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CJ Werleman

Trump's phoney war against Assad

Pence, Trump and Bolton [L-R] attend a briefing by senior military commanders on Syria [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 April, 2018

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Comment: US strikes will not advance US interests in Syria, nor will they alleviate the suffering of Assad's victims, writes CJ Werleman.
US President Donald Trump weighs up his options to strike the Assad regime for again using chemical weapons on civilians, and at the same time he deals with the reality of what may follow from the arrest of his long time lawyer and confidante Michael Cohen.

The script and the actors are straight out of Hollywood casting. A besieged and politically underwater president, who is embroiled in possible and likely criminality, but who has at his disposal the world's most powerful military to distract and divert attention away from his crimes and crises.

This is exactly where Trump finds himself, a mere week after announcing at a rally in Ohio that the US is leaving Syria "soon, very soon". The very next day, Trump suspended $200 million in stabilisation funds for Syria after reading a report in The Wall Street Journal, and did so without consulting his national security team, and despite Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signaling they were pursuing a policy that ran in the complete opposite direction to the one Trump suddenly, and unexpectedly announced.

If Trump has demonstrated anything in the first year or so of his presidency, it's that he cares little for strategy, has little patience for policy, and is motivated only by whatever benefits Trump.

This is a president who takes his cues not from qualified and experienced policy advisors, but from whoever happens to be on Fox News at the moment Trump gets a sudden impulse to tweet.

All of this, of course, brings us to Trump's phony war on the Russian and Iranian backed Assad regime.

If Trump has demonstrated anything in the first year or so of his presidency, it's that he cares little for strategy

"I'd like to begin by condemning the heinous attack on innocent Syrian civilians with banned chemical weapons," Trump said at a cabinet meeting on Monday. "It was an atrocious attack, it was horrible, you don't see things this bad around the world, you just don't see those images. We are studying the situation extremely closely. We are meeting with our military and everybody else and we'll be making some major decisions over the next 24-48 hours."

While there is almost next to no chance the weekend's chlorine gas attack on Douma - which killed dozens of Syrians, most of whom were young children - was carried out by anyone other than Assad, and given the UN has confirmed the Syrian regime has carried out chemical weapons attacks no fewer than two dozen times since the start of the war, let's not pretend Trump gives two cares about Syria, the Syrian people, or Assad.

Lest we forget that it was exactly 12 months ago that Trump attacked the Assad regime for using chemical weapons, a US retaliation that was described by analysts as a "pin prick strike", and one that was laughed off by Assad, who had his planes back in the sky attacking civilians less than 24-hours after US Tomahawk missiles were said to have "pounded" the al-Shayrat airfield. 

Lest we also forget that Trump telephoned the Kremlin to describe exactly when and where the US missile strikes were to hit, thus allowing the Syrian regime plenty of time to move its personnel and assets from the target site.

You can look no further than Trump's previous "pin prick" response to Assad using sarin gas 12 months ago for an explanation to why Assad felt emboldened to use chemical weapons again a few days ago.

Read more: Why Nazis from Charlottesville to Europe love Bashar al-Assad

So here we go again: Trump has deployed Tomahawk carrying battleships to the Mediterranean to "punish" the genocidal dictator. This is somewhat like the proverbial arsonist coming to put out the fire, given it was Trump who rolled back military restraints that had been put in place by Obama to minimise civilian casualties in Syria, explaining why Trump killed more civilians in his first 10-months in office than Obama did in his entire eight year presidency.

Regardless, Trump is right to punish Assad for deliberately targeting civilians with weapons that must not be normalised and remain unconscionable.

The international community is governed by norms, no matter how imperfectly, and thus genocidal dictators must be held to account, otherwise the words "never again" will become increasingly hollow and empty.
Unfortunately and predictably, however, Trump's retaliatory strikes against Assad will be equally as hollow and empty as the words that surround them. These strikes will not advance US interests in Syria, nor will they alleviate the suffering of Assad's victims. It'll be a case of hit and retreat, a prediction based not only on the past, but also one made based on Trump's political reality.

Trump does nothing that runs counter to the xenophobic, ultranationalist and isolationist impulses of his base.

Trump's retaliatory strikes against Assad will be equally as hollow and empty as the words that surround them

His political survival, and potential salvation from likely impeachment rests in the hands of that 30 percent slice of the United States that has stuck by him from one scandal to the next; from boasting about sexually abusing women to paying off porn stars; from defrauding students of his make believe university to his racism, sexism, and his more than 2,000 documented falsehoods.

Turns out this slice of the country loves the Syrian dictator Assad, mostly because they view him as a far-right, secular nationalist who isn't afraid to kill Muslims. Trump supporters such as the former leader of the KKK, David Duke, and Richard Spencer, the self-proclaimed leader of the alt-Right, represent the id of the typical Trump voter, and both have urged Trump to stay out of Syria, as have most of the talking heads on the far-right propaganda network – Fox News.

Amplifying these voices are the usual pro-Assad figures on the far-left, who appear regularly on Rupert Murdoch's network to espouse their Kremlin generated conspiracy theories, and to give life to the nonsensical idea the US and Trump seek "regime change" in Syria.

This is claim that is entirely absurd, given Obama never directly attacked Assad even after the dictator crossed the famous "red line", given the US provided the rebels with half-measures, well after the Assad regime had decimated the Free Syrian Army, and given Trump's previous "pin prick' strikes and stated intent to get out of Syria.

Genocidal dictators must be held to account

But if the Syrian conflict has taught us anything, it's that misinformation and disinformation have created almost eight years worth of fact free analysis and hysterics, which have provided Assad's much needed victims with half-baked measures or no measures at all.

Trump's latest action against the Syrian dictator will again fall somewhere in between, and thus his already besieged people can expect the worst may be yet to come.


CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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