I believe that the risk of war with Russia over Syria is growing rather than diminishing. Although Donald Trump has toned down his idiotic tweet taunts and is no longer vowing an imminent response, he still has painted himself into a PR corner and his only avenue of escape is to launch cruise missiles against some obscure Syrian military or political target.
This will not be a mere repeat of the fireworks show from April of 2017, when Trump ordered up a cruise missile strike on an isolated airfield in the aftermath of another staged "chemical" attack by Syrian rebels. Trump blamed that supposed attack on Assad but did nothing in terms of even marginally hurting Syrian military capabilities. But it was a feel good political moment. Trump beat up the kid in a wheel chair and won praise as a tough guy.
Today the stakes are higher for Trump. The neocons and interventionist hawks are reminding him that his attack last year accomplished nothing of import. And then they ramp up the stakes by declaring that a failure to really hurt the Syrian military means that Trump is just a white version of Obama. Trump is being told by many politicians on both sides of the aisle and a horde of pundits that he has drawn a red line and must enforce it.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has issued a Warning Order to the relevant units and an Alert/Deployment Order. This means that US forces are moving into position to launch military operations when given the order to EXECUTE by Donald Trump.
We are not yet at that moment, but it appears to be nigh. Scuttlebutt is that SecDef Mattis and CIA Acting Haspel are urging caution because there is no supporting intelligence for the claim that a "chemical weapon" was used. In fact, there is not even confirmation about the supposed civilian casualties.
I find it precious listening to the bipartisan parade of politicians and pundits decrying the "murder" of innocent woman and children. I don't see those same folks decrying the bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. But hey, if you easily are shocked by hypocrisy then you will be in a catatonic state if you even cursorily follow events and pronouncements in Washington, DC.
Here is what I think is going on. Mattis and Haspel are arguing for a delay in order for the OPCW to get on the ground and conduct an initial assessment of what really happened. The problem is that the OPCW is unlikely to find anything. But that will not be taken as proof that the Syrians or Russians are innocent. The pressure for a strike will still be on.
There is another possible scenario (and this does not rule out the first one). The United States, France and the United Kingdom will launch a joint strike against Syrian military and political targets within the next 48 hours (start your clocks at 1800 hours Eastern Daylight Time on the 12th). This is where it gets very interesting and dangerous.
Russia has drawn its own redline. Putin and his General know for a fact that there was no chemical weapon of any kind used in Syria. They recently warned the world that this kind of stage event was in the offing. They know what they have and have not done on the ground and know the lies spilling from Washington, London and Paris are vicious calumny. They are not a punching bag and are not going to sit back and do nothing.
A friend of mine, with knowledge of both Russian and US military assets in the region, told me yesterday that the Russian air defense systems are superior to our offensive systems in the region and that they have the ability to shootdown/destroy a significant number of those. If the US, UK and France decide to fire they will face, at a minimum, a full retaliatory strike on the inbound missiles.
That's not the worse case. The Russians also could hit the launch platforms. In other words, they would hit ships and submarines. If that happens we are on the verge of a rapid, dramatic and dangerous escalation. Will the US, the UK and France feel the need to retaliate and up the ante?
Trump is such a narcissistic buffoon that I cannot imagine any scenario in which he suddenly become pensive and cautious. Impetuous and reckless are more likely.
I woke up this morning and hoped we were coming out of the woods. As the sun has set on this day I fear we have only become lost in the dark, deeps of the forrest.