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Choices in Syria and the World

Choices in Syria and the World

Crossing lines, red or otherwise

After the Syrian gas attack, President Trump had a choice: do nothing or do something.

It’s a choice all presidents face, because sooner or later they will be tested—usually sooner, and not just once but many times and in many ways in many places.

When faced with similar circumstances in Syria, Obama declared the existence of a red line and then ignored it. This is one of the worst response/nonresponses possible. It indicates indecision and lack of resolve, a president who talks tough but his threats means nothing and can be safely ignored.

Trump’s reaction was, if not the opposite, something like the opposite. After sending out some signals that he was going to be less interventionist about Assad’s regime in general, he acted more boldly when challenged. His actions—speaking louder than words—would be par for the course for most presidents in a similar situation. They only seem unusual at this point because we’ve grown accustomed to Obama’s post-bluster inaction.

Assad may have calculated that nothing whatsoever would happen, not just because of recent comments by the Trump administration but because of recent history:

Dr. Monzer Khalil, Idlib Province’s health director, said such extreme tactics aimed to demonstrate the government’s impunity and to demoralize its foes.

“It makes us feel that we are defeated,” said Dr. Khalil, whose gums bled after he was exposed to scores of chemical victims on Tuesday. “The international community will stay gazing at what’s happening — and observing the explosive barrels falling and rockets bombing the civilians and the hospitals and the civil defense and killing children and medical staff — without doing anything.”

“Militarily, there is no need,” said Bente Scheller, the Middle East director of the Berlin-based Heinrich Böll Foundation. “But it spreads the message: You are at our mercy. Don’t ask for international law. You see, it doesn’t protect even a child.”…

By showing it puts no limits on the tactics it uses, Mr. Yazigi [an opposition Syrian economist] wrote, “the regime shows to the world the West’s impotence and weakness.”

“The West’s impotence and weakness” started even before Obama. Most of us do not like being the world’s policeman and would prefer not to be (Trump has certainly made many statements to that effect). But if not us, then who? And if no one is the world’s policeman, what then? What message does that send?

That’s the dilemma in a nutshell. It’s the same dilemma that led to the rise of the foreign-interventionist advocates who have been so reviled in recent years, and their fall. But the dilemma remains.

Liberal Democrats used to be more inclined to applaud such interventions, as well. But in recent years many of them seem to have adopted a simple way of reacting that goes like this: anything a Democrat does is good whether it be isolationist or interventionist, and anything a Republican does is bad.

Nor is it the case that Trump’s action in bombing the Syrian air base will heavily undermine Assad’s power. That would take a lot more—something like the Iraq War, which is almost certainly not in the cards, and which would almost inevitably lead to the need to keep a constant presence in the area, a price we are not willing to pay.

Syria may indeed be an insoluble mess. But Trump’s action does signal to Syria—and the world—that a new policeman is in town, and that now there are indeed limits and red lines and costs to crossing them.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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I completely reject the notion that because innocents were gassed someplace on this planet that it is our duty as the “world’s policeman” to act. There are worse things happening just south of our border that pose a more serious direct threat to our national security that we are not doing anything about. And there are people being massacred throughout Asia, Africa and elsewhere that doesn’t seem to qualify for our “world’s policemen” duties too. Why Syria? As I see it, two reasons.

First, much of the instability of the world is due to globalization led by the central banks servicing the corrupt governments in collusion with international corporations to finally fulfill the New World Order first proposed by Woodrow Wilson through his failed League of Nations and re-introduced by George H. W. Bush. The only way to “flatten out” the world’s imbalances of wealth is to redistribute the wealth of the most productive, efficient and free-est civilization in human history to everyone else. That is what the post-Reagan presidencies have been about. That has required constant low-grade “police actions” such as this one.

Second, oil (keep in mind who our Secretary of State is now). This effort to take down Assad started as a battle over competing oil pipelines. The main pipeline was built by US/European interests to deliver natural gas to a Europe that was and continues to be dependent on Russia. The Russians responded by working with Assad to build their own through Syria. Then Libya and the “Arab Spring” happened and everything got muddled with the rise if ISIS taking down Iraq and then getting funded by the US to take down Assad. This is a colossal mess where the US finds itself backing various ISIS offshoots (that exist completely thanks to the US) to fulfill a dubious policy goal since the US is quickly becoming energy independent. What is that “vital national interest” that we are defending here?

IMHO, this was more of a signal to Turkey (key US military base), NorKo, Russia and others who have gotten used to a limp-wristed America that things have changed. We are no longer going to negotiate “proper responses”. We mean business and their WILL be consequences from now on. I can just imagine the conversations that were going on at Mar Lago between Chinese President XI and US President XLV (sorry, I had to get that in there) while Putin was clamoring to be included. And we were also probably hack-failing another series of NorKo missile launches while deploying new weaponry to SoKo.

Trying to work through the headlined stories, the usual people with differing agendas are riding their usual hobby horses in their simplistic, one-dimensional world views. But I really doubt this was a spontaneous event. This may very well have been a US-sponsored false flag attack. If it was, I sure hope it was a one-off. It makes sense to be announcing that America is back in a dramatic display. But it sure better be for the purpose of defending US interests and not to continue with the neocon-progressive-globalist agenda that Trump was specifically elected to undermine.

I’m sure of one thing, China and Russia are now paying attention. Let’s see what China does with NorKo and how Turkey and Iran respond. The clock has stopped ticking and their cartoon world is gone. I expect a period of silence as everyone gulps.

    Ragspierre in reply to Pasadena Phil. | April 8, 2017 at 8:54 am


    Competing pipelines in Syria:

    Why are we once again allied with Al Qaeda?

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    Mark Twain

    We seem to be living in the golden age of misinformed or uninformed certainty. Everyone is entitled to their own facts.

    Assad’s use of chemical weapons could not be allowed to stand without retaliation – at least not a second time. The Tomahawk barrage was useful in several ways, not least that it occurred when Xi was in town, but it most certainly notifies the world that the president is not to be trifled with.

    Phil, based on your comment about the trouble south of the US, are you in favor of greater border security whether a wall, fence, increased ICE presence as well as a rapid deportation of people here illegally?

    And, since you mention global insecurity, are you in favor of a temporary halt in the granting of visas to the US until those countries are more stable? Are you in favor of halting refugee placement inside the US until proper vetting can be done?

    President Trump is trying to do “something” about these problems, but he seems to be running into a bit of opposition from the left.

    Finally, there is another reason why President Trump was correct in responding to the sarin gas attack. There are American troops in the middle east and we do have an ally in Israel. We are protecting our national interests.

      I am 100% in favor of securing the border with a “big, beautiful wall”, holding employers criminally liable if they employ illegals, holding politicians and bureaucrats criminally liable as individuals for upholding immigration enforcement laws (don’t sue the taxpayer), and suspending ALL visas and immigration until we get this under control.

      I am also for greatly reducing legal immigration until those who are already here have been assimilated and that we can be sure that HB1 visas are not a weapon being used against American citizens.

      I have not made up my mind about whether Trump’s missile attack against Syria was actually defending US interests or just “sending a message” and I’m not sure this is helping Israel. There are no good people to side with since almost all of the refugees we are accepting are Muslims while it is the Christians who are being persecuted. As with NorKo with China, we are better served by making Syria a Russian problem.

      As you can tell by all of the reporting and commentary, everyone has a very narrow opinion about this. Trump vowed that he would rebuild our military around our national interests, not as the “world’s policeman”.

      I voted enthusiastically for Trump for all of the right reasons. But I am not a starry-eyed loyalist giving him a long leash. He is increasingly surrounding himself with globalists (most disturbingly Kushner) while already purging the administration of nationalists. Why not purge the Obama, Clinton, Bush loyalists?

      Whether Trump was on the level with us as a candidate is largely irrelevant. He seems to be falling for every trap laid out before him to turn on those of us who got him elected. If your “spidey-sense” isn’t tingling yet, it should be. We’ll see. He has already caved on repeal and replace, is wavering on tax reform and border/immigration control and now is showing signs that he may be soft on pictures of “beautiful babies”.

      There are plenty of pictures from our own border area he might want to look at. Thousands of them. Rotting, mutilated bodies hanging from bridges, decapitated bodies piled up in the streets, mass graves…

      Let’s see where this goes. I’ve been at this for too long to be taken in this easily. America first or take a hike.

Trump chose what has become the standard, predictable American practice since the Clinton era. From long range, use high-tech, precision weapons to attack some isolated facility, avoiding local casualties to the extent possible. This was the pattern at the Sudanese aspirin factory, the al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and many others.

The results are always minimal damage and a hardening of the resolve of the attack victim. Their behavior doesn’t change, because these are pinprick, nuisance raids of no material consequence. There are, however, political consequences, in this case a substantial worsening of our relationships with both Russia and China, who once again are forced together in some sort of alliance.

The Trump administration has made an implicit threat to attack North Korea’s nuclear and missile installations. This is a very different animal, because it would be an attack on the strategic assets of an important military power, moreover, one that has a nuclear-armed superpower as an ally. If the neocons and Deep State push Trump into attacking North Korea, we can expect a nuclear world war.

Obama declared the existence of a red line and then ignored it. This is one of the worst response/nonresponses possible.

It was a lot worse. He then assured us all that they had all those chemical weapons removed. He said that, Rice and Kerry did too. I have to wonder what else he was dead wrong about.

So why has Assad remained silent?

Trump 2020 KMAG

    Liz in reply to Old0311. | April 8, 2017 at 11:27 am

    I’m a bit slow today and need a second cup of coffee. When you write KMAG, are you referring to …

    1. an Arkansas country radio station,
    2. Korean Military Advisory Group,
    3. a stock listing or
    4. fertilizer whose “performance you can count on”?


    Ok – coffee has kicked in – are you trying to say Keep Making America Great?

“President Trump had a choice: do nothing or do something.”

Well, that is the root of the decision tree.

From there, there are many questions and considerations.

Some “somethings” are counter-productive. Some impulses are dangerous, though arguably “good” impulses in and of themselves.

Recognizing those things to be true is a big part of what makes for statesmanship.

inspectorudy | April 8, 2017 at 9:59 am

I am personally glad that Trump showed some spine and did something. I am not so sure that the results are going to be what we all hope for. That part of the world is so complex right now, partially because of obama’s feckless policies, that we simply do not know what will pop up because of this attack. In my heart I love it but in my brain, I am worried that it may lead to something much worse than people being gassed. NK is a good example of where this policy CANNOT be used. Any attack on them would result in massive loss of life in SK. But if we wait for NK to have a reliable nuclear ICBM then we will have made a bigger mistake than obama did in Syria. Iran is another state where waiting too long to act could lead to much greater consequences. I know one thing and that is I’m glad I’m not having to make these decisions!

Common Sense | April 8, 2017 at 10:02 am

From the article.

“His actions—speaking louder than words.”

A strong signal has been sent to friend and foe.

The bombing of Syria is a feel-good action. It was an illegal action which people are now lining up to justify. And, all of their justification is based upon feelings.

Justifying this action would have been so simple. Investigate the occurrence. Determine exactly what happened. Determine who was to blame and in what way. This is SOP in every single criminal investigation in the US and most of the civilized world. However, in this case, none of this was done. We still have no reliable information on what the toxic substance was that caused the deaths. We have no reliable information on whether this was delivered by the Syrian military or was in the hands of the rebels. We have no idea if Assad ordered this strike. In other words, we have no compelling evidence to prove that the Syrian government attacked this town with a prohibited chemical agent. Does everyone understand this? We just attacked another sovereign nation without proof that it categorically committed any offense.

Now, let’s get to the authority under which the US attacked Syria. That;s it. The US had no authority, under international law or even accepted practice, to attack Syria. Now, if Syria had weaponry which could significantly damage the US AND it had made threats, either by word or deed, to attack the US AND it had the capability to do so, then a preemptive strike to eliminate the threat This would apply to North Korea right now and to Iran, now or in the immediate future. Syria, on the other hand has made no threats against the US. Nor is it currently threatening any of our allies. In fact, by fighting the “rebel” forces, which are overwhelmingly composed of radical Islamic factions, including ISIS, Assad is actually assisting the US in its fight against these organizations.

The US attacking Syria is like a professional wrestler, armed with a baseball bat, sneaking up behind a 98# man using a walker and beating him up because he may have slapped his wife two days before. An people in the US are desperately trying to make themselves feel justified in this act.

    inspectorudy in reply to Mac45. | April 9, 2017 at 11:03 am

    So you are telling us that dropping sarin gas on innocent people is the same as being a 98 lb weakling? WTF is wrong with you? In Syria, the bombers were the monsters who have unlimited power and the US was the guy minding his own business and tried to help innocent victims in need. You need to step away from the keyboard and listen to some of the Syrians and their take on the missile attack.

      You fall into the trap of ASSUMING that Syria dropped the gas in the first place. You ignore the fact that we have seen NO hard evidence that is true. You also fail to identify WHO the Syrians, who support the missile attack, are. If they are supporters of the rebellion, then it is natural that they would support the US action. Correct?

      As you seem to have problems grasping the concepts here, let me try one more time.

      Syria bombed a town in western Syria. During the bombing some type of toxic chemical agent was released, which killed and injured a significant number of people. This we are reasonable certain occurred. What we do not know is whether the chemical agent was carried in bombs by the aircraft or whether it was stored on the ground and released, either accidentally by bombs dropped from the aircraft or deliberately by people on the ground. No physical evidence has been put forth, even from unreliable sources, that chemical munitions were dropped from the planes. We have not seen even a fragment of a canister bomb. All we have is testimony from people who were on the ground, in the midst of a bombing attack, at night, who are ASSUMING that the chemical release came from bombs dropped by the aircraft. Based solely upon that evidence, the US decides to launch a military strike on a sovereign nation which is not at war with, or even threatening, the US or its interests. If this was the US and you were being accused of a crime, would you expect to be arrested, charged, convicted and executed, within 2 days, on this evidence? Hardly. Yet, you seem to believe this is perfectly acceptable in international affairs.

      Also, the USA has no unilateral authority to enforce the provisions of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Agreement of 2013. None. In fact, enforcement of that agreement requires an empowering UN resolution, which was never obtained. Also, there is no provision in international law which would authorize the US to take military action against another country for internal actions which do not directly involve US citizens or the US. People have their drawers in a twist over the charge that the Russian government may have interfered, or attempted to interfere, in a US election, by, possibly, hacking the computer server of a political party, to the point where some are declaring this an act of war. Yet, they are thrilled that the US directly attacked another sovereign country, militarily, when that country posed no threat to the US or her citizens.

      Compared to the might, both militarily and economically, ot the US, Syria is, at best a 98# weakling. And, as it is in the midst of a crippling civil war [one largely financed and support by the US, by the way] it is the equivalent of a 98# weakling using a walker. The US, on the other hand, is like a huge professional wrestler, in prime condition and armed with a baseball bat. On top of that, this massively muscled hero snuck up behind this little guy with the walker and proceeded to beat him up. And all because the little guy said he might have, it is not proven that he had, beaten his wife two days before. Rule of law? Fugiddaboutit. WE have the power to do whatever we want, so let’s just do it. And then pat ourselves on the back for our heroism later. Actual evidence that an person really did commit the crime? Fugiddaboutit. Throw that rope over the tree limb and let’s send a message. Let’s not actually collect irrefutable evidence of guilt before we hang ’em high. If we’re wrong, we’ll just apologize.

      I can’t mske it any clearer. We are a nation of laws. We require that a person be proven guilty before he is convicted and sentenced. But, that didn’t happen here. The US launched a military attack on another sovereign nation on nothing more than suspicion. Even SecState Tillerson said that we only had a very strong suspicion, not hard facts, that Assad was responsible for the gas release.
      So, why not do this the right way? Let’s investigate, gather evidence and determine exactly who was responsible for this incident. Then we can take appropriate, allowable action under international law. No matter how objectionable an action, there is no reason to act preciously.

      Clear now?

Doing nothing would certainly normalize if not encourage the future use of WMD. I find it difficult to conceive it is not in our national interest to discourage use of WMD, particularly against civilians. If someone really thinks they can discourage puttin and asshead with words and sanctions they are misguided. If they do it again, up the ante. Get all boots back to friendly shores unless we intend to own the land, but don’t be afraid to assert our interests with standoff weapons. It’s called an advantage–use it. While our previous president left no hope of anything good coming from Syria except for Iran and Russia, we should respond to anyone gassing civilians. In this case the response was practical, limited, and reasonable.