Friday, April 07, 2017

Swatting Flies

My brother called around dinnertime yesterday to tell me that Trump had launched a cruise missile attack against Syria.

I told him that they almost certainly gave the Russians a heads up which meant the Syrians probably had some time to get ready. I went back to binge-watching Fargo into the wee hours of the morning.

As expected, the Americans did notify the Russians and it appears they passed along the warning to Assad's people. This morning I had a look at some video of the airbase the Americans targeted. Some aircraft shelters were hit but many more seemed to have been unaffected, their 60s vintage Sukhoi 17s sitting inside apparently intact. A little bit of runway damage but nothing that can't be readily fixed. 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles for that? I would have expected the place to have been flattened.

Back when the Sovs were building those Su-17s there was a term popular with the anti-Vietnam War crowd - "reactionary." It was used to describe rightwing responses, reactions to events that seemed independent of established policy. Collectively, it amounted to a basketful of incoherence. Donald Trump is nothing if not reactionary.

There’s a lot to be said for moral clarity after the Assad regime’s disgusting chemical attacks that murdered so many civilians in northern Syria this week. But that’s not what Trump represents. His moral certainty was nowhere to be found in 2013, after the first large-scale chemical attacks that crossed Obama’s infamous red line. “President Obama, do not attack Syria,” tweeted Trump. “There is no upside and tremendous downside.”

Now Trump himself is upside down on Syria. He initially blamed Obama and his red line for the chemical attacks this week, insisting that the overblown rhetoric had hurt the United States. This from a man who told this gem to reporters aboard Air Force One yesterday: “I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency.”

Yes, Donald Trump is a great big bag of contradictions and he just swaggered his way into the single most complex civil war in living memory. A war that is even more complicated than raising a high-rise hotel in a foreign capital.

There will be more human rights abuses and more massacres. And Trump will be forced to decide between bombing regime targets or bombing targets belonging to its biggest rebels: the Isis forces Trump has already condemned as the most evil group on the face of the planet.

This was the kind of quandary Obama couldn’t resolve. Could they launch effective strikes without triggering a full war with the Assad regime and its Russian supporters? What would all those strikes do to the very civilians the US was supposedly concerned about?

A cynical mind could question whether the attack was just a massively frustrated Trump blowing off steam - doing something, anything to look decisive, powerful.

The big question is what now? Is this an impulsive one-off reaction to a gas attack? Will the White House develop some Trump Doctrine? Will Putin find some way to play Trump?

UPDATE - BBC offers an interesting look at Trump's "war room" photo from Mar a Lago in contrast to Obama's photo during the operation to kill bin Laden.


UU4077 said...

59 Tomahawk missiles, and only 23 got through. $70 million+ What a waste. But, starving American citizens through no food stamps because there's no money? Apparently, that's okay.

UU4077 said...

And, what was the point? Really?

Kind of reminds of something somebody once said. Something about [Trump] "whipping out his Tomahawks" - to paraphrase.

rumleyfips said...

American spokespeople first said SU22's dropped chemical bombs. Today they say it was helicopters dropping barrel bombs. Either way they claim the airfield attacked was the place of origin for a sarin attack. This seems illogical. Bombing a facility where chemical weapons are stored is dangerous. Once loose gas can go anywhere and do anything. The US says they only bombed where the chemicals were not. How did they know to that degree of certanty. It hardly matters if they tried to miss the sarin, the tomohaws were none to accurate as you point out about the runways ans intact hangers and aircraft. A gas attack on Syrian citizens , worse than last week, was a distinct possibility.

The Mound of Sound said...

With this president no one seems to have a definitive take on the attack. It certainly is not in keeping with any established policy. Trump saw some unsettling photos of kids and babies killed in the gas attack and reacted with a high visibility but minimal consequence cruise missile barrage.

By some accounts Trump's missiles destroyed a few aircraft shelters, 9 Soviet era strike fighters - real vintage stuff, and perhaps 6 Syrian personnel.

It's now being reported that Russia intends to respond by beefing up Syria's air defences, perhaps S-400 missile batteries. That could allow Syrian forces to "lock up" American or Israeli warplanes entering Syrian airspace. In terms of escalation, the next step up would probably be some air war but I doubt Trump wants to risk US air crews to capture.

Maybe a couple of rounds of golf will put Donald in a better mood. Who knows?

rumleyfips said...

Looking again at the news, I have to wonder why Trump stepped on his only legislative win so far. News of the Judge's confirmation has been overshadowed and the publicity value minimized.

Anonymous said...

Anyong......Then along comes our PM. He calls Trump to congratulate him on his decisive move. Ha!

The Mound of Sound said...

It's hard to know, Rumley, what this portends. As a spectacle I suppose it served Trump's interests, made him look "commander-in-chiefish," but as a military response it seems inelegant, a bit inept, ineffective. Any damn fool with a couple of missile cruisers in the vicinity can launch five dozen Tomahawks and, by some accounts, a lot of them missed the target. The point is in the aftermath what is the message, what have you achieved?

Back in Reagan's era there was a bombing of a disco in Berlin that was popular with US servicemen. Reagan blamed Gaddafi (turns out it was probably the work of Bashar's dad) and retaliated with airstrikes on Libya including an attack on Gaddafi's compound that killed one of his daughters. If anything that only incited Libya to further acts of terrorism.

Trump may have opened a can of worms but we'll have to wait awhile to get a peek at what's really inside.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong - when it comes to foreign policy, just like climate change or the environment or fossil fuels or electoral reform, etc., etc., etc., Justin Trudeau couldn't find his ass if he used both hands.

Anonymous said...


From two very different sources.

When I saw CNN reporting last night with their pet general boasting of the USA wonder weapons it immediately took me back to the Iraq war with CNN and others showing smart missiles "going down chimneys" so to speak.

It would also seem that many of the Republican backers of this attack are ones that hold dual passports; USA plus Israel!!


Dana said...

According to a tweet by Carla Babb, a VOA journo, "#Syriastrikes didn't target runway as to not effect Russians, says US military official, & Tomahawk type used was precision, not cratering"


The Mound of Sound said...

TB, I'm not touching that one.

Dana, you have to use some sort of cratering device to take down those steel-reinforced concrete aircraft shelters. The standard warhead in the past has been a penetrating device that would bore through the shelter and detonate inside to ensure the destruction of the house aircraft.

I guess we'll have to await details.

Dana said...

Actually I thought the "didn't target runway as to not effect Russians" bit was the interesting part.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that the USA attack was illegal under international law.
I did not hear/see this "illegal" term once from Canadian or US media this morning. Macht geht vor Recht?
The origin the deadly chemical attack still need to be sorted out.
"Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see" Ben Franklin.
Assad should be tried in court, and if found guilty, well, well, there is alway a lampost...

rumleyfips said...

Apparently the Syrian Air Force flew a mission out of the same airport today.

Anonymous said...

It was perhaps an attack of mass distraction?


Anonymous said...

Looking at this I would suggest that the only thing Trump achieved was a headline in the newspapers.

Trump is looking inwards towards nepotism to protect his turf.
Plus he needs distractions from his policies or lack of!

It's an uphill battle for Trump but, I fear, he is slowly winning.

He appeals to the MAGA crowd , a movement that crosses party lines.

Like the UK ; his position appeals to nationalists.

Eventually he and his like will fail but not without a fight.

Perhaps we are witnessing the inevitable end of the Anglosphere?


Anonymous said...

No comments allowed on this subject.

One wonders just how impartial such newspapers as the Guardian are ?

Often it's not the misinformation but the obvious omissions.


crf said...

Reminds me of a staged fight in the NHL. That is distasteful, but is supposed to, as they say, relieve the tension. There is far too much hyperventilating among the concerned left, who point out that it's illegal under international law to do what the US has done and worry about the precedent this sets, but also among the neo-con right, who think this will lead to the US ousting Assad with force, and then hopefully to gulf-war III with Iran to follow. (And anon is not quite right: the Canadian media did have at least one article that I read arguing the attack was against the law: Globe article.)

The trick is what the Turks and Saudis do. Every foreign leader ought to realize that they cannot predict what Trump is thinking, or what he will do. But there will surely be a temptation for many a gulfie to quickly up the temperature in the Syrian conflict, in the expectation that the US will have their backs.

The Mound of Sound said...

A..non, earlier today I spent some time reading a treatise that suggested illegal acts, even atrocities, constitute war crimes only in the context of parties losing a war and liable to be prosecuted. In what struck me as a perverse twist of logic the author argued that the U.S. could not be said to have "lost" the Vietnam War because the American leadership was never held criminally liable for their atrocities.

Yes it is "might is right" that carries the day.

The Mound of Sound said...

TB, it's hard to say what Trump sought or got out of this. I expect it would have some appeal to his flagging base. A segment of the American public loves the "shoot'em up" business especially when they see the opponent as an Arab with an appetite for slaughtering kids. What's not to like? Trudeau was certainly enamoured of it. Nice to see the Americans stuck with protocol and gave the allies a heads up on the attack.

Reaction has been all over the board and broadly mixed. International opinion should coalesce in a day or two. What remains to be seen is what Trump has in mind, if anything,for a second act. Putin is also a player in this and I doubt he'll be interested in seeing Moscow lose influence in Syria. Wheels within wheels.

The Mound of Sound said...

Chris, I'm not sure I agree that foreign leaders should consider Trump unpredictable. I think the cruise missile barrage was predictable. If you can imagine Trump asking his generals for options on something clean and fast that would put no American lives in jeopardy (remember the Yemen fiasco), a Tomahawk strike would surely be high on the option list. Then it would be a matter of picking a target that wouldn't have a lot of collateral damage, especially Russian casualties. An isolated airfield with just two runways and a small number of shelterettes would really fit the bill. Even then the damage was moderate.

As a military strike it was more Kabuki theatre than anything else. Moscow will probably deliver new, more capable aircraft to Assad to make good the losses and the base seems relatively intact. No harm, no foul there. It was far short of the sort of punishing blow that might have been an effective deterrent.

Anonymous said...

More thought ; not conclusions..


Anonymous said...

The primary achievement of this exercise was to teach Trump how to get his ratings to go up.

Anonymous said...

Mound, it seems Trump's pissed off some of his key supporters with his attack on Syria.

Nigel Farage essentially says WTF?: "As a firm Trump supporter, I say, yes, the pictures were horrible, but I'm surprised, whatever Assad's sins, he is secular."

Marine LePen tweeted that she "strongly condemned" the "horrible" strike:
"Is it too much to ask that we wait for the results of an independent international investigation before carrying out a strike like this in Syria?"

InfoWars' Paul Joseph Watson: "I guess Trump wasn't 'Putin's puppet' after all, he was just another deep state/Neo-Con puppet. I'm officially OFF the Trump train."

Ann Coulter: "Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates."

Milo Yiannopoulos: "There comes a day in every child's life when his Daddy bitterly disappoints him."

This is going to leave the base - and Trump - utterly confused. They're still adjusting to Putin = good; free trade = bad. Now they've got to deal with Dems approving of bombing the crap out of the Middle East, and influential RWNJs saying it's bad!