Trump’s attempt to impulsively jump back into the Syrian mess runs the risk of sparking a real shooting-war between the U.S. Armed Forces and Russia’s mission in Syria – upping the ante drastically in the former “Apprentice” host’s bid to boost the U.S. intervention in Syria.
WASHINGTON — World powers are reacting with increased urgency and alarm following scandal-plagued U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats of an imminent military strike against Syria following an alleged weekend chemical attack in Douma. Trump claimed that the war-torn country’s allies, including Russia and Iran, are bound to “pay a price” for the incident, which is yet to be investigated by international monitors.
The curious hysteria from Washington not only comes before any investigation has been allowed to take place, but also comes on the heels of a particularly egregious development in the never-ending scandal circus swirling around the U.S. president: an FBI raid on the office of the former reality star’s longtime lawyer.
Syrian authorities and their allies maintain that they played no role in the chemical weapons attack, which killed at least 60 people and affected hundreds in Douma, the town that lies near Damascus and is the last rebel stronghold in an eight-year civil war pitting government forces and their allies against a disparate coalition of Islamist insurgents. The insurgents are backed by Gulf Arab rivals Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which often seemed just as opposed to each other as they were to the Syrian government.
On Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry explicitly rejected the reports as fake news aimed at justifying new military strikes and warned of the stakes involved in the fast-developing international drama:
We recently warned of the possibility of such dangerous provocations … We have to say once again that military interference in Syria, where Russian forces have been deployed at the request of the legitimate government, under contrived and false pretexts, is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to very grave consequences.”
Watch | Aftermath of suspected chemical attack in rebel-held Douma in Syria
Send in the inspectors
China has conveyed its desire to see a “comprehensive, objective and impartial investigation” take place “that can stand the test of history” and ensure justice, according to China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Wu Haitao.
At a regular press briefing in Beijing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also expressed alarm at the language coming from Washington regarding “forcefully” responding to the alleged attack, which he characterized as “prejudg[ing] the results and com[ing] to conclusions randomly.”
Read more by Elliot Gabriel
- Pentagon Capitalism and Silicon Valley: Google’s Drone War Project Shows Big Data’s Military Roots
- “Sorry Commander, I Cannot Shoot:” Israeli Human-Right Group Takes Aim at Soldiers Taking Aim at Gaza Demonstrators
- Ecuador, Assange and the Empire: Anatomy of a Neoliberal Sellout
- In US Tour, Saudi Crown Prince Meets and Greets the Heavies of the Zionist Lobby
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has pledged that Russia would submit its own resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for the inspectors to visit the site to investigate the alleged attack.
Syrian state media has relayed the government’s eagerness to get to the bottom of the incident and offer any assistance needed to ensure that the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) thoroughly investigates the allegations.
Watch | Syrian govt. denies chemical attack on Douma
According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), an official Foreign Ministry source said:
Syria is keen on cooperating with the OPCW to uncover the truth behind the allegations that some western sides have been advertising to justify their aggressive intentions.”
The U.K. delegation to the UN has signaled its approval for the proposal, adding that OPCW personnel must be allowed full freedom of access to the scene of the alleged attack.
The OPCW is preparing to send its team to Syria to determine whether banned munitions, such as a nerve agent or chlorine, were used, as has been alleged by the pro-opposition White Helmets and Douma Media Centre. Whatever the watchdog group determines, it is not within its mandate to assign blame for the incident on any specific actors on the ground.
Watch | President Trump Receives a Briefing from Senior Military Leadership
Will Trump stumble into war with the “Russian regime”?
With newly-appointed war-bent National Security Advisor John Bolton at his side for the first time in his official capacity, Trump used some of his toughest language Monday night yet in regard to possible military actions against Syria, phrasing the potentially world-historic decision in a characteristically meandering way:
So we’re going to make a decision tonight, or very shortly thereafter. And you’ll be hearing the decision. But we can’t let atrocities like we all witnessed — and you can see that and it’s horrible — we can’t let that happen. In our world, we can’t let that happen, especially when we’re able to — because of the power of the United States, because of the power of our country — we’re able to stop it.”
Trump also spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, who agreed that a “firm response” must be taken in response to any chemical attacks by the Syrian government. France has suggested on multiple occasions that any use of proscribed chemical weaponry by the Assad government would be a “red line” justifying a potential military response.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has commented that “those responsible should be held to account,” but has remained noncommittal about any British use of force against Syrian government targets.
UN Security Council drama has reached a fever pitch, with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley breaking with diplomatic protocol by once again referring to Moscow as the “Russian regime,” and claiming that its “hands are all covered in the blood of Syrian children.”
“There was no chemical weapons attack,” Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded, adding:
Through the relevant channels we already conveyed to the U.S. that armed forces under mendacious pretext against Syria – where, at the request of the legitimate government of a country, Russian troops have been deployed – could lead to grave repercussions.”
Watch | Vitaly Nebenzia Russia on the Situation in Syria
Russia won’t stand idly by
Any potential strike on Syrian forces runs the risk of provoking a massive response from Syria’s allies in the Russian Aerospace Force, especially given the significant presence of Russian service personnel in the war-torn country.
Just last month, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and First Deputy Defense Minister, General Valery Gerasimov, accused the U.S. and its rebel allies of planning to stage a falsified chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians to create a pretext for war.
Without naming his sources, the official told Russian reporters that throughout besieged “Eastern Ghouta, a crowd was assembled with women, children and old people, brought from other regions, who were to represent the victims of the chemical incident,” in a bid to stage a provocation.
The general added that the alleged attack would serve as a pretext for an attack on Damascus, placing Russian personnel at risk and inevitably provoking retaliatory measures against U.S. missile-launch platforms and seaborne vessels.
Russian State Duma Defense Committee Chairman and former Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Airborne Troops Vladimir Shamanov used equally indignant language, swearing that Russia will refuse to sit idly by as it “let[s] the Americans hammer nails” into Syria.
Another diversion by the “Apprentice” host?
One can’t help noticing the conspicuous timing of Trump’s threats to attack Syria, which arrived the very same day that FBI agents raided the home of his long-time personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen –- a move that dominated beltway liberal news programs on MSNBC and CNN, whose pundits were absolutely brimming over with schadenfreude over the commander-in-chief’s latest misfortunes.
MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews even invoked the satirical U.S. film Wag the Dog, a 1997 film that involved Washington media spin doctors who fabricate a war in the Balkans to prevent the media from paying too much attention to a sexual scandal involving the film’s fictional president and a so-called “firefly girl.”
Watch | Wag the Dog – Original Theatrical Trailer
“How about Wag the Dog, Susan?” Matthews asked USA Today’s Susan Page, drawing her response that it was a “very serious charge to make against a president.”
Matthews hinted that perhaps it wouldn’t be so unbelievable “when you have John Bolton sitting next to him.”
Indeed, a little over a week ago Trump delivered a burn-burner of a campaign speech in Ohio, which featured a colorful rant implying that the United States’ embroilment in Syria would wind to a close:
We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate (ISIS), as they call it — sometimes referred to as “land.” We’re taking it all back quickly. Quickly. But we’re going to be coming out of there real soon. We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”
The comments, and subsequent push by the commander-in-chief to begin pulling out of Syria, reportedly led to a severe blow-up in the White House between Trump, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Nevertheless, in this case Trump’s attempt to impulsively jump back into the Syrian mess runs the risk of sparking a real shooting-war between the U.S. Armed Forces and Russia’s mission in Syria – upping the ante drastically in the former “Apprentice” host’s bid to boost the U.S. intervention in Syria.
As is often the case, one can’t ascertain the possibilities based on the former reality star’s ever-shifting moods, priorities and statements. For now, we only have his ominous warning to go by:
Everybody is going to pay a price … Everybody will.”
Top Photo | President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office of the White House, April 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.