On Thursday night, while dining with Chinese president Xi Jin Ping, President Trump announced the US had launched Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria for an alleged chemical attack that reportedly killed 80 civilians. The USS Porter and USS Ross fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a military air base near Homs, Syria. The stagecraft went off without a hitch and many world allies congratulated the military strike, but for those frienemies, it’s a wait and see approach.
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Using a back channel form of communication, the “deconfliction channel,” Russia warned there would be consequences. However, the Kremlin didn’t employ its anti-missile defensive batteries deployed in Syria.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled a change was in the air earlier in the day when he said, “We have a very high level of confidence that the attacks were carried out by aircraft under the direction of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and we also have very high confidence that the attacks involved the use of sarin nerve gas.”
Similarly, President Trump’s new Nation Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster said, “our intelligence community in cooperation with our friends and partners and allies around the world collaborated to determine with a very high degree of confidence precisely where the location originated. And then, of course, the sorts of chemicals that were used in the attack.”
But numerous skeptics have posited themselves on the opposite side of the Trump administration. From Moscow, President Putin had harsh words for the hasty attack. “We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared … in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syria authorities of using [chemical weapons].”
But does the American Intel community know who perpetuated the heinous chemical attack? Former British Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford told the BBC: “no proof that the cause of the explosion was what they said it was… totally self-defeating. There is no proof that the cause of the explosion was what they said it was. Remember what happened in Iraq… I’ve seen testimony alleged from witnesses who said they saw chemical bombs dropping from the air. Well, you cannot see chemical weapons dropping from the air. Such testimony is worthless.”
And what are the consequences? “Think about the consequences because this is not likely to be the end of it. It doesn’t make sense that Assad would do it. Let’s not leave our brains outside the door when we examine the evidence. It would be totally self-defeating as shown by the results…Assad is not mad.”
Echoing those sentiments is former service member and Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). “Yes, I’m skeptical,” she told CNN. “Why should we just blindly follow this escalation of a counterproductive regime-change war? Congress and the American people need to see and analyze this evidence and then make a decision based on that. I have not seen that independent investigation occur and that proof presented showing exactly what happened and there are a number of theories of exactly what happened that day.”
After the administration took fire from the R’s and the D’s as well as Russia over the weekend, it released a four-page, declassified report in an effort to blunt the antiwar chatter that’s picking up steam. In the report, Russia is accused of efforts to spread “disinformation” about the attack to cover for their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“It’s clear the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there,” senior White House officials claim. “How is it possible that their forces were co-located with the Syrian forces that planned, prepared and carried out this chemical weapons attack at the same installation and did not have foreknowledge?”
The report (read here) offered up evidence to rebut claims from Russians and others that the chemical strike was not a government attack but an opposition (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, terrorists, rebels, etc.) attack that used its arsenal of chemical weapons to fake a real attack and blame it on the Assad regime.
The White House report explains that they have “physiological evidence collected from victims showed symptoms consistent with sarin exposure.” The graphic footage was immediately released showed victims, including children, struggling to breathe. “Victims of the attack on April 4 displayed telltale symptoms of nerve agent exposure, including pinpoint pupils, foaming at the nose and mouth, and twitching,” according to the report.
“The absolute mass of data we have … it’s just too massive for really any intelligence organization to fabricate in that short of period of time. That’s just not a feasible explanation,” other White House officials said.
Curiously, missing from the Thursday night attack and weekend media coverage were the Directors of both the CIA and DNI.
Currently, Secretary of State Tillerson is in Moscow for preplanned meetings with his counterparts. “Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Monday that no such meeting was planned (with Putin), suggesting Tillerson will follow strict diplomatic protocol and only meet his direct counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.” In 2013 Putin personally presented Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, “the Order of Friendship” award and before Thursday’s airstrike most expected the secretary would meet with Putin to warm up relations.
The obvious question that remains unanswered is ‘What’s the end game?’
The military action will likely lead to three major outcomes: One. The strike could worsen the fighting inside Syria. Two. Our enemies, including terror groups, may think the strikes were meaningless, emotional or largely symbolic. Three. What will Syria’s Russian ally do, will Putin let it slide or will he view the action as weak and instruct his generals the way is clear and continue his move west to Odessa?
What about the Iranian nuke deal, will Iran break it and widen the rift across the Gulf? Iran has approximately 100,000 soldiers on the ground in Syria and America has about 500. The roughly 500 Special Operations personnel inserted by the Obama administration are only in “support and training” roles to train Kurds for the impending attack to get rid of ISIS in Raqqa, it’s defacto capital. Could they and those stationed in Iraq/Afghanistan become retaliation targets?
Currently, there are approximately 5,000 US service members in Iraq and 10,000 in Afghanistan operating in regions that could present concerns about their security. Has the Administration thought about the unintended consequences: what will the ramifications look like? With the Trump administration undermanned and depending on establishment players is President Trump susceptible to Washington subterfuge designed to keep the military industrial complex rolling and his agenda to Make America Great Again on the back burner? Time will tell…