By ann summers
After the initial pooch-screwing of the raid in Yemen, Trump ordered a US Middle East military attack of approximately 60 cruise missiles in “retaliation” for Syrian air attacks with chemical weapons.
More cynically, it’s a stunt to distract the nation from the #TrumpRussia scandal.
However, Trump could get his Nobel Prize if the US could lift sanctions on Russia to gain their cooperation on Syrian peace.
Whether this attack was reciprocity and a proportional response or a “strongman” stunt for the benefit of Chinese President Xi, remains unspoken.
The timing of the attack makes it more likely that like Iran-Contra, Republican pathologies do try to maximize effects on policy actors without thought of un/intended consequence.
Who cares whether the Russians knew the attack was coming before Congress was informed. They didn’t roll over for Trumpcare after all.
Rob Reiner’s Aaron Sorkin text The American President says “(Ordering a bombing) is the least presidential thing I do”. Our reality TV POTUS sure tried to bleat that humanitarian message out in his prepared statement. “God bless the entire world”
No such introspection occurred for Agent Orange although his entry for a People’s Choice Award mewed about “beautiful” dead Syrian babies even as he wants Syrians out of the US,
- Russia, a Syrian ally that has been helping the Assad regime target rebel-held districts, condemned the US action. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president regarded the strikes as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law, and under a false pretext”.
- Peskov said Donald Trump’s move would have consequences for the relationship between the two countries. “With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state.”
At least 86 people, including 27 children, were killed after a suspected poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on Tuesday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The attack drew widespread international condemnation and public revulsion, prompting the United Nations to pledge it would investigate it as a possible war crime.
The Syrian govenment denied carrying out the raid. Russia, a key military ally of the Assad government, has blamed the opposition, saying a government shell hit a building where rebels were producing chemical weapons. The rebels deny this…
Christopher Swift, professor of national security studies at Georgetown University, said the most important question was whether the Trump administration’s vision in launching the strikes was “an impulsive one or a strategic one”.
“It’s not clear to me, yet, whether this administration has thought through the implications of the actions they took this evening,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If the president has a plan, then it will be interesting to see how that plan comes through. But if he doesn’t, he may have done more harm than good.”
At the time of the US raid, Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is holding two days of meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Russian were warned hours ahead of time to presumably reduce collateral damage, like they wouldn’t tell the Syrians an attack was imminent. Apparently Trump trusts Russia more than Congress.
And Russian media sent a strongly worded message about “American Aggression” to show they don’t always collude with our administration.
OTOH a recent Foreign Policy article suggests that despite all that kleptocratic crony capitalism, Russia could do the US a solid by cooperating on counter-terrorism, however ironic.
And since Kissinger is giving Trump advice, perhaps Lord Dampnut will get a Peace Prize for bombing Syria into submission plus enshrining Russian collusion into regular US electoral processes.
What remains is a curious conception of counterterrorism that is probably not shared by Russia and the US, considering all those recently dead Russian diplomats.
Getting to this outcome will be extraordinary difficult and will require the Trump administration to go against its instincts in a number of important respects.
First, it will require Washington to get tough with Moscow in order to push Assad to freeze the conflict and accept a decentralized political solution.
The United States possesses important leverage — in the form of potential counterterrorism cooperation — to induce Russian agreement.
Although Trump often talks about the benefits of cooperating with Russia to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism,” the United States does not need Russia to crush the caliphate or target al Qaeda plotters in Syria.
On the contrary, it is Moscow that desperately wants American counterterrorism cooperation to legitimize Russia’s intervention.
The Trump administration could offer to coordinate with Russia on clearing and holding remaining Islamic State hotspots in the east and work with them to clear al Qaeda from opposition-held territory in Idlib.
But any arrangement with Moscow must come with significant strings attached or it is likely to exacerbate the violence.
The opposition will never agree to a lasting ceasefire or a political outcome that keeps Assad in Damascus, even with greatly diminished powers, if the regime (or the Russians) remain free to wantonly bomb opposition areas in the name of fighting “terrorism.”
It is therefore essential for the Trump administration to condition any counterterrorism cooperation with Russia on commitments to keep Assad’s air force from operating over remaining opposition-controlled areas across the country.
The administration should also push Russia to hold back Iranian-initiated ground offensives in these areas, and it should condition any sharing of U.S. targeting information on credible Russian commitments to align air operations with the laws of war and provide Washington veto rights over targets.
In exchange, the United States would coordinate with Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to pressure the armed opposition to distance itself and, where possible, confront extremist groups, particularly al Qaeda.
Then again, Trump can continue to blame PBO. That always works.