• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Big Noise: Apocalyptic Tweets, Limited Strikes

Photo by Tyler Merbler | CC BY 2.0

“Big noise on the stairs, but nobody comes into the room,” runs an old Chinese saying. This is an apt description of the very limited airstrikes on Syria launched by the US, Britain and France overnight, which came after apocalyptic tweets from President Trump and threats of military retaliation by Russian diplomats.

In the event, the fears of a “Russian-American clash” and runaway confrontation leading to a “third world war” have turned out to be overblown. They did not look quite so exaggerated earlier in the week when Trump tweeted about US missiles: “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart’.”

The Russians hinted that their retaliation might include American targets.

Of all the options available, the US-led coalition chose the one involving minimal action and geared not to provoke Russia or Iran. This was a one-off attack on three suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities, one in Damascus and two west of Homs. It was more of a gesture of disapproval than an attempt to damage President Bashar al-Assad’s military machine. Hours after the missiles had struck, his supporters were understandably demonstrating their defiance in the centre of Damascus.

Trump, reportedly under pressure from his military chiefs, may have chosen the most cautious option, but in fact there were no good options. Assad has all but won the civil war. Even if it was possible to weaken him, this might present opportunities to Isis and al-Qaeda, which are battered but not entirely out of business.

The attacks may or may not deter Assad from using poison gas in the future, but they will not change the balance of power against him. Chemical weapons are only a small part of his arsenal and have played only a minor military role in the war. Out of the half million Syrians who have died in the conflict over the last seven years, just 1,900 are estimated to have been killed by chemical weapons.

Yet the military balance of power really has changed in Syria over the last week, although the reason for this has largely passed unnoticed internationally because of the focus on the gas attack in Douma and its consequences. The big development is that Douma, the last armed opposition stronghold in Eastern Ghouta, surrendered to the Syrian armed forces on 8 April. The remaining Jaysh al-Islam fighters have been taken by bus to Turkish-held territory in northern Syria during the course of the week. This is Assad’s greatest victory of the war, surpassing in importance even the recapture of East Aleppo at the end of 2016.

The Syrian army began its so-called Rif Dimashq offensive against the towns and villages of Eastern Ghouta on 20 February. For seven years, the survival of this opposition enclave in east Damascus had been a sign that Assad did not control all of his own country. There were rebels within mortar range of the heart of his own capital who regularly bombarded the Old City. In the past there were other such opposition enclaves, but they have fallen one by one.

Eastern Ghouta had a population of 400,000 and was partly agricultural so could feed itself to some degree. It was at first blockaded rather than besieged, with supplies coming in through a vast tunnel network and permissive or corrupt government checkpoints.

But in the last year the government has closed entry and exit through its checkpoints and has blocked the tunnels. Inhabitants started to suffer from an acute shortage of food, fuel and medical supplies. The scarcity got worse when the government began its offensive in February. Much of the population took refuge in basements where they could only see in the dark by using small torches. Those who lived there complained of the lack of fresh water and food, the stench because of broken sewage pipes and the presence of venomous scorpions.

Possibly it was the Syrian government’s frustration at the continued resistance of part of Jaysh al-Islam, the Saudi-backed jihadi movement in Douma, that led it to use chlorine gas. It had done so before without provoking an international reaction, but this time authentic-looking video was broadcast around the world showing dying children gasping for breath. The pictures provoked a wave of international fury which culminated in the US-led airstrikes on 14 April.

If the Syrian government’s purpose in launching a chemical weapons attack was to force the final surrender of the Douma rebels, then it succeeded. Within hours of it happening, Russian military police moved into Douma to supervise the departure of rebel fighters and to suppress looting by government forces. On 12 April, the Syrian national flag was finally raised over a building in central Douma and the long siege was over.

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

June 03, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Revolution, Not Riots: Prospects for Radical Transformation in the Covid-19 Era
Jennifer Loewenstein
From Mississippi to Minneapolis: Leaving the ‘Abyss of Despair’
Kenneth Surin
The UK Compared With Other Countries on the Pandemic
Paul Street
“Total Domination”: Popular Rebellion in the Shadow of Trumpism-Fascism
Kenn Orphan
The Sadism of American Power
John Pilger
The Coup Against ‘The Most Loyal Ally’
Eric Murphy
The Police Are The Out-Of-Towners Provoking Violence
Melvin Goodman
How the Washington Post Accommodates Disinformation
Rev. William Alberts
It’s the Worshippers Who Are “Essential”
Georgina Downs
No, the Public Fury Will Not “Move On” Prime Minister!
George V. Wright
It is Happening Here
M. G. Piety
Tales from the Dark Side of Customer Service, or “Christians” Giving Christians a Bad Name
Chandra Muzaffar
A Superpower in Chaos
Thomas Knapp
Time to Stop Messing Around and Strike at the Root of Police Violence
Thomas M. Hanna
The Oligopoly That Controls Our Digital Infrastructure Has Deepened Economic and Racial Divides
Andrew Stewart
The Ethics of Police Murder Video Exhibition: Democratizing The News Feed, Re-Traumatizing The Survivors, Or Both?
Binoy Kampmark
Death, Protest and George Floyd
David Rovics
Who’s Trashing Downtown Every Night and Why?
Harvey Wasserman
Trump Is No Accident
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Biden and the Common Sense Voter
Timothy Ingalsbee
Ecosystems, Logging and the Definition of Insanity
Elliot Sperber
The Birds of Brooklyn
June 02, 2020
Zoltan Grossman
Deploying Federal Troops in a War at Home Would Make a Bad Situation Worse
Nicholas Buccola
Amy Cooper is Christian Cooper’s Lost, Younger Sister 
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming is Nuclear War
Patrick Cockburn
An Unavoidable Recognition of Failure: Trump’s Withdrawal From Afghanistan
John Feffer
Is It Time to Boycott the USA?
Kathy Kelly
Beating Swords to Plowshares
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Urban Riots Revisited
Sam Pizzigati
“Failed State” Status Here We Come
Ron Jacobs
In Defense of Antifa
Cesar Chelala
Bolsonaro and Trump: Separated at Birth
George Wuerthner
The BLM’s License to Destroy Sagebrush Ecosystems
Danny Antonelli
The Absurdity of Hope
Binoy Kampmark
Sinister Flatulence: Trump Versus Twitter
John Stanton
How Much Violence and Destruction is Enough for Depraved American Leaders and Their Subjects?
Richard C. Gross
The Enemy Within
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s “Free Speech:” Doctrine: Never, Ever, Ever Mention He’s a Liar
John W. Whitehead
This Is Not a Revolution. It’s a Blueprint for Locking Down the Nation
June 01, 2020
Joshua Frank
It’s a Class War Now Too
Richard D. Wolff
Why the Neoliberal Agenda is a Failure at Fighting Coronavirus
Henry Giroux
Racial Domestic Terrorism and the Legacy of State Violence
Ron Jacobs
The Second Longest War in the United States
Kanishka Chowdhury
The Return of the “Outside Agitator”
Lee Hall
“You Loot; We Shoot”
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail