The US Missile Strike on Syria: a Theatrical Production for the Simple-Minded?

(I advanced this theory on Andrew Korybko’s show on Sputnik this morning.)

When I first heard that the US had attacked the airfield in Syria, my heart sank. I had hoped that US President Trump would avoid the endless wars that are bringing us all to Armageddon. This action made me fear that either he had been lying to us all along or that the war party had seized control.

But, as I read further and thought more, another possibility occurred to me. The first thing I wondered was why 59 cruise missiles? There simply aren’t 59 thousand-pound warhead targets at that or any other Syrian airfield. Examination of videos and photos showed little damage (and clearly no fear of sarin or other nerve agents either, as people wandered around without any protection). Had I wanted to stage a loud and exciting (“beautiful” missile launches at night) show with minimum results I would have done something like this. Was it a show, theatre. Art of the deal?

Then I asked myself: if this were a show, for whom was it a show and to what purpose? That led me to consider Trump’s biggest problem. It is that a significant portion of US “elite opinion” regards him – or pretends to regard him – as an illegitimate president. To bring him down, they tried recounts, appeals to “faithless electors“, the 25th Amendment; all failed.

All they were left with was the Russia story and that was being pumped out at full blast. Pumped out for months, since July in fact. Never mind the absence of evidence; it was pumped out ever louder and ever louder; pumped out to such an extent that it was hampering Trump’s program; his foreign program in particular but also his domestic program. It was amorphous and self-replicating at the same time. Did Putin secure Trump’s victory by hacking voting machinesby revealing DNC skulduggery… by some mysterious but never explained influence… by thousands of Putinbots spreading “fake news”… by broadcasts by RT and Sputnik which produce emanations that “undermine democracy“… were the Russians blackmailing him?

What exactly? Nothing that could be pinned down. Like trying to nail Jello to the wall. The allegations were vague, elusive, yet all-embracing. Nothing you could actually test. Shining the light of reason and fact on a particular detail was useless: the accusation skittered away into the shadows like a cockroach: voting machines, propaganda, influence, putinbots, association, something, nothing. But the sum effect, day after day, week after week, month after month, was that no one should take Trump seriously, no one needed to take him seriously, for he was Putin’s stooge and, sooner or later, would be forced from office. Soon gone. Not my president. It’s now April 2017 and this stuff has been festering away since the DNC cheating was revealed in July 2016. Nine months. It is not going to go away by itself. Neither is it going to go away for lack of evidence. It’s deeply embedded in the fantasy world (in this site’s universe, Clinton won) and too much has been invested in it.

In the real world, there is no rational way to stop the accusations.

59 cruise missiles later, all that has evaporated, Trump’s former critics are fawning and slobbering: “America is back, and you’re not allowed to do whatever you want” and “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” simpered two former critics. Generally popular – if only rather shallowly – too. No more Putin puppet. And so on – here is a compendium of drool. So, if the strike were a piece of theatre designed for domestic consumption, it hit the target. A “precision strike” indeed. (By the way, Scott Adams, who has read the Trumpian tea leaves very accurately, agrees that it was theatre.)

But the strike was of questionable morality and legality, to be sure; it was potentially dangerous and many argue that now that Trump has given in once to the War Party, he will find it harder to resist the next time. While it is true that supping with the Devil requires a long spoon, I think Trump has neutered his enemies. The next time there’s another (faked-up – and this attack was obviously not Damascus’ doing) event, he can call fake and what will they do then? Retract their fawning praise? Say he “became” President in April but “ceased” to be in July or August? Or (and I admit the probability of this is vanishingly small) when the truth does comes out, could Washington even apologise and pay compensation to the victims? If that were to happen – and I agree it would be a first – it would be a stunning blow to the War Party. In short, I don’t think the game is over and I don’t think the curtain has come down on the theatrical production.

What will Moscow’s reaction be? Well, if the theatre theory is correct, very little because Moscow was in on the deception to some extent. So, the test will be whether the incident is passed off with some minor harrumphing all round (the story of the Russian-Iranian “red line” is not true). We’ll have a better idea when the results of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Moscow visit emerge. Does Putin also believe it was theatre? Perhaps he does; this is what he said yesterday:

many European countries adopted an anti-Trump position during the election campaign. Syria and Russia, as a common enemy, provide a wonderful platform for consolidation.

Every decent theory must be falsifiable. I will agree that this theory – the theory that the US strike was really domestic theatre – would be falsified if the story, reactions, statements and so on keep building. We should know either way in a month.

But, so far so good: the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting yesterday passed off with minor harrumphing and none of the sanctions UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wanted. In fact the final 30-page communique managed to set a new record of logical incoherency by both blaming Damascus and calling for an inquiry to find out who was to blame:

We are shocked and horrified by the reports of use of chemical weapons in an airstrike in the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib on 4 April… The subsequent US military action against Shayrat Airfield was a carefully calibrated, limited in scope response to this warcrime and was directed against Syrian military targets directly connected… We express full support to the OPCW Fact Finding Mission investigation and stress that if the Fact Finding Mission concludes that chemical weapons have or have likely been used, the OPCW – UN Joint Investigative Mechanism should immediately carry out its investigation in accordance with its mandate to identify the perpetrators.

As to Washington’s touching concern about “crimes against innocents“, it is appropriate to note that one of the West’s favourite goto sites, the UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights and a much-quoted source for accusations that Damascus routinely uses CW, declared that the USA and its allies “killed 260 civilians, including 70 children and 34 women” in Syria last month. More than ISIS did, it says.

As to whether the attack will have much effect on Pyongyang (some think it was the real audience), I am inclined to doubt it. The national mythos in North Korea is resistance – resistance to the Japanese in the first half of the Twentieth Century and defiance of the USA and its allies in the second half; all firmly based on the memory of the ultimately successful resistance to Hideyoshi’s invasion in the 1500s. It seems unlikely that the leadership will be much impressed by anything Washington does this century. And, as this report suggests, it isn’t.

As to its effect on Beijing, again I suspect not very much: the Chinese leadership is neither as gullible nor as easily impressed as US media personalities. Beijing might decide that that trying to influence Pyongyang would be more cost effective than another Korean War; on the other hand, it might decide that a USA bogged down in an unwinnable war (just what would “victory” look like anyway?) would be to its advantage. We shall see.

But its effect on the talking heads and media never-Trumpers at home was profound.

Really Stupid Things Said About Russia

Moscow is being forced to play these aggressive and risky games out of desperation. The country is in bad shape and it is getting worse. [Not according to Bloomberg which says it’s out of the recession.] The once great superpower now has an economy smaller than Canada’s and it continues to shrink. [This is just stupid and a byproduct of exchange rates. Russia is one of the very few “full service” economies in the world. Canada is not one of those]. Even though they spend 5 per cent of their GDP on defence, Russia’s military forces have grown so rusted out they can barely get their last aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean and back without breaking down. [Even so, it got where it was going, did what it had to do, and got home again]. Even the ragtag Ukrainians have fought them to a standstill. [They wish – they’ve been beaten by a civilian militia]. Diplomatically, Moscow has never been so isolated and powerless. You can count its friends on one hand, and it’s not an impressive list: Syria, Iran, Belarus. [Oh, and China too.]

Russia’s coming attack on Canada by Scott Gilmore, MacLean’s, 8 March 2017.

[My comments]

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

NATO has proved itself to be peaceful and the West’s CFE commitments add to that assurance. But as Russia recovers and rearms, as history suggests it will, Moscow’s imperialist urge might well rise again. Then it will be too late and ‘provocative’ to redraw the defence line.

William Safire, “U.S. can’t let Russian paranoia determine defense of Europe“, 3 October 1995

Really Stupid Things Said About Russia

It is not prudent to deny or forget a thousand years of Russian history. It is replete with wars of imperial aggrandizement, the Russification of ethnic minorities, and absolutist, authoritarian, and totalitarian rule.

My comment: Substitute any other country here and what difference would there be? Note in the thousand years he ignores periods in which Russia was prey and not predator – the Mongols, the Time of Troubles, Teutonic Knights and so forth. A fine example of selective facts and how much easier it is to say something than it is to refute it.

Ariel Cohen (Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation) “A New Paradigm for U.S.-Russia Relations: Facing the Post-Cold War Reality.” 6 March 1997.

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Why do the Russians still give us trouble even though the Cold War has long ended? Why do they invite the terrorist Hamas leaders to Moscow? Why do they cut off natural gas to Ukraine and thereby reduce its flow to Western Europe? Why do they harass foreign non-governmental organizations, accusing them of espionage and incitement to revolution? Why do they carry out joint military exercises with the Chinese, clearly aimed at Taiwan?

Richard Pipes: “Why the Bear Growls”, Wall Street Journal, 1 Mar 2006; http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB114117943450386098

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Since the Cold War ended, Russian leaders have built a shadow empire on the territories of Russia’s sovereign neighbors, extending Russian power where it is unwarranted and unwelcome by sponsoring “frozen conflicts” in southeastern Europe and the South Caucasus. This behavior, designed to maintain political and economic influence beyond Russia’s borders, impedes democratic development in states that aspire to join the West. It exports instability, criminality and insecurity into Europe. It threatens regional military conflict that could draw in the United States and other powers. It also bolsters anti-democratic forces within Russia who believe Russia’s traditional approach of subverting its neighbors’ independence is a surer path to security than the democratic peace enjoyed by the nations of Europe.

Ana Palacio and Daniel Twining (Palacio is the former Foreign minister of Spain. Twining is an Oxford-based consultant to the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Washington Post, 11 March 2006. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/10/AR2006031001841.html

Russia Is Finished Quotations

The turbulent events of the past seven days are a defeat for President Boris Yeltsin, a huge setback to the cause of reform, and a warning to the West…[Zhirinovskiy] will be ideally placed in coming months to exploit popular discontent…Just over a hundred days ago, Yeltsin’s forces blew up the old Russian parliament and killed 147 people in the name of reform…The government is now dominated by men who have a strong taste for communist style state controls of the economy…the death of liberal Russia is a direct consequence of the free vote held on 12 December.

Tony Barber, “Back to the USSR”, The Independent on Sunday, 23 Jan 1994

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Caspar Weinberger issued a powerful warning that American policy makers, in their preoccupation with NATO’s expansion, may be missing the fact that Russia has a truly ominous enlargement initiative of its own – ‘dominance of the energy resources in the Caspian Sea region.’ As he observes in the attached op.ed. article which appeared on 9 May in the New York Times… ‘If Moscow succeeds, its victory could prove much more significant than the West’s success in enlarging NATO.’

Center for Security Policy, Washington, 12 May 1997.

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

Note July 2016. A favourite quotation. Of course, it wasn’t “Trotskiy’s” Red Army: the Soviet takeover of Georgia was orchestrated by the two Georgians in the Bolshevik government: Stalin-Jugashvili and Orjonikidze. And Abkhazia these days is predominantly Christian. And Georgia is still independent today. An early example of the Economist’s anti-Russia at any cost editorial policy.

An independent state of Georgia existed for 2 1/2 years, until Trotsky’s Red Army snuffed it out in 1921. Mr Yeltsin has given its successor exactly the same amount of time. More or less secretly, Russian forces have backed rebellions by Muslims in the Abkhaz region and by Georgian followers of the former president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. In this squeeze the current president, Eduard Shevardnadze…despairingly appealed to Moscow for help, and got it on terms that in effect mortgage his country’s independence.

The Economist 13 November 1993

NATO, Back in Business at the Old Stand

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2016/07/nato-back-in-business-at-the-old-stand.html

JRL 2016/132/16

http://nato.trendolizer.com/2016/07/nato-back-in-business-at-the-old-stand-by-patrick-armstrong.html

http://timberexec.co.uk/nato-back-in-business-at-the-old-stand-patrick-armstrong/

https://www.reddit.com/r/russia/comments/4stb0d/nato_back_in_business_at_the_old_stand_by_patrick/

http://uk.makemefeed.com/2016/07/17/nato-back-in-business-at-the-old-stand-patrick-armstrong-1788953.html

http://snapzu.com/AdelleChattre/nato-back-in-business-at-the-old-stand

http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/nato-back-business-old-stand/ri15629

https://off-guardian.org/2016/07/21/nato-back-in-business-at-the-old-stand/

https://theflippintruth.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/nato-back-in-business-at-the-old-stand/

Spare a thought for the travails of NATO drones over the past couple of decades. About 25 years ago I was in competition for a job on the International Staff at NATO. I’ve forgotten most of the details but it would have paid about US$100,000. Tax free. Plus benefits. What would have been the equivalent salary, in the real world, to that, do you suppose? In return, NATO started work sometime Monday afternoon and knocked off early on Friday and essentially took meetings the rest of the time. And Brussels is a convenient base for travelling around Europe. But I didn’t get the job.

The Warsaw Pact imploded, followed by the USSR and NATO’s raison d’être disappeared. A colleague who finally got a position on the Canadian delegation (no big IS salaries for them!) seriously wondered whether NATO would last through his time there.

Well, it did. Expansion (soon officially changed to the more anodyne “enlargement”) gave employment. NATO, it piously said, cannot stop people from freely applying to join, can it? Of course, given that most of these countries wanted to be neutral originally – the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine in 1990 has these words: “The Ukrainian SSR solemnly declares its intention of becoming a permanently neutral state that does not participate in military blocs…” – it took time and money to persuade people to “freely” apply. In the case of Ukraine two decades, two colour revolutions and five billion USD and 500 thousand Euros. We see similar efforts today with the campaigns in Sweden and Finland. Nothing spontaneous at all, actually.

Kosovo was a problem for the NATO drones. Not in the initial execution that is; that narrative was smoothly crafted – walking blood banks, rape camps, genocide, the monster Milosevic – the MSM obediently fell into line. No, the problem was the terrifying realisation that it wasn’t working and that a land invasion might have to be fumbled together. But Chernomyrdin persuaded Milosevic to give up, the worst did not come to pass and everybody could congratulate themselves on writing a new page of military history: “virtual war“, air power alone can win wars and similar certainties that are not so certain today.

Then came 911 and NATO was required in Afghanistan. Expansion and Kosovo had been fun for NATO drones: visiting European centres as honoured guests treated to the best of everything, making speeches about stability and the necessity to make a stand against evil but not much in the way of hard or unpleasant work. Afghanistan, on the other hand, was a nasty dangerous place where the locals all hated you but concealed their hatred until you stopped paying them. Like most of the regime-change wars with which we have grown so familiar, Afghanistan started with a bang and the Taliban government was overthrown in weeks. But the war goes on and on. Obama will leave 8400 US troops there for his successor; he had promised to end it in 2014. John McCain thinks the US needs a “permanent presence” there. Complete, of course, with NATO allies.

In short, NATO membership is not attractive if all it involves is interminable rotations through Afghanistan. A dreary prospect indeed.

Besides the multitude of unpleasant locations with few hotels and bars, another problem with the “War on Terror” is that the enemy is small and feeble – IEDs, suicide vests, small arms. Small money weapons that don’t require big money weapons systems to counter.

A third problem, of course, is that NATO & Co is not exactly winning these wars. So either it must stop talking about them (the word “Afghanistan” appears only 8 times in the Warsaw Summit communiqué) or start uttering complete nonsense as in “These efforts mark an important step to strengthen Libya’s democratic transition” (§30).

NATO must remain and expand – it’s a necessary control mechanism for Washington (and so is the EU, as we have just learned with the EU-NATO amalgamation). Let a former American official explain Why NATO is vital for American interests: “Vladimir Putin’s aggression”, “weakening and potentially fractured European Union” and “tsunami of violence spreading from the Levant and North Africa into Europe itself”. In short: Russia’s resistance to NATO expansion; the EU’s failure; instability resulting from NATO attacks in the Middle East. Compelling reasons indeed. To paraphrase that great American Statesman, Homer Simpson, NATO is the solution to the problems it creates. But it badly needs a new raison d’être in order to keep the members in, attract new ones and to allow bigger profits. Jihadists in Afghanistan don’t serve the purpose any more.

So, our drones need something more attractive to retain their enthusiasm, pay and perqs. The communiqué from the Warsaw NATO summit is their answer. This 16,489 word panegyric to itself modestly states that NATO is “an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security, and shared values, including individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law” (§2). The Warsaw Summit brings us back to the tried and true – Russia. The communiqué uses the word “Russia” 57 times and “Ukraine” 32 times for a total of 89. By contrast, “terrorism” and “ISIL” only 27 times, “jihad”, “Islam” and “Ebola” not at all. It’s clear where the emphasis now is.

Section 10 will serve as a summary of it all:

Russia’s destabilising actions and policies include: the ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, which we do not and will not recognise and which we call on Russia to reverse; the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilisation of eastern Ukraine; large-scale snap exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna Document, and provocative military activities near NATO borders, including in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and the Eastern Mediterranean; its irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture; and its repeated violations of NATO Allied airspace. In addition, Russia’s military intervention, significant military presence and support for the regime in Syria, and its use of its military presence in the Black Sea to project power into the Eastern Mediterranean have posed further risks and challenges for the security of Allies and others.

Nevertheless, NATO, ever patient and ever virtuous, says “We remain open to a periodic, focused and meaningful dialogue” (§2) with Russia.

NATO’s relentless expansion, its untrustworthiness (see Libya), military exercises in and around Russia, overthrow of governments in Ukraine and other neighbours, fall in this screed somewhere between unremarkable and non-existent: Russia is to blame for everything. The “serious deterioration of the human rights situation on the Crimean peninsula” is its fault (§7), the non-fulfilment of the Minsk Agreement is its fault (§9), Russia’s reaction to BMD is “unacceptable and counterproductive” (§59), as are its provocations “in the periphery of NATO territory” (§5).

NATO-Land is like Laputa – it floats in some imaginary place where Crimea is a hellish nightmare for the inhabitants, Libya ever “transitions” towards democracy and scholars, looking for sunbeams in cucumbers, find Russians hiding under the cucumber beds. What “deterioration of human rights” in Crimea? The Minsk Agreement requires nothing from Russia: the word “Russia”does not appear in it; has any of these people read it? Is it Russia’s fault that this clause still awaits fulfilment “On the first day after the pullout a dialogue is to start on modalities of conducting local elections“? Is it really so outrageous that the Russians don’t believe that NATO has “no intention to redesign this [BMD] system”? (§59) There was “no intention” to expand NATO or to blow up Libya either; no wonder Moscow won’t trust NATO’s word. (Oh, and it would be wrong to suggest that NATO promised not to permanently station troops in its new territories – that promise only held until enough accusations could be manufactured. In any case, these new troops NATO promises (§40) won’t be permanent; they’ll just be permanently rotating.) Yes, Russia does have military exercises on the edge of NATO now that NATO has expanded to the edge of Russia; is it supposed to only have exercises in central Siberia now, or would they be provocatively close to American troops in Japan, South Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria?

Always difficult out of this catalogue of nonsense to pick a favourite but I think this one is the standout: “[Russia’s] long-standing non-implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty” (§69) Russia actually ratified the amended treaty: no one in NATO did!

And, lest we forget weapons sales: “We welcome Allied efforts to address, as appropriate, existing dependencies on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment.” (§78)

So, after dreary years of trudging through the inhospitable mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq, years of defeat, years of trivial profits, NATO drones have entered the sunny uplands. Russia is again the enemy, NATO has a big enemy that needs big money projects like the F-35, the Littoral Combat Ship, trillion dollar nuclear weapons programs, Crusader SPGs and decades-long deployments in places with good restaurants where the people don’t hate you.

Europe will again be united against the Russian Threat© under Washington’s leadership even more tightly now that the EU and NATO are openly under the same management. Promotions and prosperity all round!

All is well.

Apart for the niggling facts that NATO & Co are still losing their wars, haven’t got the money they used to have, are actually under attack from different enemies, have populations that are growing restive, are in a demographic decline, have militaries that are rusting out and fading away, have stagnant economies and populations that don’t actually want to go to war for Estonia. Oh, and European banks need a bailout. And NATO’s pressure brings Russia and China (0 mentions) ever closer. Repeating lies, nonsense and fantasies at twice the volume is not actually a sign of strength.

So, it’s not really a bright new future, it’s just Miss Havisham reliving the happiness of her engagement day.