President Donald Trump campaigned last year making the sensible argument that the US should no longer engage in a policy of regime change, and should attempt to have friendly relations with other countries like Russia and China. Yesterday he blew those ideas out of the water by launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase and by calling for the removal of Syria’s leader, Bashar al Assad.
The pretext for the US cruise missile blitz, an alleged attack on a rebel-held town called Khan Shiekhun in Idlib province, where some 70 people, including children, were reported to have died from illegal Sarin-gas bombs said to have been dropped by Syrian planes, has yet to be investigated by any independent observers.
Like many pretexts for war that have been used by the US to justify its illegal attacks on other nations over the years, dating back at least to the faked claim of a North Vietnamese attack on a US destroyer of the country’s coast in the Gulf of Tonkin which led to an all-out US war against the peoples of Indochina, and the fraudulent claim that Saddam Hussein was building “weapons of mass destruction” that led to the US invasion of Iraq, there are many questions about who really used Sarin gas at Khan Shiekhun, a city under the control of an Al-Qaeda rebel group. All information about the attack has come from sources there, where no Western reporters or independent investigators are allowed, and from the so-called “White Helmets” — a supposedly humanitarian volunteer organization that calls for the overthrow of the Syrian government and that openly backs Al-Qaeda rebels. (Critics have noted that photos of the dead appear staged, with White Hat rescuers not using any protective clothing or even gloves, even though residue of Sarin, a nerve gas, can kill oir injure even those whose skin touches it.)
We already know that the supposed Sarin gas attack on a neighborhood in Damascus, which nearly led to an all-out attack on Syria by the US under President Obama in 2013 — a criminal war that was only prevented by Russia stepping in with a deal to supervise the removal and destruction of all of Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons — was actually a “false flag” attack conducted by Syrian rebels using Sarin supplied from Turkey — the same rebels who now control Khan Shiekhun.
But putting aside the question of who actually poisoned those victims in Khan Sheikhun, the reality is that international law, as codified in the UN Charter, a treaty which the US has signed, declares the supreme war crime to be for a country to attack another when it poses no imminent threat to the attacker. Absent such an existential threat, the only legal way one country may attack another is when that military action has been approved by a vote of the United Nations Security Council. No such UN resolution has been passed regarding international action in Syria, where the only legal foreign military actor is Russia, which was invited by the internationally recognized Assad government.
And so yet another American president has joined the long list of war criminals who have made the US the world’s leading rogue nation since at least 1953.
Meanwhile the US media are cheering this action by President Trump, while most Americans appear disinterested or ignorant about in the whole thing, or are supportive of an effort portrayed as being designed to “punish” Syrian President Assad for his alleged crime of poison-gassing civilians in his own war-torn country. (Shares in Raytheon, maker of the $1-million a shot Tomahawk missile were up almost 1.5% by mid-day following the nighttime attack on Syria, and other arms industry stocks were also up on the likelihood of more war and deeper US involvement in the Syrian conflict.)
The US corporate media are particularly craven, not even mentioning doubts about the veracity of reports attributing the attack to Syrian air force planes — the leading one being why Assad would have resorted to use of chemical weapons (which he supposedly got rid of) and why Russia, which has enormous influence over Assad given its critical role in propping up his government militarily, would have permitted him to use them (if he even still had some to use), given that his military is already defeating the rebel forces arrayed against him. Such a move, which only opens the door to a larger US role in the Syrian civil war, defies logic. The New York Times, in a report by David Sanger, which was illustrated on line with a short video clip of Tomahawks being launched from a ship in the dark, began:
“In launching a military strike just 77 days into his administration, President Trump has the opportunity, but hardly a guarantee, to change the perception of disarray in his administration.”
Sanger concluded the piece by writing:
“The question now is whether [Trunp’s] new, untested team — divided in their own definitions of how and when to use American power — can turn the intervention in Syria into something more than a symbolic show of force.”
At no point in the article was the issue of who was actually responsible for the Sarin attack that the cruise attacks were supposed to be in retaliation for. In contrast, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country was asked by Trump, along with others in Europe, to back the US attack, called for an investigation first into who was behind the Sarin attack in Idlib. He said, in response to a question from a Globe and Mail reporter about whether “some kind of military action” might be needed:
“There are continuing questioins…about who is responsible for these horrible attacks against civilians, and that’s why I’m impressing on the United Nations Security Council to pass a strong resolution that allows the international community to determine first of all who was responsible for these attacks and how we will move forward.”
That said, the appalling hypocrisy of the US here also needs to be called out. It was only a few weeks ago that US aircraft bombed two locations, one on a school in the town of Mansoura, in Raqqa Province, and one on a Mosque in the town of Al Jina in western Alleppo Province, killing over 79 civilians, including children. These were crimes equally obscene to the gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, but where is the public outrage in the US over what our own military has done? After all, a dead or injured civilian, adult or child, is a dead or injured civilian, whatever weapon was used to kill him or her.
After initially denying these bombings, the US military eventually acknowledged them but claimed that they were collateral damage, not targeted attacks on the sites — the stock excuse for such US atrocities. The reality, however, is that increasingly, it is the US that is the main killer of civilians in the Syrian conflict.
You wouldn’t know that from reading US news reports, which focus on deaths caused by Russian bombing or by Syrian air and ground forces.
What is clear is that the Trump administration is increasingly being dominated by neo-conservative and pro-empire advisors, many of them active or former generals, who favor a continuance of the long-time US strategy of regime-change in the Third World, as well as a revival of the Cold War against Russia and China, as well as a hard line, and perhaps ultimately war against Iran.
A deeper US military involvement in the Syrian conflict, which runs the risk of direct military conflict between US and Russian forces because of Russia’s active (and legal) military backing of the Syrian government at the request of the Assad regime, seems to be increasingly likely, which will mean more death and destruction in that long-suffering country. It also significantly raises the risk of a world war between the world’s two nuclear superpowers, Russia and the United States, should either side end up shooting down the other’s aircraft, or bombing the other side’s troops on the ground.
This would seem to be something that the American people should be deeply concerned about, and informed about by their supposedly independent news media.
As noted international law expert Francis Boyle wars ominously, “It is the ‘Unlimited Imperialists’ along the lines of Alexander, Rome, Napoleon and Hitler who are now in charge of conducting American foreign policy. The factual circumstances surrounding the outbreaks of both the First World War and the Second World War currently hover like twin Swords of Damocles over the heads of all humanity.”