59 American cruise missiles rained down on Syria yesterday as punishment for the Assad regime allegedly deploying chemical weapons against civilians in Idlib. The chemical weapon used was most likely sarin gas, a nasty type of nerve agent that causes respiratory failure. Images from Syria showed dead women and children, limp and lifeless as if someone had just flipped their off switch.
Gases like sarin are considered weapons of mass destruction and are banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons is also a gross breach of every international norm, something that the United States has put a lot of work into preventing from happening over the years lest warfare swallow our civilization wholesale.
Just prior to the sarin attack, the Trump administration initiated a policy reversal from the Obama legacy, stating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can remain in power. The beleaguered Assad has fought a pitched battle against nearly the entire world it seems, but found allies in Iran and Russia who have helped preserve his regime. Waiting out President Obama, it seemed that Assad really was here to stay.
Regarding chemical weapons, Obama and Assad had been down this road before. Obama had declared that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” in the Syrian Civil War, and that their use would result in some type of US military action against the regime. Obama was telling Assad, and the world, that the international prohibition against chemical weapons remained and would be enforced. Then Ghouta happened.
In August of 2013, a rocket carrying sarin gas was launched into Ghouta killing scores of civilians. The United States estimated the death toll as 1,429, the Syrian government putting it at 494. At any rate it was the worst chemical weapons attack that the world had seen in decades. Criticized for inaction, Obama actually came much closer to launching a military retaliation against the Assad regime than most people are aware. Operations orders were written and troops put on standby.
After a conversation with a trusted aide in the rose garden, Obama decided not to jump into a costly and ambiguous war in Syria. It was a near miss for Assad who denied that his forces were behind the Ghouta attack but the jihadist and rebel forces have never had significant quantities of sarin nor could they manufacture it on their own. Whatever the case, the international response to the attack pushed Assad to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and allow the international community to supervise the destruction of his chemical weapons stockpile.
It should also be noted that ISIS and other rebel elements in Syria have also deployed chemical weapons, such as home-brewed chlorine gas and that this is also a war crime.
Assad had played a shrewd game of chess with the international community, and understood that there were in fact some red lines regarding chemical weapons. The new Trump administration policy that America was no longer in the business of regime change in Syria further solidified the fact that Assad is a survivor, and so is the elite network that he surrounds himself with in Damascus.
With this background information, we should follow the events of the last seven days in chronological order.
March 31st, 2017: US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced that regime change was no longer America’s policy in regards to Syria stating, “Do we think he’s [Assad] a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No.”
April 4th, 2017: The sarin gas attack in Idlib killed approximately 80 people. President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson condemn the attack and Assad personally. Trump called the attack, “reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world.” The Assad government denied involvement in the attack, blamed rebel groups, and asserted that they are in compliance with the chemical weapons convention.
April 4th-April 6th 2017: The same old voices come out of the woodwork beating their war drums. These include familiar mouth pieces like Charles Lister and 7-year-old Bana, the Syrian refugee in a shameful CNN interview that clearly exploits her. The voices advocating for war include neo-conservatives and Republicans as well, but most interesting of all was Hillary Clinton. Just hours prior to the cruise missile strike in Syria she was interviewed at a women’s summit saying:
Assad had an airforce, and that airforce is the cause of most of the civilian deaths, as we have seen over the years, and as we saw again in the last few days. I really believe that we should have, and still should, take out his airfields, and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.
There will be people who say, it’s not our fight, we don’t care, what difference does it make, we’re not involved. First of all, we are in an interconnected, interdependent world, unlike any we’ve been in history before, because of mobility, because of communication, and so what happens in other places can very much have an impact on you. We’ve got to once again start recognizing norms of behavior in our own country and globally are just as important to keeping peace and preventing atrocities as any law that is written down. People have to know that they will be held accountable as war criminals as committing crimes against humanity if they engage in these kinds of oppressive, violent acts.
April 6th, 2017: Just hours after Hillary Clinton’s statement, 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles are fired at Shayrat Airbase outside Homs, Syria. The New York Times reported: “The American missiles destroyed a warehouse of material and technical property, a training building, a canteen, six MIG-23 aircraft in repair hangars and a radar station, according to the Russian military. A Russian television reporter, Evgeny Poddubny, who was at the air base, said nine planes had been destroyed.”
Suffice to say that this is an extremely interesting sequence of events. The conspiracy theory crowd are having a field day with it no doubt. The Alex Jones set are currently pulling out their hair over the cruise missile strike feeling that their idol is now in league with the “globalists.” Well, if the Illuminati is the post-world war two global order that America has constructed, they may be right.
The interesting thing about the cruise missile strike is that it is not a “crazy” Trump thing to do. Barak Obama would have done the same. George W. Bush would have done the same. Bill Clinton would have done the same. This is because all were committed to preventing the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction. Yes, Obama did not pull the trigger in 2013 but a lot has happened between then and now.
America cut a deal with Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Then another sarin gas attack happens in Syria? Obama would have lost his mind over such a betrayal. President Trump and his administration are no doubt operating on the same set of historical facts. They watched Obama cut a deal, it clearly didn’t work, so what other tools do we have to stop the use of WMDs?
A lot of people are upset by the cruise missile attacks, misunderstanding the diplomatic message that Trump is sending to Assad. The use of cruise missiles tells us that the administration is not willing to put American troops in harm’s way over this. He wants to punish the Assad regime, but does not want to incur significant costs in the process. This is a form of limited war, telegraphing a message on the world stage that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. It is not a true declaration that the United States will now remove Assad from power.
America is punishing what it sees as a wayward child that is bucking the established order.
But what are we to make of Hillary Clinton’s statements in the run up to the cruise missile strike? Even the most dedicated tin foilers will have difficulty saying that Clinton and Trump are secretly in cahoots with one another. Most likely, Clinton is intimately familiar with American military strike options in regards to Syria from her time as Secretary of State. She would have had some involvement in conversations with President Obama and the National Security Council while the game plan was hashed out. When asked about the recent chemical attack in Syria, she drew on this knowledge when describing what she thinks should be done. Clinton and Kerry were always two of the more Hawkish individuals in the Obama administration, especially in regards to Syria.
President Trump then decided to execute one of those military options. I got news for ya ladies and gents, an American President has limited options. It doesn’t matter if they are a Republican, a Democrat, a neo-con, a progressive liberal, or a Pepe the frog loving Trump supporter. Whoever gets into office has to deal with pragmatic realities. Even peacenik Jimmy Carter came to realize that we live in a world full of snakes. Trump’s team no doubt laid out a number of possible responses for him to choose from. Clearly, he chose not to do nothing but also not to do something that would kill American soldiers in the process or remove Assad and plunge Syria into even greater chaos.
The President was shackled by political realities, just like any other president and maybe that is why some of the hard-core Trump supporters are upset right now. When people fall into Obama-mania or Trump worship, they are deluding themselves and act in a manner that is politically immature.
From here, the big question is not going to be whether Trump will seriously begin attacking the Assad regime but rather it will be who actually deployed chemical weapons in Idlib? Like the Ghouta attack, the facts are buried beneath a rubble pile of fictions. It makes zero sense for Assad to deploy chemical weapons in Idlib, knowing that the response from the international community will be drastic. He survived, and there is no need to jeopardize that now. Likewise, it seems highly unlikely that the attack was faked or staged. It is also highly unlikely that one of the rebel groups has sarin gas. So what really happened in Idlib?
If I were to speculate, I would hazard a guess that one of Assad’s Generals is off the reservation and freelanced a chemical attack. Perhaps he even did it to deliberately take a shot at Assad and undermine his regime. One has to understand that Syria is not simply an Arab dictatorship but rather a type of oligarchy that flows through an Alawite patronage network. Assad is the public face of Syria, unofficially elected by elite networks in Damascus to include Syrian Military Intelligence. With this in mind, it is possible that Assad never ordered this attack but that his regime is still responsible in the sense that his military and intelligence apparatus are not completely within his control.
(Featured image courtesy of the US Navy)