Am I the only one who can’t quite work out what happened last weekend in Syria or what it’s all supposed to mean?
That is, I can’t work out what the US-UK-France Triumvirate (the same Triumvirate that led the intervention against Gaddafi in Libya) was trying to do when it decided to carry out strikes against alleged chemical weapons locations in Syria.
It’s all been a bit confused. Which is one reason I haven’t commented on any of it until now. The other reason is that the night of the military action (Friday 13th) was the day I was burying my grandfather: and so I had no interest in writing anything or keeping track of events at that time.
But it also allowed me to delay or withhold opinion and just keep an unbiased eye on the news for a few days to see how things unfolded.
And I still haven’t entirely made sense of it.
Why? Well, firstly, given that there almost certainly wasn’t any chemical attack in Douma, we can fairly confidently assume that the strikes were a propaganda exercise rather than a meaningful operation. But I was almost 90% convinced – from all the rhetoric and tone – that we were about to finally see a full, decisive military intervention aimed at regime-change or a major flashpoint between Russia and the West.
I wasn’t online at all for days, but the coverage I was hearing sporadically on the radio or on TV seemed close to implying that World War III was days or even hours away. By the time the attacks had been carried out, it seemed like nothing much had really happened or changed.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad World War III didn’t break out. I’m also glad our governments didn’t go after Assad or attack Damascus.
But I still don’t have a firm handle on what exactly did happen or why. If there was no chemical attack by the Assad regime, then why bother with all of this at at all unless the intention would be to finally fulfil the regime-change project? That is to say, assuming the Triumvirate knew there was no chemical attack (but were pretending otherwise), the reason for militarily responding would’ve or should’ve been to begin the process of a forced regime-change.
Instead, they’ve struck some carefully chosen sites and that appears to be the end of it, at least for now.
The only way this really made much sense is if Assad really did carry out a chemical attack. What’s curious is that, having spent a number of days ignoring the Internet and only being exposed to mainstream news media (TV, radio and print), I almost started to convince myself that Assad might’ve actually carried out a chemical attack, purely because it would make Trump, Macron and May’s actions make sense.
It actually became an interesting thought-experiment in what happens to even a sceptic‘s mind when he cuts off the Internet and consumes only mainstream news media for a few days.
For the record, if the Assad regime or pro-Assad forces had used chemical weapons, I would be applauding the US-France-UK action as a perfectly measured response and warning: particularly as they were only targeting alleged chemical-weapons-related locations and not trying to attack the government directly.
But we all know that the Syrian regime probably didn’t carry out a chemical attack in Douma. It even seems questionable whether any chemical incident even took place at all. Wall of Controversy covers that sufficiently here, meaning that I don’t need to (besides, we’ve been here plenty of times before: for example, see here and here).
Quite what President Trump and the White House are playing at is also anyone’s guess.
The President had said he intended a US withdrawal from Syria and then – hours later and after the staged chemical incident in Douma – all talk turned towards attacks on Syrian targets. This is entirely reminiscent of both Trump and Tilerson last year (covered here), who had been announcing that US policy towards the Assad regime was shifting to a position of “Assad can stay”, only for Washington to do a complete u-turn a day or two later (after the staged Idlib chemical incident), after which the script reverted to “Assad Must Go”.
It now seems pretty obivous that there’s a scripted play going on where Trump will periodically say that US involvement in Syria is coming to an end and then the White Helmets or someone else will stage a chemical incident and the US and the West will carry out military action and the need to stay in Syria will be reestablished, etc.
But for how long does that cycle go on for?
Some have said that the appointment of Neo-Con war-hawk John Bolton (and the departure of H.R McMaster and Rex Tillerson – covered here) had something to do with it: but I doubt this, as Tillerson was already apparently on-board for Syrian regime-change and France’s Emmanuel Macron was already being publicly baited by the White Helmets as far back as February.
Why Trump would bother with this latest talk of withdrawing from Syria is baffling, given that recent statements from US officials had suggested the exact opposite.
Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had openly promised that US troops will remain in Syria indefinitely to counter both Syrian President Bashar Assad and also Iran’s influence in the region. On 11th January this year, David M. Sattersfield of the US State Department addresed the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said: “The President has committed, as a matter of strategy, that we will not leave Syria. We are not going to declare victory and go. And that is not my opinion; that’s the President’s strategic judgment. We’re going to stay for several reasons…”
So Trump, in his Syria withdrawal comments, must’ve either been playing games or he’s just senile. Or another possibility is simply that he has no idea what’s going on or what the plan is and he simply blurts out things he thinks might be pleasing to his supporters.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has gone further than the Obama administration did. That’s because, as I’ve argued before, these projects have nothing to do with Presidents or Secretaries of State – they’re driven by behind-the-scenes players and planners, with Presidents and State Secretaries being merely public-face puppets. Which is why the alt-right and people who used to go on and on about Obama’s ‘conspiracy’ were missing the point entirely: and is why it is also obvious that the likes of Trump and Tillerson are merely reading out scripts, just as Obama was forced to do.
The difference is that Obama, despite being pressured by Hillary Clinton and her State Department, ultimately refused to directly attack the Syrian regime.
No doubt some of this was because he’d already been both misled and embarassed (by Hillary, France and the UK) during the Libya intervention: he thus must’ve been all too happy to use the British Parliament’s refusal to support a Syria intervention in 2013 as a sufficient reason to not authorise US military action against Damascus.
In this latest state of affairs, however, all of these things were by-passed. Trump went straight ahead and attacked. And Theresa May didn’t wait for any consultation or approval. The triumvirate also didn’t wait for international investigators to arrive in Syria – but in fact carried out the military strikes as soon as they could.
All of this haste to launch attacks suggested to me that we were about to see decisive intervention against Damascus.
But we didn’t.
Yet everything I was hearing on radio or TV in the preceding days and hours was highly suggestive of a major flashpoint that could have dire consequences. Everything that had been going on in preceding weeks also seemed suggestive of this probability: from Putin’s military counter-posturing to the Salisbury affair and the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from multiple countries.
Indeed, right up until the night/morning of the strikes, even statements from Russian officials and the US President were highly charged and rather ominous.
The fact of France, Britain and the US all agreeing to act in unison also felt deja-vuey to me, evoking Libya. I even had a brief vision of Trump and Macron waltzing into Damascus in the near future, the same way Nicolas Sarkosy and David Cameron waltzed into Benghazi.
Putting aside, for the moment, the longstanding theory that all of this Russia versus the West business is only a staged pantomime for public consumption, it is also worth considering that we actually were on the brink of something much bigger and much worse but that it got averted.
The best explanation I’ve heard from a political commentator (and I forget who it was) is that we were on the precipice of a major conflagration involving the Western Triumvirate, Russia, Iran, even China, over the Douma incident: and that all the panic was wholly justified. But that both sides basically blinked and backed down at the last minute, unwilling to risk so much at this time.
In that scenario, the US, France and Britain may have changed their plans very late, deciding not to call Russia’s bluff. They also might’ve been worried by the implications that China might’ve been quietly lining up to stand with Russia in any worst-case-scenario (which I heard reported on the BBC World Service, but not in most major TV or print media).
At that point, everybody got cold feet: but they still needed to do something (to save face, if nothing else), so they carried out these symbolic, propaganda strikes – and they could still look like they’d acted strongly, while also avoiding a confrontation with Russia.
The question is whether the crisis has been averted or simply postponed. What happens the next time one of the foreign-backed jihadist groups stages a chemical attack or the White Helmets call on Macron or Trump to attack Damascus?
And there will be a next time.
We all knew this chemical drama was coming – I predicted it here over a month ago. And all three governments – the US, France and the UK – have now established the precedent whereby they respond militarily against Assad for any alleged chemical incident.
It’s the same situation that Trump planted himself into last year in responding to White Helmets propaganda with a military strike on a Syrian airbase – as argued here at that time, by taking the bait Trump simply made it inevitable that there would be repeat performances in which rebels and their backers stage attacks and then demand that Western leaders take action against Damascus.
Trump – and now Macron and May – have wilfully embraced the folly that Barack Obama actually managed to avoid: carrying out Western military action on the whims of jihadists and propaganda organisations.
As noted here weeks ago, it was obvious this chemical drama was coming: because the White Helmets were formally asking President Macron to commit to military action against Assad in the event of another chemical attack – which meant, of course, the chemical incident was already being set up.
I wrote in late February: ‘When it comes to Syria, you can set your watch for all the different acts in the stage-play that is the mass-media and international coverage. First up, let’s make an obvious prediction: there’s going to be another staged ‘chemical attack’ very soon – if not in the next few days, then definitely in the next few weeks… The White Helmets will put out footage of it, the international media will run heavy coverage of it for days, Nikki Haley will put on her operatic performance in the UN Security Council, and various political leaders will renew calls for the Assad regime to be ‘held to account’…’
This is why virtually all mass media ran wholeheartedly with the pre-fabricated narrative of Assad as the perpetrator and Supervillain, none of them questioning the legtitimacy of the claims, the reliability of the footage or the trustworthiness of the source.
The source, for that matter, appeared to be little more than social media – a fact even alluded to by Theresa May in her speech – and social media, as previously explored in The Libya Conspiracy, is inadmissable as evidence on account of US military infiltration or co-opting for geo-political or regime-change purposes, as was employed to help bring about the NATO intervention in Libya.
The other thing that might’ve been motivating this attack on Syria is something that ties back in neatly with the last article I wrote here on ‘The End of International Law‘.
Simply that – aside from seeking to undermine the Russian presence in Syria symbolically – the three governments used Douma as a premise for reinforcing their right to act militarily anywhere in the world, outside of international law and without needing to wait for investigation or evidence. Were they simply testing the waters again?
As far as I know, no major Western media organisation raised any questions about the legality of the three-nation strikes on Syria. But policy-makers were no doubt watching closely to monitor what Russia would be doing and even what China and Iran would be doing.
But there is an atmosphere seemingly of deliberate confusion or uncertainty, where no one quite seems to know what to expect.
I sometimes wonder how much of this is to keep rival governments or powers on edge and how much of it is to keep us – the general public – on edge. Is all this mounting fear of Russia, China, North Korea or nuclear war simply designed to bring us (the populations of various countries) to a state of mind in which we’re more accepting of certain things that are yet to come?
It’s unlikely the regime-change project is over, which means that we’re likely to be back here again sooner or later.
The likelihood is of course another chemical incident when the regime tries to liberate Idlib – maybe that’s being set up as the final trigger, with this three-nation attack over Douma merely setting the stage or paving the way (in terms of both propaganda and ‘legality’). Idlib will be the last major location that the regime needs to recapture – which could mean the foreign powers are waiting for that last possible minute to stage the ultimate or decisive intervention.
However, I consider it worth noting that the BBC’s main news buletin last night included a very positive piece from Aleppo, which was all about how everyone there is celebrating the survival of Syria and the victory of Bashar al-Assad. Which made me wonder if this is perhaps a signal that a broader acceptance of Assad’s position is perhaps starting to sink in even among anti-Assad platforms.
In that scenario, the military action was calculated to express a lack of focus on regime-change, but nevertheless a strong message that the Western powers have a stake in Syria and will maintain the right to act there militarily. In other words, something along the lines of ‘Assad Can Stay, But He Can’t Have Full Control of Syria’.
Again, I’m surprised we didn’t see a much more expansive assault on the Syrian regime last weekend. There are two remaining possibilities for the future: either the regime-change operation gets renewed and carried out, with Russia somehow being convinced or coerced into standing aside, or the various foreign players – Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran, etc – come to some kind of agreement that allows everyone to have a piece of the Solution Pie.
In that latter possibility, the only option I can see is that a Russia-backed Assad gets to hold on to a large amount of territory, while other parts of Syria are broken down into Yinon-style mini-states.
Which was the overriding plan all along – albeit with the one difference being that Assad stays to govern at least some of Syria. It’s always seemed possible that the sheer extent of the Russophobia and anti-Russian activities across various Western nations has been partly about forcing or coercing Russia into abandoning Assad.
In the event that Russia will not abandon Assad, some middle-ground might be the sought-after option, with Syria being carved up into ‘spheres of influence’ – which has obvious echoes of the Colonialists’ carve-up of the Middle East after World War I a century ago (a foreign-imposed carve-up that in fact gave birth to the modern state of Syria).
I’m only speculating here.
And, in truth, even this path could be made untenable by Turkey’s aversion to Kurdish autonomy even in Syria or by Israel’s fears of Iran and Hezbollah. But, as I said at the top of the page, I’m struggling to understand what the point of any of this was, as no one seems to have gained anything – even the terrorists and the White Helmets didn’t get what they wanted (which was surely a more direct attack against the regime).
But I do not see Russia abandoning Assad: and I do not see the US or its allies backing down and leaving Syria alone either. Which means either a confrontation between the pro-Assad and anti-Assad foreign players (World War III, potentially) or some kind of ugly, messy and imperfect compromise similar to the one I just hinted at – even though it would mean the dividing up of Syria, which is not what Damascus wants.
If anyone has a better view or understanding of what all this nonsense was about – or what it was trying to accomplish – I’d be interested in hearing it.
A Note to Readers, Subscribers and/or Friends: As I noted earlier, my grandfather – who I was very close to – just passed away after a long illness. While dealing with that at present, I probably won’t be posting here for a little while and probably won’t be online at all. But I’ll hopefully be back in a while.
Read more: ‘Putin, the Pentagon & the Shadow of Mutually-Assured Destruction‘, ‘The Syria Stage-Production Continues: A New Chemical Attack is Coming‘, ‘Idlib Chemical Attack: A Theatre of the Macabre‘, ‘Chemical Warfare in Syria: Then & Now‘, ‘The End of International Law‘…