Saturday, 8 April 2017

Has Donald Trump been turned? Not necessarily


On Thursday night there were a lot of interesting news stories. 

A horrible story about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.17 suicide bombs had briefly opening the road out of Mosul, presumably allowing the leader of ISIS to escape. The story or non-story about Donald Trump's nefarious links to Vladimir Putin trundled on, now involving Carl Bernstein. 

When we woke up yesterday there was only one story. President Trump had bombed Syria because of the pictures he had seen of dead children, including 'beautiful babies'.

I feared and more than half-expected that Mr. Trump would be turned by the American foreign policy establishment. Now that danger is acute. Especially since Rex Tillerson said the day before that the US still wanted regime change in Syria.

Steve Bannon being shoved off the National Security Council was a worrying sign, as was the destruction of Mike Flynn by the FBI. Instead of a National Security Advisor who worried about Islam the USA has one who worries about Russia. 

Donald Trump has many good instincts and insights, which is why he is President, but a very short attention span. He has surrounded himself with a bunch of people, including James Mattis and Nikki Haley, who do not share any of his vision of the world, possibly because there are few experienced people in public life who do.

Steve Bannon is Mr. Trump's conscience and must be very beleaguered.

Mr. Trump could turn out to be another Republican president who cuts taxes for the rich and sends soldiers to kill and die in pointless wars in the Middle East. Ones from which Saudi Arabia and Israel benefit, rather than America. While taking in as many refugees as Obama did and doing not much more about illegal immigration.

But it does not have to be like that.

Trump works by instinct and hunch and it has worked well for him so far. I just hope he now allows the Syrian regime to win. 

I am also afraid the fair Ivanka might be a big influence on him. She may have been involved in this as Mrs Cameron was in the disastrous intervention in Libya. (Did someone mention petticoat government?)

I am trying to keep away from social media for Lent but could not forbear to go on Twitter yesterday, where a right-wing version of a twitterstorm was taking place. 

Donald Trump was being furiously condemned by quondam great supporters: Ann Coulter, Peter Hitchens, Nigel Farage, Paul Watson, Katie McHugh and Katie Hopkins. He's losing Katie McHugh! Also by Tim Kane, Killary 's running mate, and Jeremy Corbyn, for breaking international law. Remember international law? The left used to be very keen on it.

Katie Hopkins‏ tweeted:

The image of Alan Kurdi should have taught us leaders need to make decisions with their heads. Not their hearts. #syria
Partisangirl, a well-known pro-regime Syrian Australian with 55,000 followers, tweeted
If @realDonaldTrump started a war with #Russia and #Syria because of an emotional reaction, then he's not fit to have the nuclear codes.

Ann Coulter assumed this meant full-scale US intervention and regime change.
What follows Assad? What followed Saddam? Gaddafi? 15 yrs, 6k lost heroes 500k massacred Chrstns $5 Trill--for what?

Good questions.

If I read too much my head might spin. Here are some thoughts.

Who is to blame for the use of chemical weapons? 

There is room for doubt. As the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, has said, we have no proof and clearly using chemical weapons now, as in 2013, can only endanger the regime. If you ask who benefits from using chemical weapons it would seem the Syrian army and air force had no reason to use them in a war they were already winning, with a US President who had announced regime change in Syria was no longer an American objective.

Still, I perhaps naively assume it was the Syrian armed forces that did it.

I can only think it was an act of cocky defiance of America and the rebels by Assad or someone else (his murderous brother?) in the regime.

Why do I say so? 
Because I don't believe it was a false flag operation. A false flag operation carried out by whom? The chemical attack took place ten miles from the front, so in a place of no military significance, and as things turned out it clearly benefits the rebels not the regime, but could the rebels, or the Saudis, have done this without the Americans finding out?

And would the CIA mislead the President and Secretaries of State and Defense? I know the CIA and the American deep state hate the President, but that is pretty hard to swallow. 

Still there was no need for such a rapid response, before enquiries were made. Trump acted swiftly and intuitively, as he always acts, to show this is the kind of leader he is.

To recap very briefly. In 2013 the Syrian government, according to MI6 and the CIA, was responsible for the use of sarin. As far as I know the UN investigation in September 2013 did not  blame to the regime, though the Arab League blamed Assad. Mr. Obama had previously said, without consulting the State Department, that the use of chemical weapons was a red line. When it was crossed and the British, thanks to Ed Miliband, declined to bomb Syria for America, Obama delegated the decision to Congress, where it legally belonged. Russia then achieved a diplomatic victory by supposedly persuading the regime to give up its chemical weapon stocks without US intervention.

US prestige was thus very badly damaged worldwide and the Syrian government let off the hook. Still, I am pleased the US or UK did not drop bombs, because this would (somehow) have led them into trying to achieve regime change. And presumably succeeding. Think Iraq, 2003.

Meanwhile, the Syrian government forces continued to kill maim and torture huge numbers of Syrians.

Syrian rebels, who include Al Qaeda and some good people, do the same, but to far fewer Syrians because the rebels do not have an air force.

Perhaps 1,100 Syrian are thought to have died due to the use of chemicals. Five or ten thousand, perhaps more, died in mass hangings and an unknown number have died in all. 
The figure usually given, almost certainly wildly inflated because such statistics always are, is 470,000. Most of the deaths were at the hands of the regime, because the regime has more materiel.

In a sense it doesn't really matter if it was the Syrian regime who used chemical weapons or someone else, because there is no logical reason why use of chemical weapons should incur American bombs when other horribly cruel war crimes (on all sides) do not. Except that the last President sought, by drawing his 'red line', to deter the use of chemical weapons and this means forces using chemical weapons are thumbing their nose at the USA.

There is no justification in international law or in the U.S. Constitution for what Donald Trump has done and no logical reason for it. Syria has been a Russian ally since the 1960s and before that a former French possession. Why not leave Vladimir Putin (or Francois Hollande) to sort it out?

Still, President Obama and Hillary did partly get America involved. If the bombing of Syria goes no further than it did yesterday it seems to me that it has a salutary effect in showing Russia, Syria and China that this president has teeth and bites.

He is showing that he is not Mr. Obama. But Mr. Obama's foreign policy had much in common with what many Mr. Trump's supporters hoped his would be - Mr. Obama too was semi-isolationist. They fear that they will get the Syrian and other wars in which they knew Hillary the globalist would entangle them.

The Russians and Syrians were given warning of the US bombing yesterday. It was largely symbolic, except for the several people, including children, who were killed. But children die in war just like adults do.

Donald Trump should make it clear that the another attack will happen if chemical weapons are used again and he should also make it clear that the USA has no interest in who is in power in Syria.

This can make it easier, not harder, to deal with Russia and Syria (Assad's is still the Syrian government). All depends on what Donald Trump does now.

P.S. Four people were killed by an Uzbek driving a lorry into people Stockholm yesterday. This would have been the big story had it not been for the decision to bomb Syria.


  1. "I know the CIA and the American deep state hate the President, but that is pretty hard to swallow.'

    Not really. It might also have been the "rebels" themselves. It might have been Israel or Saudi Arabia. And the idea that it was the US deep state is still much more plausible than the claim that motiveless Assad is responsible which makes no sense on any level. Through his idiot recklessness Trump has given the green light to jihadis to stage many more such false flag attacks.

    1. This might interest you.

  2. This is all great, until you start saying that you think Assad did it. My point of view, is closer to this woman's:

  3. The biggest danger with Trump was always his fanatical pro-Israel views. For all his talk of America First he is like so many of the less-intelligent American conservatives - he really thinks that the interests of the US and the interests of Israel are identical.

    Add to that the fact that he's one of that breed of politician who thinks that when it comes to foreign policy the way to show that you're strong is to be insanely aggressive and you have a recipe for possible disaster. For all his faults Obama understood that sometimes the right thing to do in foreign policy is to do nothing.

  4. A recently retired U.S. diplomat with a very fine brain commented on this to me by email:

    Correction. Only Russians were warned. Yes, in time to warn the Syrians, but not certain they did.

    Not purely symbolic. Two immediate goals. 1-punish Assad for violating CW agreements. 2-degrade Syrian Air Force capability to use CW again.

    Why? To send these messages:
    Trump policy remains non-interventionist
    Russia should heel its dog, or we'll attack it again
    China should heel its dog, or we'll discipline it with nearly unstoppable cruise missiles
    Diplomacy unwilling to use force in extremism is not credible, team trump views in extremism more broadly than did team Obama
    Pursuant to article 51 of the in charter, broadly interpreted, when the Int'l community fails to take necessary action, we will
    We prefer peace to war, dialogue to conflict, but understand we are willing to use state sanctioned violence if we deem it necessary.

    Crack on.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

    1. Oh please. You statements are made for the gutter informed. The reality is that the Internationalist Establishment and its Neocon faction have assumed control of the decision making in the White House. Just yesterday, Rex Tillerson stated Regime Change was the new policy. Today, Nikki Halley repeated the policy before the UN. Meanwhile, the last associate of the reform faction within the White House National Security Council, KT McFarland was forced out of her position. That leaves Steve Bannon and Seb Gorka as the last reformers within the WH and both without official portfolio. Everyone else is a Bush II, Obama, or semi-Establishment Corporate guy. We are back to military misadventures, tax reform, health care reform and every other issue that is loved by the Bush and Establishment people and hated by the American populace. We didn't vote for this and we want our President back.

  5. The retired American diplomat comments further and I hope he's right:

    The US will not, repeat not be sending forces to Syria much beyond the limited number embedded with Kurds (and some Arabs) fighting ISIS (and those are there for two reasons only: assist and train the anti-ISIS fighters; keep Johnnie Turk from bombing the Kurds). They are not there to attack Assad's forces.

    Read Tillerson and McMasters' comments. Read Nikki Haley's. All three are saying this was about punishing Assad regime for violating CW convention and reneging on us-russia brokered deal to remove all CW.

    Tillerson is off to russia. he'll see Sergei L and maybe, just maybe, Vlad P. will they discuss Syria? Will they discuss the eventual removal of Assad? will they discuss the status of Russian bases (Tartous and a nearby airbase)?

    And, if you had a zone of stability (note: new euphemism for safe zone) along the border with Turkey, it would not be for the Turks to run weapons to their anti-Assad proxies, much to their dismay. Their armor and artillery and air force just north of the border would be used to keep ISIS at bay, Russian cooperation would keep their dog (Assad) from baring fangs, and an international POLICE force would ensure security within the zones. (all sorts of precedents for this, some more successful than others.)

    John Bolton, John McCain (why they let him out of his padded attic I don't understand), and others will scream for regime change. Trump won't go there, but he has sent a message that the US will back up its diplomacy with force when necessary (like deterring/punishing use of CW).

    Crack on.

  6. Let's see if Donald Trump can make a good deal.

    David Goldman is clever and had interesting ideas last August.

    "The next conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin might go something like this: "Look, Vladimir, you say you're worried about Sunni terrorists destabilizing Russia. We're going to kill all the terrorists or hire people to kill them for us. We're not going to arm jihadists to make trouble for you like we did in Afghanistan during the Cold War. We leave you alone, and you get our of our hair. You get to keep your naval station in Syria, and the Alawites get to have their own state in the northwest. Give Basher Assad a villa in Crimea and put in someone else to replace him--anyone you like. The Sunni areas of Syria will become a separate enclave, along with enclaves for the Druze."
    And Trump might add: "We're taking care of the Sunni terrorists. Now you help us take care of the Iranians, or we'll do it ourselves, and you won't like that. You can either work together with us and we tell the Iranians to shut down their centrifuges and their ballistic missile program, or we'll bomb it. You don't want us to make the S-300 missiles you sold Iran look like junk--that's bad for your arms business.
    "As for Ukraine: let them vote on partition. If the eastern half votes to join Russia, you got it. If not, you stay the hell out of it."
    "As Trump knows, everyone in a deal doesn't have to walk away happy. Only the biggest stakeholders have to walk away happy. Everyone else can go suck eggs."

  7. The intervention was for show, but it does send a message - not sure what the message is though and to whom it is addressed. It may be a message for North Korea - back down or else... It does improve the negotiating position.

  8. Haley, Tillerson, and McMaster sing from the same sheet music: 1-defeat ISIS, 2-continue efforts to reduce or eliminate Iranian bad behaviour/influence, 3-NEGOTIATE a political solution to the fate of Assad and Syrian unity/governance structure.