Trump against Syria
1. What do you make of this recent attack? Why was it carried out? Is Trump looking to toughen his image and appeal to American warmongers on the home front?
The US had been plotting to do something along these lines for a few years now, and chose to act at this given moment in time because of the false flag chemical weapons attack. It also wagered – correctly, though unfortunately – that Russia would not risk starting a larger war by shooting down the cruise missiles. This could very well be the beginning of a larger campaign such as the one which I described in detail for my Geopolitika.Ru analysis, “How The Neocons Are Tempting Trump”, the day before the attack took place.
As for Trump’s motivations in launching this strike, they all in one way or another come back to the CIA’s psy-covert op masterstroke in pushing the President into a corner from which he couldn’t escape. Trump is the “anti-Obama” and didn’t want his Mideast legacy to be compared to Obama’s in the sense of refusing to militarily respond to a false flag chemical weapons attack, so the “deep state” (permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies) perfectly played him by concocting the exact same scenario and forcing him into a dilemma.
This action strengthens Trump’s domestic image (especially in the eyes of his liberal detractors) though this boost will only be short-lived, and internationally, it sends the signal that Trump – not President Putin – is the ultimate ‘alpha male’ in this world and was able to act with impunity in attacking the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) despite the Russian military presence in the country. To be clear, however, Russia’s mandate extends only as far as fighting terrorism in Syria, not protecting the SAA or its borders, though the international (mis)perception was widely held prior to this event that Moscow would never allow something like this to happen.
2. The attack unfolded as Trump was meeting with the Chinese President. Does this mean that Trump meant for the attack to send a message rather than signal the beginning of a full-out war, especially considering that the US has emphasized that despite the attack, this was it and the United States does not want to get involved more deeply in Syria?
No, I don’t see it that way. In fact, I view it much more provocatively. The CIA’s false flag chemical weapons attack was timed to coincide with President Xi’s visit in order to sow the seeds of distrust between China and Russia. This supplementary stratagem will fail, but the idea behind it was to have the Chinese leader meeting with Trump at the time that the US brazenly attacked the SAA and proved that the Russian military wouldn’t intervene past its anti-terrorist mandate to support its host country’s armed forces.
Let’s recall that at the commencement of the 1999 NATO War on Yugoslavia, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov was over the Atlantic Ocean en route to the US when he turned his plane around in disgust and flew back to Moscow as a sign of strong diplomatic protest against Washington’s actions.
President Xi was in a completely different position and context so he obviously couldn’t do that, nor would it accord with China’s policies or culture, but the impression of the Chinese leader meeting with Trump right before the attack and not being able to talk him out of it (which isn’t his responsibility or area of concern, to be honest) was intentionally calculated in advance as an infowar provocation to diminish the People’s Republic’s soft power abroad, particularly in the context of Russian-Chinese relations.
I believe that if it even came up during their talks, President Xi would have wisely cautioned against such an illegal act of war, but Trump obviously wouldn’t have had to listen to him. Besides, the two countries had much more pressing bilateral affairs to discuss such as North Korea, THAAD, and the South China Sea. In any case, Trump certainly didn’t tone down his attack, if that’s how it’s being interpreted by some, just because President Xi was his dinner guest at the time that he ordered it.
3. Trump administration claims it was a response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria. Was it really not planned beforehand?
That’s yet another lie coming out of the US. This entire attack, including the dispatch of ships to the Eastern Mediterranean in preparation of it and the false flag chemical weapons incident which served as the publicly presentable pretext for launching the strike, was all preplanned. I’d even go as far as saying that the follow-up response was also worked out well in advance, and this might entail the creation of the US’ long-awaited “safe/security zones”, which would inseparably necessitate more bombing of the SAA’s anti-air units and planes as part of the required “no-fly zone” to enforce such a plan.
4. Trump had announced that the US does not seek to overthrow Assad just before this uncalled-for attack and turn of policy. Does it not look like the chemical thing was more of a pretext?
Yes, the false flag was a pretext for reneging on the previous signals of positive support for Damascus and precluding any possibility of pragmatic anti-terrorist cooperation with Russia and Syria, such as what Trump appeared to be on the verge of doing as per the arguments and sources mentioned in my aforesaid article for Geopolitika.Ru. However, the cruise missile strike shouldn’t be automatically conflated with a full reversal on Trump’s previous anti-regime change announcement. Instead, we should understand that the US might “permit” President Assad to remain in office as a consolation prize to Russia so that Moscow can attempt to “save face” as Washington goes forward with internally partitioning the country into a collection of quasi-independent identity-centric “safe/security zones”, “formalized’ of course by the future promulgation of “federalization”.
5. Almost every terrorist group in Syria welcomed the US attack. Who benefits from this attack the most?
Without a doubt, every single terrorist group in Syria benefits from this attack, but also the PYD-YPG Kurds. The reason why I say this is because each anti-government fighting force – whether terrorists, “moderate opposition rebels”, or Kurds – has an interest in seeing the SAA tied down and refocusing its priorities on defending the already freed portions of the country instead of proceeding with the liberation campaign. They’re hoping that this can make Damascus much more pliable to accepting “decentralization” and/or “federalization” at the interlinked dual Astana and Geneva talks, which they anticipate would give them large degrees of de-facto independence (masqueraded as “autonomy”) that they could then use for building their desired Salafist or Kurdish statelets.
6. What does this attack do to the Trump-Putin relationship? Will Trump hold his promise of working alongside and with Russia to address the Syrian Crisis?
Any hope for a New Détente died the moment that Trump ordered the illegal cruise missile attack against Syria, as not only was this a flagrant breach of whatever incipient trust he and President Putin were attempting to indirectly cultivate with one another prior to this event, but it also proved to everyone that it’s the American President – not the Russian one – who’s the top ‘alpha male’ in the world.
The relationship is now one of intense rivalry, with two ‘alpha males’ openly sparring with one another in the international arena, but only the US is making open and aggressive military moves during this ‘power dance’. My Geopolitika.Ru article explains more in depth why Russia didn’t, and likely will not, come to the direct military aid of the SAA, and it’s also relevant to recall at this time the words of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov just a day before the strike.
He said that Moscow’s support of President Assad is “not unconditional”, and this was evidently proven by the fact that Russia’s S-400 state-of-the-art air defense systems were not used to defend the Homs base from Trump’s cruise missile strike. In hindsight, it probably served as the signal that the White House needed to receive from the Kremlin to know that Russia wasn’t going to shoot down the American cruise missiles. Remember, although Russia’s mandate is strictly limited to fighting against terrorism, the global perception was that it also included the defense of the SAA, though this myth has been painfully shattered.
Accordingly, President Putin probably understands that the popular (mis)perception about his country’s role in Syria – despite it being repudiated over and over again by state officials in the past – has been shattered, and that this will consequently result in a sharp reduction in the attractiveness of Russia’s soft power. Moscow is now compelled to do something symbolic, if not substantial, in order to repair the immense damage to Russia’s image, but loud rhetoric unmatched by action might not suffice in winning back some of the hearts and minds that were lost.
7. What happened to Trump’s "America First" policy? And what happened to all of Trump's criticism against Obama because of the previous administration's meddling with Syrian internal affairs?
The cruise missile strike was epitome of “America First”, the internationally misunderstood slogan which helped propel Trump to the White House. Unlike how it was mischaracterized in the foreign press and among many anti-Trump media outlets, “America First” is not some sort of ‘neo-isolationism’ or inward-thinking ideology. It is, first and foremost, the advancement of the US’ domestic and international interests in the coldest, most “efficient”, and ruthless “business-like” manner.
In terms of foreign policy, this translates into the preservation and militant expansionism of the unipolar world system (the “New World Order”) that the US invented and shaped since the end of the Old Cold War. Attacking the SAA through conventional means was meant to advance the ideology of “America First” through the carefully constructed perception that the US had flipped the tables on Russia and forced it to walk back on its implied “red line” threat last fall to not bomb Syrian forces. This is seen as “payback” for President Putin pressuring Obama to retreat from his infamous and openly stated “red line” remark in summer 2013.
Concerning Mideast geopolitics in general, like I explained in response to an earlier question, the US wants to paralyze the SAA in order to prevent the successful completion of its nationwide liberation campaign, thereby creating a favorable on-the-ground post-Daesh operational environment which could then prompt political-administrative concessions from Damascus. The end goal is to internally partition Syria under the guise of “federalization” so as to “Balkanize” the country into a checkerboard of identity-centric statelets (Salafists, Sunnis, Alawites, Druze, Kurds, etc.) which the Great Powers can then compete over in the ultimate divide-and-rule game.
This is most advantageous to American interests because it aims to shatter the last-remaining Resistance State in the Arab World and thereby perpetually guarantee the security interests of “Israel” through the fulfilment of the Yinon Plan. It’s also devised to set into motion the geopolitical reorganization of the Mideast after the defeat of Daesh and the revision of Sykes-Picot which it can be presumed might inevitably follow. None of this is advantageous to Russian or Iranian interests, and the “managed/controlled chaos” that’s expected to emerge from the successful completion of this geopolitical scheme will assuredly promote the US’ interests and therefore embody the principle of “America First”.
That being said, this scenario is not inevitable and can still be avoided, though it seems likely that at least its partial manifestation will unfold in one way or another, most probably through the emergence of a transnational sub-state “Kurdistan” which ends up serving as a “second ‘geopolitical Israel’” for controlling the Mideast. As for all of the previous rhetoric that Trump spouted about Obama, my aforementioned Geopolitika.Ru piece explains how the neocons were able to masterfully manipulate him into a dilemma where he felt compelled to recant his previous positions and walk right into their trap. Nevertheless, regardless of how he got to this point, Trump is 100% responsible for his actions and no amount of Alt-Media apologism can excuse him of his guilt.
8. Russian Defense ministry just announced that they'll reinforce Syrian air defenses. Is there a chance that Trump's attack on Syria might even eventually (and with Russian support) end up benefiting the Syrian government (e.g. by giving Russia and Iran reason to multiply support for Assad)?
I think that the best that can come out of this geopolitical-diplomatic fiasco is if Russia engages in some immediate damage control efforts focused on repairing its damaged international reputation and prestige. Although it is not Russia’s legal duty to protect the SAA, the global perception was that Moscow was tacitly fulfilling this role, and the debunking of this prevailing international narrative has dealt immense damage to Moscow’s soft power abroad. Moreover, the fact that Trump called President Putin’s bluff from last fall (issued during the last months of the Obama Administration by the Russian Ministry of Defense) has changed the power dynamics between these two leaders and their countries, so Moscow must undertake urgent action to safeguard its existing/remaining soft power gains (of which there are many) and reassure its other partners of Russia’s continued support.
This will be extremely difficult to do now that Russia already has a track record of passively allowing “Israel” to bomb the SAA, turning a blind eye to the US’ military presence in northeastern Syria, at times cooperating with Turkey in its “Operation Euphrates Shield”, and now standing by as the US follows in its “Israeli” ally’s footsteps and bombs the SAA too. Again, even though it’s not Russia’s responsibility to protect Syria, all of these incidences cumulatively lead to a very negative perception about Moscow’s loyalty to what had been assumed is its closest international military partner outside of the former USSR’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) mutual defense group. The most optimal way to rectify the perceived damage to Russia’s reputation is to double down on its preexisting military commitments, particularly with Syria and Iran, just as the question suggested, and recognizing which of Russia’s other “partners” are only temporary opportunists in the anti-terrorist context.
By this I mean Turkey, which has ‘switched sides’ a few times throughout the War on Syria and appears to once again be siding the US, judging by Erdogan’s full support for Trump’s strikes and active cheerleading for “safe/security zones”. I’m not suggesting that Russia and Iran “isolate” Turkey from their fledgling Great Power Tripartite and joint Astana talks, but just that Moscow must understand that Ankara is the consummate Neorealist opportunist in the sense that the country has no loyalty to its partners and flexibly switches its allegiance depending on the circumstances. After what Trump just did and how Erdogan has loudly brayed for an even further escalation, it’ll be very difficult for the Tripartite to continue operating according to its previous ‘order of business’, but it mustn’t collapse because then the US would have scored an even larger victory by splitting these three countries.
Along that topic, it’s surmised that one of the reasons why Trump sought to globally embarrass President Putin is because the Russian leader refused to capitulate to the US and “Israel’s” demands that it pressure President Assad to seek Iran and Hezbollah’s withdrawal from the country after the defeat of Daesh. Bearing this in mind, one of the wisest decisions that Russia can do under these circumstances is to work even closer with these two anti-terrorist forces as both a symbolic and – even more importantly – substantial response to the US, as this could swiftly stem the loss of Russian soft power in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s scandalous strike and even provide it with a springboard for recovering some its lost prestige. Of course, it’s ultimately up to Russia how it will eventually respond, but the worst possible thing that it can do is rely solely on rhetoric to cover up the uncomfortable game-changing reality that Trump just forced upon the world.
Questions by Mashreghnews.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.