Trump in Syria: Making a bad situation worse
Syrian-Americans demonstrate near the United Nations to demand a cease-fire in Syria. Sipa via AP Images

WASHINGTON – Despite the applause he is receiving for launching a missile attack against a Syrian airfield last week, a few U.S. lawmakers are pointing out that by escalating the war in Syria Donald Trump has made a tragic, complex situation worse.

Trump’s missiles were launched from a Navy destroyer while Congress was in recess and he was at the banquet table with China’s President Xi Jinping.

It was clear that Trump was sending Xi a message that went way beyond Syria. He was showing the Chinese that he is a go-it-alone kind of guy and that if they did not support U.S. interests, he is capable of taking unilateral action at any time.

This is reminiscent of a fact proven by researchers: the U.S, dropped the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945 at least in part to scare the Russians, an act which contributed to kicking off the Cold War.

Trump said the attack on the Syrian base was in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s dropping poisonous gas on the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun, murdering at least 86 people, many of them children.

The murders were horrific, and have been universally condemned as a war crime.

However, Trump’s “retaliation” took place before the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global watchdog, had even begun its investigation into who was responsible.

We still don’t know.

Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and a nationally respected observer of the Syrian conflict, wrote in the Common Dreams newsletter that we “don’t know who was responsible … for the horrific attack. Western governments, led by the United States, and much of the western press, have asserted that the Syrian regime is responsible, but there is still no clear evidence … .”

Bennis writes that some speculate that the chemicals in Khan Sheikhoun came “not in the bombs dropped but rather from the explosion of an alleged chemical warehouse under the control of unnamed rebel forces.”

She continues, “We know that in 2013, at the time of an earlier, even more deadly chemical weapon attack, similar accusations against the Syrian regime were widely made, assumed to be true, and used as the basis for calls for direct US military intervention in the civil war. And we know those accusations were never proved, and that it remains uncertain even now, almost four years.”

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D.-Hawaii, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that she’s “skeptical” Assad was responsible for the attack. “I have not seen that independent investigation [of responsibility for the bombing] occur and that proof presented showing exactly what happened and there are a number of theories of exactly what happened that day.”

She pointed out that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was done before an independent commission proved that it possessed weapons of mass destruction, and the intelligence suggesting it did proved to be false.

“So, yes, I’m skeptical,” she said.

In a written statement, Gabbard added, “If President Assad is indeed guilty of this horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians, I will be the first to call for his prosecution and execution by the International Criminal Court. However, because of our attack on Syria, this investigation may now not even be possible. And without such evidence, a successful prosecution will be much harder.”

More U.S. attacks to come?

No matter who was responsible for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, Bennis states, the sad truth is that “A U.S. military escalation against Syria … will not help the victims of this heinous chemical attack, it will not bring the devastating war in Syria to a quicker end, it will not bring back the dead children.”

What will help end the war in Syria?

The only strategy being discussed by the Trump regime so far is to bomb again.

In response, Rep. Gabbard said, “It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.”

Along with Rep. Gabbard, Rep. Barbara Lee, D.-Calif., spoke up saying “by illegally bombing a sovereign nation, President Trump has intensified an already dangerous and unstable conflict without a long-term strategy.”

And Senator Bernie Sanders, I.-Vt., said, “I’m deeply concerned that these strikes could lead to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement in the Middle East.”

Gabbard, Lee and Sanders have joined with Senators Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., Elizabeth Warren, D.-Mass., Tim Kaine, D.-Va., and others from both sides of the aisle in saying that Trump’s missile attack was unconstitutional because he did not seek authority from the Senate.

Big oil wants complete control

The U.S. government has never shown an eagerness to end the war in Syria.

In fact, according to Middle East observer Rachel Marsden, a conservative, the conflict in Syria began because the U.S. wanted to replace “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad … [with] a leader who’s friendlier to the U.S.”

The plan, according to Marsden, was to “let the Saudis arm and fund some independent contractors to take down Assad. The CIA covers the training. Assad is driven out. A leader who’s friendlier to U.S., Saudi and Qatari interests moves in. Russia loses its footing in the region..”

Marsden continues, “Except it didn’t work out that way. Instead, Russia had to swoop in and clean up the mess.”

The assumptions behind Marsden’s scenario are that our government has been involved in the Middle East to support U.S. oil conglomerates in their attempt to control the supply of oil, to hold sway over major oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar and to minimize the influence of Russia and China.

Over the years, U.S. oil companies have shown that if they can’t have their way, they prefer war and chaos rather than yielding any ground to Russia or China.

What’s more, Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, has been in the forefront of manipulating nations for the benefit of Big Oil.

From time to time, rather than fighting or losing ground to it, U.S. Big Oil has found it expedient to form an alliance with Russia. This might be one of those times, at least in regards to the Syrian conflict.

But Trump might have mucked things up through putting his own personal interests before those of his Big Oil buddies. Along with using the situation in Syria as an object lesson for China, Trump might be using it to take some wind out of the sails of those who are opposing him not for being cozy with the billionaires but for being too close to Russia.

He might be trying to demonstrate his independence from Vladimir Putin by attacking him for backing Assad. Putin, in turn, is saying that Trump has “committed an act of aggression against a sovereign state on a made-up pretext to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq.”

In other words, by attacking Syria it looks like Trump has helped assure that the Syrian conflict will continue unabated.

The only real way to end the slaughter in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East is to end the deadly war for oil.

Phyllis Bennis puts it this way in The Nation: “the war in Syria cannot be won, but it can be stopped.”

She proposes that the worldwide Peace Movement unite around four demands:

  1. “Stop killing people and destroying cities in the name of stopping others from killing people. Stop the airstrikes and bombing, withdraw the troops and Special Forces, make “no boots on the ground” real.
  1. “Work to achieve a full arms embargo on all sides, challenging the U.S. and global arms industry.
  1. “Create new diplomatic, not military, partnerships involving outside powers and those inside Syria. All must be at the table, including Syrian civil society, women, and the nonviolent opposition as well as armed actors. Support UN efforts toward local cease-fires and new diplomacy.
  1. “Increase US support for refugees and other regional humanitarian needs. Make good on all pledges to UN funds, and vastly increase money and aid to UN agencies as well as the number of refugees welcomed for resettlement in the United States.”

Bennis writes, “Except for perhaps the last, few of these demands are likely to be achieved in the short term. But it is up to us to build a movement that puts forward what an end to this murderous war could look like.

“The military alternatives now being debated will not end the war, and they do not protect vulnerable populations either.”

She concludes, “There is no military solution. It’s time we rebuilt a movement based on that reality.”


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.