of Doom that he calls a Cabinet have been partially blunted by the checks and balances of our republican democracy, and partly by their sheer incompetence. But if Trump is too incoherent and short-attention-span to be a true fascist, by the same token his willingness to switch tack on the shortest notice means there is no guarantee he won’t start a war with Russia over Syria or with China over Korea, just… because.
The danger is not that Trump will take over by means of a Reichstag Fire ploy. The danger is that he’s going to get us into a war because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
And on that note…