We are seeing a lot of hyperbole about the start of “World War 3” and a lot of speculation about how this will play out … so, let me pump the brakes a bit. Here goes …
No, there was no legal or constitutional justification for this strike. Sorry, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, this does not fit neatly into an Article Two-sanctioned use of force to protect America’s invariably internationally-located “national” interests. And no, we still haven’t seen compelling proof that Assad was responsible for the attack in question and, in a throwback to attacks past, the OPCW‘s inspectors didn’t even get a chance to conduct their investigation before Uncle Sam pulled the trigger.
But, to be clear, this also doesn’t mirror the lead-up to, or start of, the Iraq War … Trump’s unintentionally ironic use of “Mission Accomplished” notwithstanding. Trump’s mission was, in fact, accomplished, because the mission wasn’t regime change or a crippling strike a la John Bolton. Nor was it a “message” to Assad’s “enablers,” as Deep State All-Star Oliver North framed it on Fox News.
No, this limited attack was very much like LAST YEAR’S Tomahawk parade (stock tip: buy Raytheon). It was a Mattis masterpiece of shadowy puppet theater designed to give Trump a way out of his self-painted corner. This was a well-crafted face-saving scenario. And this was a way for Trump to prove that his red line bloviations mean something, unlike the red line sissy-dancing of his predecessor.
To get there, Mattis cut down the target package to THREE … yup, just THREE … facilities that, one can safely assume, the Syrians likely knew would be targeted. And although Chief Of Staff Joseph Dunford claimed there was no “coordination” with Russia (as was the case with last year’s ridiculous strike on an evacuated tarmac), “coordination” is itself a specific term that doesn’t preclude the possibility of artfully telegraphed intentions by the Pentagon as they developed their target list. Add to that the use of well-established “deconfliction” procedures and what you have is a military operation that was designed to give Trump, along with British Prime Minster Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, an opportunity to put-up instead of shutting-up and, thereby, somehow risking their so-called “international reputations” as leaders.
Luckily for the region and the world, the other players in this melodrama are solidly established as rational actors. Both Russia and Iran are playing a wholly comprehensible game of geopolitical chess in the Middle East and they are unlikely to see this as anything more than it is … and, ironically, the real message they got was that the US-led trio was unwilling to hit any target that exposed Russian or Iranian assets to jeopardy. Russia and Iran have already achieved victory in Syria. The game is over. This is little more than a flaccid attempt at Monday Morning Quarterbacking by an increasingly irrelevant player (the US) on the winnowing field of battle.
Perhaps even more ironically, this desperate attempt at both relevance in the end-game in Syria and, perhaps sadder still, an ordinance-laden effort to “back-up” the mostly empty threats surrounding “Red Line-ism” not only fails to achieve anything on those two counts, but it actually hands Russia and Iran and Assad a public relations coup! This preemptive power play wantonly trumped the OPCW’s investigation and it seems wholly outside the norms of the international order … an order that the glass house-dwelling United States habitually transgresses. It makes for an almost comical episode insofar as it cedes the high-ground in the propaganda war to the three players in Trump’s de facto reboot of the Bush-Era Axis of Evil.
No matter how hard Ambassador Nikki “Locked and Loaded” Haley tries to spin it at the UN Security Council, everyone there knows that this was little more than a preemptive, face-saving measure probably meant more for domestic consumption than for anything else. As disheartening as that sounds … the idea that the United States is willing to use military force for banal political messaging and hopelessly futile reputation preservation … it is also heartening to know that Defense Secretary “Mad Dog” Mattis still holds sway as the only one on Trump’s National Security team not perpetually frothing at the mouth. This is the second time he’s contained Trump’s trigger-happiness. Hopefully, there will not be a third.
And that leads me to the main takeaway from this over-hyped and oversold attack … it was primarily a political statement to the American, British and French people. It will be up to them, and to the media that feeds them, to render a political judgment on this operation.
Last time, the news media, newspaper editorial writers, the American people and most of the politicians who represent them all patted Trump on the head like a dutiful dog of war. This Pavlovian response is, in actuality, the far more troubling part of this continual cycle of belligerence … for it is the complicity of the American public in America’s forever war-making that rarely registers when the antiwar communities on the Right and the Left rail against Neocons and the Deep State and the Military-Industrial Complex. Almost without fail, these “nefarious forces” are blamed for hijacking the ship of state to chart their course of destruction. But, perhaps more dauntingly, these forces draw their strength from the reliable, almost clockwork-like support of the American people. This latest attack is yet another test of that cause-effect paradigm … particularly given the “Wag the Dog” appearance of this operation, which was a perfectly-timed distraction from the rapidly-collapsing, scandal-ridden scaffolding Michael Cohen built-up around his blathering boss.
It’s now the American people’s turn to respond … and they will either fall into line and offer up their support, or they will ignore this explosion-driven distraction and keep their eyes on the explosive revelations of the week and, more amazingly, of the hours leading up to Trump’s self-serving decision to attack. Mattis passed his test. And it is likely that Putin will pass his. But it is up to the American people to decide if they are going to give Trump another reason to think he can use military action like a vending machine that pumps out approval each time he presses the launch button … or, hopefully, they will stay focused on the felonious fixer-fueled farce that is currently playing out in the Southern District of New York.
Either way, we will find out far more about the American people than we ever do about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. It’s yet another chance for us to decide if the oft-repeated mission of compliant patriotism was accomplished … or if the American people will keep their wits and fix their gaze on the callow corruption that keeps on passing for leadership in the Oval Office.
JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, radio co-host, documentary filmmaker, and former broadcast news producer. Follow @newsvandal. Visit his website. This is reprinted from his website with permission.