The punishment attack on Syria, which Donald Trump hurriedly launched and probably for reasons of US domestic politics, puts the whole world at risk and again confronts the Western powers directly with Russia.
Regarding the “chemical attack” on Tuesday, March 4 in the province of Idlib in Syria, and despite what the media has asserted with persuasively, there is only one thing clear: there has been no hard evidence of anything, except that there were victims of “something” at a time when a Syrian plane was flying over Khan Shaykhun.
If we only take as valid proof that is delivered, contrasted, and independently verified, then the current scenario is way less founded than it seems to be by hearing those involved.
There is no evidence that a plane was launching chemical bombs, as the rebels say (in the attacked area there are jihadists associated with Al Qaeda).
There is no evidence that the destroyed building had chemical elements in it, as the Russian and Syrian governments say. Not even that there is such a building, allegedly an ammunition depot.
There is also no evidence that there was any toxic substance in the air of Khan Shaykhun that day.
There is no evidence, therefore, that sarin gas was used. This is debatable, as “senior White House officials” reported Tuesday that they have samples of tissue from victims and even the projectile used, in which there would be traces of sarin. For now, there is only a statement and nothing material has been presented. But if we take into account that the samples are the result of the autopsies practiced in Turkey, which is also probably the conduit to access the remains of the projectile, we must remember that this country is also involved, due to their support for the same rebels (yes, Al Qaeda) and the records that Turkey have previously helped jihadists in gaining access to chemical weapons.
There is no evidence of the number of victims. The rebels themselves have stated more than 80 dead and 500 wounded. Since the area under attack is sparsely populated, it is unlikely that so many casualties have occurred unless they have been in some kind of mass rally.
Given the accumulation of questions and the lack of material evidence, it is not possible to point the finger at any culprit. Those responsible for the incident could be:
- Syrian forces, by means of an intentional chemical attack by air or earth. If they were the officialists, it could be an attack ordered from the highest level or the result of an anti-government faction that bet on the international rejection this kind of attack would obviously produce.
- The rebels, with an intentional false attack or a real but accidental one, perpetrated in or near the building attacked by the Syrians. It has been hinted that they might have suffered an accident when handling chemical shells in their way to the battlefront, several miles further south.
- Foreign intelligence agencies or troops. The alleged attack only harms the forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but greatly benefits his enemies, especially after the US government made explicit a week earlier that it no longer had the removal of Assad as a priority. That does not exclude the United States, since it could also be an operation of certain factions interested in deceiving their own president.
- Turkey, which is supporting the jihadi rebels fighting on Idlib.
- Israel, who wants Assad to leave at any cost, as long as they’re not paying directly for it. In the same way, Saudi Arabia and Qatar also want the regime change and are willing to pay huge sums.
Of course, there may also be a combination of these suspects. One version claims that it was a real attack planned and executed by Turkish intelligence services with Al Qaeda forces. The alleged field investigation of experts with contacts in the region’s secret services gives details. For example, the plan began to be prepared two weeks ago by Amir Abou al-Baraa al Sheshani (allegedly a dead Al Qaeda leader) along with the Turkish intelligence based precisely on Khan Shaykhun, under the command of Colonel Osmon Ozon.
To make it clear after all this: there is not a single proof about the responsibility of the Syrian government. Even if the allegation of a chemical attack from a Syrian aircraft was real, it could still be the work of middle commanders or “bought” elements.
It is not a question of exculpating Assad, who is also a possible culprit, but of underlining the fact that now there is nothing to blame, and therefore nothing justifies the reaction of the United States.
The fact of launching a cruise missile attack, although it caused minimal damage and few deaths, only shows that the alleged attack on Khan Shaykhun is but an excuse and the goals are others. That is to say, it is not a matter of punishing what would be a war crime but probably a returning to the stage where the priority is to get rid of Assad. In fact, it is what the government of Washington has publicly declared a week after having said the opposite.
However, if the lack of evidence is so obvious and the suspected culprit raising eyebrows to anyone moderately informed, how can be explained that the President of the United States, Donald Trump, ordered that illegal attack?
Let’s forget the mass media, which should have asked this same thing. His agenda coincided with that of the American neoconservatives and the Western establishment, and together with these sectors called for a large-scale military action and, once it happened, ran to applaud the missile attack and the leader who ordered it.
This could be an explanation to Trump’s order, provided we disregard the official statement that he was shocked in his love for children by seeing images of the victims of Khan Shaykhun. Since taking office, the US president has been in constant conflict with those same media and his popularity has fallen consistently. In ordering the attack, he briefly received media approval and responded to what was the interest of the majority of US citizens and even much of Europe. Not only did he appear as a defender of international justice, but indirectly faced Russia, just at times when he was cornered on charges of becoming a puppet of that country to win the election.
The glory was ephemeral. The media returned to their attacks (MSNBC even joins the conspiracy theorists’ side, stating without any evidence, and with little logic, that it was an operation mounted by Russia and Trump to cleanse their image), but the worst was that he lost the support of his base.
As matter of fact, he won the election partly because he showed himself to be an isolationist, promising that he would abandon the billionaire military incursions in the world to focus on investment within the United States. Until a week before the world knew of the existence of Khan Shaykhun, Syria was the classic example that he would not worry about the internal problems of another country and would only dedicate himself to fight the terrorists (the group that currently call themselves Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL).
After weeks of populist and contradictory statements, Trump finally showed with clear facts his real stance. Against everything he had said and promised!
Not only his voters have chastised him. Even his supporters within the Republican Party and Congress turned against him, both for breaking his promises and for ordering the attack without even consulting lawmakers. This fact alone increases his weaknesses in the face of a possible process of impeachment.
With his handling of the situation, Donald Trump did not win permanent friends, but lost some of the few he had.
Similar it’s the situation on the international board. Trump also won applause from the usual US allies, who finally had something concrete to hold on to on their foreign policy.
But if in this terrain Trump didn’t need any popularity raise, it was also not necessary to rely on a deception to launch the attack on Syria. In this case, we can take into account the hypothesis that Trump himself was deceived, specifically by his environment and the military industry apparatus, that may have shown him only what they wanted to make the attack almost inevitable.
It’s necessary to return to the internal politics of the United States, where Trump and his team are feuding, even from before the Inauguration, with the factual powers that have taken advantage from the endless wars for almost three decades. In the intelligence agencies, the armed forces, the State Department and the White House itself, the “deep state” have criticized and sabotaged the initiatives of the “newcomers”, and so it was with the refusal to escalate a war In Syria presented by the incoming administration.
The ultimate triumph of the establishment was the departure of the controversial Steve Bannon from the National Security Council of the United States, which he entered without any merit other than being the strategist and chief adviser to Trump. His departure was announced just hours before the destroyers launched their Tomahawk missiles against Syria.
The changes in the Council were several, including the triumphant return of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), whom Trump had dumped a few weeks earlier.
Behind the changes can be seen the hand of the new National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, a retired general famous for considering that United States lost the Vietnam War because of politicians and the military leaders who failed to challenge them. McMaster assumed that position on February 13, when his predecessor and Trump trustee, Michael Flynn, was reportedly fired for not mentioning his contacts with Russians to the Vice President of the United States.
Isolated from the men who inspired his “isolationist” foreign policy, Trump was a prey to the hawks led by McMaster and abruptly shifted his course to approve the use of military force against Syria.
But if he had some success with the uninformed citizens, with this group his defeat was total. Giving up his stance in this transcendental point, he practically returned the power to the hands of the “deep state”, who will henceforth have less scruples to act upon it.
And in return for giving himself up to that group, Trump didn’t get anything at all abroad. US supporters will continue to be so, but now with the certainty that the words of the president is not very valuable.
On the other hand, he seems to have lost the non-supporter nations permanently.
Among the “non-supporters” are China, Iran and North Korea, all declared “enemies” by Trump himself. This countries hoped Trump was only bullying, but now they know that he is capable of attacking without reason and without worrying about respecting international treaties. He‘s dangerous and therefore they must be protected. That the Chinese premier was with him when the attack on Syria was decided does not improve this image. And that an American fleet is heading for Korea does not help either.
But the worst effect was on potential new “friends”, Russia and Syria. Although it distresses the neoconservatives and American liberals, Trump was chosen with the promise that it would advance towards an era of coexistence with Russia. Since last Friday, that promise has faded like a summer haze and, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, a Third World War seems closer.
Washington is trying to avoid the conflict and offers an olive branch if Moscow abandons Al-Assad. The problem is that the attack made this impossible and forces Russia to radicalize their position in defense of the Syrian president.
This is how Moscow abandoned the restraint and, along with Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, warned that it will respond to new attempts to use force. Syrian anti-aircraft defenses will be strengthened and an agreement that allows United States aircraft to fly over that country has already been canceled. This means that, from now on, American aircraft may be shot down over Syria as invaders.
The Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich is heading for the Syrian coast. It is a modern ship, commissioned a year ago and with a formidable antiaircraft defense, but also stands out in an anti-ship role. Tomahawks launchers will do well to keep their distance.
We must not forget the “unacknowledged friends” of the United States, namely the Islamic State and Al Qaeda (in any of their current denominations), that are the great winners of the American action. It is curious that the United States justifies their presence in the region as an effort to defeat ISIL, but deploys its military power against the only ones who seem to be fighting it decisively and efficiently (apart from the Kurds, but that’s another story). That is, while Russia and Syria bombard the Islamic State, the United States bombards Syria and threatens Russia. Maybe “curious” is not the word to describe it.
In the northwest, the Al-Qaeda-led rebels began to back off in an offensive against Hama launched from Idlib province, but returned to attack after the missile rain. In the east, the Islamic State was able to concentrate on Raqqa’s defense of Kurdish attacks, without worrying about Syrian troops.
In addition, any rebel group could return to lead a “chemical attack” with the assurance that the Syrian government will be blamed regardless of the lack of evidence.
President Vladimir Putin himself warned on Tuesday, March 11, that President Bashar al-Assad’s enemies “are planning to plant certain substances and accuse Syrian authorities of using them.”
He specifically mentioned southern Damascus as a possible scenario of new “provocations”, which is significant if one takes into account the reports of Jordanian villagers claiming to have seen Jordan and US troops entering Syria with armored tanks. Officially, it is said that there was a small operation directed against Islamic State, but the witnesses say that it was a great deployment and they didn’t see the troops returning.