The attacks that Trump ordered overnight Thursday on the Syrian air base near Khan Sheikhoun happened according to a well-worn script. As in the Balkan model — see the invented Racak massacre and the “humanitarian” NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 — and in the “style” of the Israeli government, for whose 2009 airstrikes in Gaza we have not stopped counting civilian casualties.
The 59 Tomahawk missiles launched on Syria ended a made-up saga of American weakness. Because America is back. And to disprove it, poor Alan Friedman will have to write at least one more book. They gave you up for lost, America, headed by a president described as pro-Putin, and even anti-NATO, holding firm the strategic interests of appeasement toward Israel and Saudi Arabia but decisive in the fight against ISIS.
The turnabout was sudden. A few days prior to the attack, U.N. Ambassador Haley said Assad’s overthrow “is no longer a priority.” Then immediately after the massacre in Khan Sheikhoun, they changed course, like the one Bush took going to Iraq in 2003: Pentagon chief “Mad Dog” Mattis authorized the act of war without the U.N.’s consent nor authorization from the U.S. Congress, despite the Russian veto to the unilateral condemnation of Assad, and ignoring calls for an independent international investigation.
It’s worth repeating that the armed rebels, democratic opposition, jihadists and al-Qaeda are united in accusing Damascus for the massacre. The government, however, denies responsibility for the attack and says that among the targets hit was a chemical weapons depot in rebel hands. In a conflict without respite or rules, the barbarity belongs to everyone, and no one — the least of all Assad — is innocent. There are no angels in Syria. Only demons.
But it is absolutely legitimate to doubt the truth of the unilateral condemnations immediately accepted by the heads of state in Europe and the United States. These, it should be remembered, were the countries that destabilized Syria — and others that no longer exist, such as Iraq and Libya — in the first place, since 2011, in an attempt to do in Damascus what had already been “accomplished” in Tripoli.
So, substantiating Assad’s use of sarin is Turkey — the “humanitarian” Erdogan — which undertook the investigation as an independent “third” country. When in fact Turkey was supplying the jihadists with arms, training and oil, as witnessed by Turkish journalists who ended up in jail for their reporting. Now, the “democratic” Erdogan is cheering the turn of events that may help him in his presidential referendum next week. He’s calling for a no-fly zone over Syria to help him to continue to massacre the Kurds.
Israel is rejoicing because Trump’s actions follow in the bloody footsteps of his retaliation against Palestinians and the many recent raids against Syria. It wasn’t enough for Netanyahu that Moscow at the last minute, while respecting U.N. resolutions and the two-state solution, recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of the future state of Palestine — but also acknowledged the western part as the capital of Israel.
The “humanitarian” Egyptian president el-Sisi welcomed the air raid. And of course so did Saudi Arabia, the financier of jihad throughout the region, who massacres Shiites in Yemen without any repercussions. And the jihadists themselves are exultant for this unanticipated support for their campaign to break down Assad: from al-Sharam to al-Nusra/al-Qaeda (which claimed to massacres in Damascus, on March 12 with 74 deaths and on March 15 with 30) to ISIS.
So Trump goes to war, in the tradition of American history, as a response to his domestic weakness and just three months after entering the White House, without ever attempting a diplomatic approach to the crisis. It comes after his administration sustained one disaster after another: His government appointments, his failure to live up to his promise to scrap Obamacare, his Supreme Court nominee and the alleged Russiagate are now brilliantly overshadowed by the sound of missiles.
In this way Trump is trying to both shore up internal criticism and glue together the shards of the Western alliance. It silences the criticism of Republicans and Democrats; Hollande and Merkel signed their appreciation; Gentiloni appends to the American ally. And finally, it obscured the visit to the U.S. of Xi Jinping with an explicit message about the North Korean crisis on the border with China.
On Easter 2017, Trump has restaged the anxieties about a Third World War in the summer of 2013, when after an alleged nerve gas attack Obama was ready for war. But his hand was stayed by both the Pope’s prayer for a peaceful world, denouncing the bloody war, and Putin, who became the guarantor, along with the U.N., that Damascus would dismantle its chemical arsenal.
Here’s the crux: Trump intervened “for Syrian children.” But do they really deserve Trump as their avenger? His act of war takes place just after the U.S. admission that just 20 days ago they slaughtered — “by mistake” and “to defeat ISIS” — over 150 women and children in Mosul, proven by the U.N. and little reported by the mainstream media. They’re silent on the thousands of civilians killed in Afghanistan raids. There are thus class A and class B children. Are the cluster bombs, depleted uranium and phosphorus bombs less deadly than sarin? We’ve gone from a “humanitarian war” to a “war for children,” fixing the TV cameras on their innocent eyes.
But watch. Notice how Trump is now trying to suggest that nothing has happened, that the damage is limited. The opposite is true. The reaction from Iran and others opposed to the jihadists is rage. And Putin’s Russia is not far behind. The overt, direct connection, not by proxy, between the Pentagon and the coordination of air raids and military fighters in Syria is a harbinger. We are a step away from the precipice. Little by little, the Third World War.