Are we getting played?
Last night Donald Trump attacked a Syrian airbase using 59 Tomahawk missiles. The airbase was completely destroyed. This strike was in response to a chemical attack using sarin gas against Syrian civilians, allegedly launched by Bashar al-Assad.
Trump describes his actions: “Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, highlighted Russia’s failed commitment to rid the Syrian government of chemical weapons: “Clearly Russia has failed to deliver on that commitment from 2013. So either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been incompetent in its ability to deliver.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the US attack as an “act of aggression against a sovereign state”. Putin, an ally to Bashar al-Assad, moved to strengthen Syrian defenses and dropped an agreement with the US that helped prevent direct confrontation between the superpowers over Syrian airspace.
The stakes have risen, and it’s clear that Putin and Trump are not so buddy-buddy after all.
In perhaps another ‘God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq’ moment (see George Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq), Trump’s current official narrative is that he was compelled to action by his concern that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror”. I don’t buy this. Over the years, despite Assad’s brutality towards his own people, Trump has publicly argued that the US needs to stay out of Syria. So today’s sympathy is inconsistent with Trump’s behavior, actions and speech in the past.
So is something else going on? I have several unanswered issues with the events of the past few days:
1) As recent as a week ago, Trump and his compatriots were supportive of the Assad regime in Syria. Moreover, Assad is winning his battle and is not in a position of desperation. So why would Assad launch a sarin gas attack, which obviously would be condemned and risk US military involvement? It makes no sense.
2) How conclusive is the evidence that the chemical attack was directed and executed by Assad’s forces? Assad and Russia had previously stated that the attack used conventional weapons, which inadvertently hit a sarin gas cache stored by Syrian rebels. Is it possible to conclude within 48 hours with any degree of certainty the source of the chemical attack? This is especially critical, given the implications of US involvement.
3) The US attack couldn’t have come at a better time, politically. Trump’s administration is under investigation for ties with the Russian government and this missile strike conveniently ‘demonstrates’ that Trump is not in Putin’s pocket. Could this be a well-orchestrated public spat to make the world believe Putin and Trump are not in bed together?
4) The US attack was executed during a meeting between Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Among other things, Trump is negotiating how to handle North Korea and he needs Jinping to know he is serious. Was the US strike simply showmanship?
5) Does Steve Bannon’s recent removal from the National Security Council have anything to do with this?
Perhaps Trump’s motives for this attack were altruistic. Perhaps the evidence against Assad was indisputable. Perhaps Trump and Putin truly are enemies.
Or perhaps Trump just wanted an excuse to pull some triggers to improve his ‘presidential’ personal image or live-out some childhood fantasy of blowing shit up.
In the end, does the truth matter? Of course, we’re inclined to say it does. But the reality is that no matter the motive, the US has entered a new scary chapter in its imperialistic ambitions.