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Syria: What We Know, What We Will Yet Learn

That President Trump completely reversed his entire ostensible foreign policy outlook comes as no surprise to those of us who argued from the first that he had no convictions on any topic, but merely had an instinct for his opponents’ vulnerabilities. The incoherence of his current posture is entirely of a piece with a more general incoherence that was manifest throughout the campaign, and for which further evidence emerges daily from the behavior of the administration.

That he could be easily coopted by an establishment consensus should similarly be no surprise. There was ample evidence, from the way he staffed his administration through to his legislative strategy (such as it has been) to prove that he had no particular intentions of implementing a serious break with prior Republican priorities, nor any idea of how to do so if he should have so intended.

Least of all should it be a surprise that President Trump cares even less than his predecessors for the norms and legal constraints on military action. Trump hasn’t the slightest legal warrant whatsoever in domestic or international law for his attack on Syria. In this he has extended the precedents set by Barack Obama (who prosecuted war well beyond the warrant approved by either Congress or the United Nations), George W. Bush (who made war with Congressional approval, but based on deceptive marketing, and who conducted that war in a manner that violated international and domestic law), and Bill Clinton (who made war without international warrant but with the clear and solid support of our NATO treaty allies). But this time there is barely a fig leaf of legality, and no public attempt whatever to justify the action as based on anything but Presidential whim.

No, the only surprise is that what motivated this new violence was the tender concern for children and for the treaty banning the use of chemical weapons. That I did not expect.

What have we yet to learn?

Mostly whether President Trump will prove to be easily led into an ever-expanding conflict with no purpose and no end-game — or whether he will prove to be easily intimidated into abandoning the fight as soon as it proves more difficult or unpopular than anticipated. Or — what I suspect is most likely — a combination of both, alternating between striking out blindly in anger and pulling out sulkily based on the news cycle of the week.

I’m sure Xi Jinping will have a grand old time either way.

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Syria: What We Know, What We Will Yet Learn"

#1 Comment By Dave On April 7, 2017 @ 11:24 am

You know the really sad part? I do t even believe Trump (or anyone close to him, if such a person exists) was moved to act based on poor suffering Syrian children. He did it because it was something he could do that would make him look “strong” and maybe give him some favorability ratings. I’d say that I wish Congress would get on with impeachment proceedings, but honestly I don’t think Pence would be any better.

#2 Comment By Dawn Johnson On April 7, 2017 @ 11:53 am

One consequence of this illegal attack is that it further erodes any kind of constraint the Chinese might have on their territorial ambitions. Not only will they be less constrained to use force, the US may be less able in the future to threaten them with force because the support Trump would need for that has evaporated in the smoke of this illegal and unwise attack on Syria. A large chunk of his supporters have either abandoned him outright or, at the very least, view him with much more skepticism.

#3 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On April 7, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

As has been argued ad nauseum on this and other threads; the 45th POTUS was a Trojan Horse exploited by the very establishment he railed against on the campaign trail. One could argue his is an alternative autocrat. The 45th POTUS has no coherent policy positions? Wow, next you’re going to express shock and awe in Barry Manilow’s recent announcement. GOP Establishment – 1 , We the People – 0

#4 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 7, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

This morning a lot of us Trump supporters are asking hard questions, too.

As you know, Noah, a disproportionate number of us Trump supporters are predisposed to question nearly all US military actions in the Middle East. We want no part of more US military interventions in the Middle East.

So, I don’t deny for a minute that the questions you raise are both important and justified.

However, I would urge you to consider that it is still much too early to answer any of these three of your points definitively. I would urge you to consider that:

(1) Bombing a Syrian military airfield – however unjustified and worrisome – does not mean “that President Trump [has] completely reversed his entire ostensible foreign policy.”

(2) Bombing a Syrian military airfield – however unjustified and worrisome – does not mean that President Trump has “no particular intentions of implementing a serious break with prior Republican priorities.”

(3) Bombing a Syrian military airfield – however unjustified and worrisome – does not mean President Trump can be “easily co-opted by an establishment consensus.”

Again, Noah, you have raised both important and justified questions. But it is still much too early to answer any of these questions definitely.

Remember: President Trump is wily.

#5 Comment By Dana Pavlick On April 7, 2017 @ 1:37 pm

“The best lack all conviction , while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
T.S. Eliot

“But to the enemy a plan was not lacking.”
Caesar

Hollow men, like Trump, have no plans.

#6 Comment By Ken Hoop On April 7, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

Noah, you don’t disapprove of all antiwar folks on the right and left intimidating him into abandoning the fight, do you? The sooner the street mass protests the better if need be.

#7 Comment By John Gruskos On April 7, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

Bannon was the voice for peace.

I fully expect him to get exactly zero credit from TAC for his brave stand.

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#8 Comment By Tim Herring On April 7, 2017 @ 3:56 pm

Noah, Trump’s “concern” for the Syrian children is just attempted cover for doing neo-con and Israel’s bidding in this attack. Also, the timing is very suspicious. Indeed now he can say he is doing something against Russia.

#9 Comment By Captain P On April 7, 2017 @ 4:53 pm

Trump’s going to be a one-term president. Prediction – he’ll get a serious primary challenge, and even though he’ll survive it, he’ll end be in bad shape against whoever the Dems put up.

#10 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 7, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

“That he could be easily coopted by an establishment consensus should similarly be no surprise.”

We already learned from the last guy, in his own words, that he couldn’t keep his own promises to the voters (of whom I was one, once) for hope and change “because it would have pissed off too many powerful people.”

This guy actually did “piss off” too many powerful people. There hasn’t been another Presidency in living memory where the Deep State overtly launched a campaign to discredit the President immediately by accusing him of treason, being the agent of an “enemy” power, and engaging the volunteer services of the entire mass media to amplify the false charges.

I’m no big fan of Trump’s character (maybe my own is none too steady either) but I don’t think there are many, or any, other folks of finer character who could withstand a bruising like this one without standing down.

This guy was our last, worst hope, once Obama failed to change anything and had made the Oslo peace prize a joke.

Last, worst hopes are usually just whistling in the dark.

#11 Comment By Crprod On April 7, 2017 @ 5:23 pm

What did America expect from electing a President whose message was “TRUMP!” And whose plan of action was “GIMME!”? The only interesting thing was the irony of the political slithering around at the same time in order to obtain a Supreme Court justice noted for his devotion to “originalism” which is now fully exposed to mean only the maintenance of political power for the majority party.

#12 Comment By Anne On April 7, 2017 @ 6:51 pm

“You know the really sad part? I do t even believe Trump (or anyone close to him, if such a person exists) was moved to act based on poor suffering Syrian children. He did it because it was something he could do that would make him look “strong” and maybe give him some favorability ratings. I’d say that I wish Congress would get on with impeachment proceedings, but honestly I don’t think Pence would be any better.”

I disagree that he did it only to appear strong. I believe he decided to launch the attack because he was moved by the “beautiful babies”, but as a foreign policy outlook that is actually far worse than a strongman’s perspective. While having no love for strongmen, at the very least, they are fairly predictable, and operate according to intelligible (if reprehensible) rules.

What we have on our hands is someone who operates based purely on emotional whims inspired largely by cable news and photos. This is deeply concerning, because it means that any one of the plethora of warmongers surrounding him would not need to evince an argument in favor of war, only some images.

As far as impeachment, I would place a large bet that this action has significantly decreased his chances of impeachment. The war hawks in our Congress are far more powerful than anyone else, and our allies fully support this illegality. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France, Britain, and Israel have come out in favor. My guess is, as long as Trump makes war, he isn’t going anywhere.

#13 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 7, 2017 @ 7:49 pm

@ John Gruskos: Thank you for the link explaining the waning influence of Bannon, the voice of peace and America First. I just hope that somehow this dispatch is wrong.

#14 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 7, 2017 @ 11:23 pm

Tonight on Fox News Tucker Carlson asked an interesting question about last night’s bombing of Syria: “The media loved it…So who’ not on board?”

“The reviews are in last night’s attack on Syrian airfields. The media loved it. So did John McCain and, as you heard, Lindsay Graham, too. Most of official Washington was thrilled. Even many Democrats in Congress – the ones who were denouncing the President as a Nazi and a Russian agent simultaneously just twenty minutes ago – managed to say nice words about last night’s mission, which was nice. So who’ not on board? Let’s see. Well, according to a piece by someone named Ben Schreckinger at Politico the skeptics are limited to what he calls Trump’s troll army: racists and conspiracy mongers. The New York Times came to the same conclusion – noting that the strongest opposition to bombing Syria came from the (and I’m quoting now) “small, but influential, white nationalist movement.” The Washington Post agreed with this assessment. They said the war’s critics hold (quote) “racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist” views. Well, wait a second. Why would white supremacists oppose the bombing of a non-white country? Wouldn’t they be for it? That part was never explained, by the way, just asserted, because, of course, it makes no sense. It’s literally absurd. Like so much news coverage, it’s not news, but propaganda designed to smear and deceive, rather than to inform. On this topic the news has never been faker.” (Tucker Carlson, Fox News, April 7, 2017)

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#15 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 7, 2017 @ 11:31 pm

“Obviously, the cruise missile attack was prepared beforehand,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry. ”Any expert can tell that the decision to strike was made in Washington before the events in Idlib, which were used as a pretext for a demonstration.”

What if that’s what happened? What if a US cruise missile attack on a virtually empty Syrian airfield (the Russians were pre-warned and they passed the warning to the Syrians) – resulting in no American casualties and only 7 Syrian dead — “was prepared beforehand”?

What if President Trump was just waiting for a pretext (no matter how unsubstantiated the allegation of Syrian government responsibility for the chemical incident) to do a demonstration bombing of Syria and thereby demonstrate to his domestic enemies his complete independence of – even his disregard for — Putin?

What if (the morning after) the Russians (dutifully) express outrage at the cruise attack and most Americans applaud. What if the Democratic and McCain-type Republican politicians – calling for an investigation into the (to this point) entirely groundless charges that Putin intervened for Trump in the November election — are set back on their heels and forced to tone down their anti-Trump witch hunt?

What if this is what happened?

#16 Comment By Gazza On April 8, 2017 @ 10:18 am

The CW attack was clearly a false flag, just like the 2013 incident in Damascus (where a subsequent UN team found the terrorist had used improvised artilery rockets, which had a range that was too short to have been fired from government positions).

Why would the Syrian gov use a sarin bomb (which they don’t have anymore) to attack a non-descript unimportant village to kill civilians? They have NOTHING to gain, and it would only invite an attack by their enemies (which has now transpired).

This is a SERIOUS question, but one that has been TOTALLY IGNORED by our coporate MSM.

This is either another false flag attack by AQ-affilates, or the result of a raid by Syrian gov aircraft on a terrorist weapons storage site used to store or possbly make CW agents.

Consider how Westen nations have REFUSED to consider a UN investigation by CW inspectors. They clearly wish to avoid another embarassing discovery like in 2013, they want their dirty war, and they want it NOW.

#17 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 8, 2017 @ 1:34 pm

Philip Giraldi: “The essential [Syria] narrative that we’re all hearing…is a sham.”

Scott Horton (Libertarian Institute) does an audio interview of Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, who writes for The American Conservative Magazine (April 6, 2017, excerpts):

Philip Giraldi: “The fact is that I am hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available, who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. That the intelligence confirms pretty much the account that the Russians have been giving since last night [April 5] which is that they hit a warehouse where the rebels – now these are rebels that, of course, who are connected with Al Qaeda – where the rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties.

“Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear. And people in both the Agency and in the military, who are aware of the intelligence, are freaking out about this, because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict…

“These are essentially sources who are right on top of the issue in the Middle East. They’re people that are stationed there with the military and with the intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence. And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the States and telling us essentially that they are astonished by how this is being played by the Administration and by the US media. And they are in some cases people who are considering going public to stop it. They are that concerned about it. They’re that upset by what’s going on.”

Scott Horton: “On that can you say — specifically you’re saying former or current CIA – you’re saying current CIA or military officers are considering going public at this point right now?”

Philip Giraldi: “There are some apparently that are considering that because they are really shocked about the way this thing is moving. I wouldn’t categorize them as CIA and military officers. They’re certainly military personnel and they’re intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty there and seeing the intelligence that the United States government has in its hands [spoken with emphasis] about what happened in Syria. And the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons…They believe that the evidence indicates yes, there was an attack, but it was an attack with conventional weapons, with a bomb, and that the bomb basically ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the, as I say, the terrorist group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

Scott Horton: “You say they might come forward because of how fast this thing is moving. How fast is it moving?”

Philip Giraldi: “Well, it’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern is among the people who are active-duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday [April 5th] and so was our Ambassador to the UN about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous red lines and essentially they are fearful that this is going to escalate.

“Now bear in mind also the other side of this story which I’m sure you are fully aware of is that Assad had no motive to do this. Assad if anything had a negative motive. He had gotten off the hook, with the Administration basically saying that there was no longer an imperative to remove him from office. And this was a big win for him. To then turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later does not fit any possible scenario. I’ve seen several floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous. It was completely in Assad’s interest not to create an incident.”

Scott Horton: “Well, what about just some dumb colonel?”

Philip Giraldi: “…We don’t have, as far as I know, any evidence in any direction indicating that that [the dumb colonel scenario] was the case. But if it turned out that there is evidence, and there was a dumb colonel, I would assume that the United States government, NSA, already has that – it’s already in their possession and if that’s true, they should perhaps be forthcoming with it.

“But this is a story that we’ve seen repeated over and over and over again where allegations are made for political reasons and they’re not backed up by facts…”

Scott Horton: [Scenario put out in some quarters that] “…Because Rex Tillerson had signalled that because regime change was no longer the object of American policy in Syria that that was why Assad chose this time to test Donald Trump – to see how much he could get away with. What do you think of that?”

“I think that’s ridiculous. [Philip Giraldi laughs] Why if you have everything going your way – you’re winning the war and you suddenly have your major antagonist basically saying they’re going to leave you alone – why would you test the situation? Yes, I’ve seen that argument…but it’s a ridiculous argument…

“We’re into something like a fantasy world now where there’s a political narrative that dictates what these people in power are going to say. And it has become an astonishing – like a nether world of some kind…With this Syrian business coming up here, the media instead of waiting and seeing what the evidence was concerning what had happened, they went immediately to this source material that was provided by the opposition. And they took the opposition’s point of view and they accepted that as if it were fact.

“And all right it might turn out that, hey, Assad really had a brain fart and he actually did this. But let’s wait to see — before we start a war – what the actual evidence is and what evidence the US government has. The US government intelligence agencies have Syria covered completely. If there was a phone call made, we’ll have it. If there was a trajectory of a bomb coming in, we’ll have it. If there’s analysis of what the actual chemical on the ground was, we’ll have it. But instead we’re going to this kind of rush to war – that we almost had with Obama back in 2013…”

Scott Horton: “…What’s with Pompeo? What’s with Dan Coates? Are they going to try to protect Trump from doing the dumbest thing…or are they just going to push him right on into it?”

“The scary thing about Trump is that there’s no clear indication that he listens to anybody. And you know, so is McMaster going to be able to do this, or Mattis, or any of them in the food chain? If he’s basically like my impression yesterday – him with the press conference – was that he was shooting from the lip – that he could not possibly have seen all of the intelligence, or known what we even knew at that point about this situation in Syria…”

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#18 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 8, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

The final paragraph of this interview is spoken by Philip Giraldi.

Philip Giraldi: “The essential [Syria] narrative that we’re all hearing…is a sham.”

Scott Horton (Libertarian Institute) audio interview of Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, who writes for The American Conservative Magazine (April 6, 2017, excerpts):

Philip Giraldi: “The fact is that I am hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available, who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. That the intelligence confirms pretty much the account that the Russians have been giving since last night [April 5] which is that they hit a warehouse where the rebels – now these are rebels that, of course, who are connected with Al Qaeda – where the rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties.

“Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear. And people in both the Agency and in the military, who are aware of the intelligence, are freaking out about this, because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict…

“These are essentially sources who are right on top of the issue in the Middle East. They’re people that are stationed there with the military and with the intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence. And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the States and telling us essentially that they are astonished by how this is being played by the Administration and by the US media. And they are in some cases people who are considering going public to stop it. They are that concerned about it. They’re that upset by what’s going on.”

Scott Horton: “On that can you say — specifically you’re saying former or current CIA – you’re saying current CIA or military officers are considering going public at this point right now?”

Philip Giraldi: “There are some apparently that are considering that because they are really shocked about the way this thing is moving. I wouldn’t categorize them as CIA and military officers. They’re certainly military personnel and they’re intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty there and seeing the intelligence that the United States government has in its hands [spoken with emphasis] about what happened in Syria. And the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons…They believe that the evidence indicates yes, there was an attack, but it was an attack with conventional weapons, with a bomb, and that the bomb basically ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the, as I say, the terrorist group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

Scott Horton: “You say they might come forward because of how fast this thing is moving. How fast is it moving?”

Philip Giraldi: “Well, it’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern is among the people who are active-duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday [April 5th] and so was our Ambassador to the UN about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous red lines and essentially they are fearful that this is going to escalate.

“Now bear in mind also the other side of this story which I’m sure you are fully aware of is that Assad had no motive to do this. Assad if anything had a negative motive. He had gotten off the hook, with the Administration basically saying that there was no longer an imperative to remove him from office. And this was a big win for him. To then turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later does not fit any possible scenario. I’ve seen several floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous. It was completely in Assad’s interest not to create an incident.”

Scott Horton: “Well, what about just some dumb colonel?”

Philip Giraldi: “…We don’t have, as far as I know, any evidence in any direction indicating that that [the dumb colonel scenario] was the case. But if it turned out that there is evidence, and there was a dumb colonel, I would assume that the United States government, NSA, already has that – it’s already in their possession and if that’s true, they should perhaps be forthcoming with it.

“But this is a story that we’ve seen repeated over and over and over again where allegations are made for political reasons and they’re not backed up by facts…”

Scott Horton: [Scenario put out in some quarters that] “…Because Rex Tillerson had signalled that because regime change was no longer the object of American policy in Syria that that was why Assad chose this time to test Donald Trump – to see how much he could get away with. What do you think of that?”

“I think that’s ridiculous. [Philip Giraldi laughs] Why if you have everything going your way – you’re winning the war and you suddenly have your major antagonist basically saying they’re going to leave you alone – why would you test the situation? Yes, I’ve seen that argument…but it’s a ridiculous argument…

“We’re into something like a fantasy world now where there’s a political narrative that dictates what these people in power are going to say. And it has become an astonishing – like a nether world of some kind…With this Syrian business coming up here, the media instead of waiting and seeing what the evidence was concerning what had happened, they went immediately to this source material that was provided by the opposition. And they took the opposition’s point of view and they accepted that as if it were fact.

“And all right it might turn out that, hey, Assad really had a brain fart and he actually did this. But let’s wait to see — before we start a war – what the actual evidence is and what evidence the US government has. The US government intelligence agencies have Syria covered completely. If there was a phone call made, we’ll have it. If there was a trajectory of a bomb coming in, we’ll have it. If there’s analysis of what the actual chemical on the ground was, we’ll have it. But instead we’re going to this kind of rush to war – that we almost had with Obama back in 2013…”

Scott Horton: “…What’s with Pompeo? What’s with Dan Coates? Are they going to try to protect Trump from doing the dumbest thing…or are they just going to push him right on into it?”

Philip Giraldi: “The scary thing about Trump is that there’s no clear indication that he listens to anybody. And you know, so is McMaster going to be able to do this, or Mattis, or any of them in the food chain? If he’s basically like my impression yesterday – him with the press conference – was that he was shooting from the lip – that he could not possibly have seen all of the intelligence, or known what we even knew at that point about this situation in Syria…”

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#19 Comment By Charles Barkley On April 8, 2017 @ 4:19 pm

Curt: if that what’s happened, that the guy you spent months shilling for on this site had just spent 100 million dollars attaching a country we are not at war with for no reason than his own personal political reasons, meaning he should be impeached and sent to jail. I would prefer any random New York homeless guy to be president rather than him – and yet I don’t think he is that much of a villain . To me it’s very telling that this is the story his most ardent supporter is weaving rather than acknowledging sad truths