Is Donald Trump Going to Do the Syria Backflip? by Publius Tacitus


Trump’s new saber rattling against Syria, Russia and Iran goes beyond pure irony and will certainly fuel rumors embraced by critics that he is becoming senile. When Trump was running for the Presidency, he sang a radically different tune:

Donald Trump accused his Republican presidential rivals on Friday night of wanting to "start World War III over Syria," and suggested that the United States should instead let Russia deal with the problem. ( 25 September 2015

If Vladimir Putin wants to launch airstrikes inside Syria, that's no problem for Donald Trump, who said Wednesday that he believes Russia's military moves in Syria are targeting ISIS and that the United States shouldn't interfere. ( 1 October 2015

Addressing Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, which has so far disproportionately targeted rebel-held areas with no Isis presence, Trump expressed confidence that Vladimir Putin would eventually target the Islamic State. “He’s going to want to bomb Isis because he doesn’t want Isis going into Russia and so he’s going to want to bomb Isis,” Trump said of the Russian president. “Vladimir Putin is going to want to really go after Isis, and if he doesn’t it’ll be a big shock to everybody.” However, Trump did note the complexity of the situation on the ground in Syria, pointing out in reference to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad that Putin “is an Assad person” and “the United States doesn’t like Assad”. He went on to condemn the Obama administration for “backing people who they don’t know who they are”, and to warn that rebels backed by the United States “could be Isis”. ( 13 October 2015.

That was then. Now Trump is chest thumping and trash talking Syria and Russia like the recently deceased John McCain. He now appears ready to lead the NeoCon Conga line into an escalation of the war in Syria:

President Donald Trump warned Syria and its allies Russia and Iran on Monday against attacking the last major rebel stronghold of Idlib province in the country's northwest.  "President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province," Trump wrote on Twitter. "The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don't let that happen!" ( 4 September 2018

In a recent discussion about Syria, people familiar with the exchange said, President Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Mr. Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib, the northwestern province that has become the last refuge for more than three million people and as many as 70,000 opposition fighters that the regime considers to be terrorists. ( 9 September 2018

Forget about the Mueller investigation. It is irrelevant. Trump’s Presidency hinges on what he does in Syria in the coming weeks. The choice is unambiguous. Maintain his commitment to non-intervention that spills over into nation building or start acting like George W Bush and Barack Obama. Either Trump meant what he said during the campaign or he was lying. He has no middle ground here.

Part of the problem afflicting Donald Trump is his reliance on his media image as a tough, hard nosed business guy who fires people if they do not measure up or are failures. But Trump is really more a confused pussy cat. He has, with a few exceptions, been pretty passive on appointing people to serve in his Administration. The Trump foreign policy team is populated by a toxic mix of NeoCons and Hillary Clinton accolytes. Not exercising control over the personnel who are supposed to carry water for him means he does not have control of the policy.

With the likes of John Bolton as National Security Advisor, Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and Nikki Haley as USUN Ambassador, Trump is getting a steady supply of propaganda about bad Syrians, Russians and Iranians. No grey area or nuance allowed in talking about those “enemies.”

I am hoping that this turns out to be nothing more than idle threats from the President who seems to believe that bombast is an effective tool to move the world. But there also is that thing called reality. Russia, Syria and Iran are posed to complete the defeat of the Syrian rebels. The most effective fighters in the various groups that constitute the so-called Free Syrian Army are radical Islamists. Those radicals are ideologically en sync with Al Qaeda and will likely be celebrating the 17thanniversary of the 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington.

The dirty secret (it is not so secret) is that the United States, along with the Brits, the Saudis, the Qataris and the Turks, has been funding, arming and training these rebels. The alleged intelligence this week that Syria’s Assad is going to unleash chemical weapons on innocent civilians is black propaganda at its worse. First, Syria does not have chemical weapons. That fact was certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) January 2016

Subsequent to this certification there have been several instances where traces of chemicals, principally chlorine, have been discovered in contested areas. While the popular media narrative is to push the meme that Syria is using “chemical weapons,” little attention has been paid to the more likely culprits, i.e., the Islamic rebels working with foreign intelligence organizations, to stage “attacks” as part of a broader strategy to build internationl support for more direct intervention in the civil war by western powers.

Sy Hersh laid out some of the evidence for this fact in his ground breaking article, The Red Line and the Rat Line. Hersh wrote:

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’) . . . .

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August [2013] he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack.

I have some friends who are still in government and hoped that Trump was serious about extricating the United States from the Syria morass. They were hopeful last year. Not now. They are depressed and worried.

Like Slim Shady, will the real Donald Trump please stand up?

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