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Missile Attack on Syria: a Silent Coup?


Missile Attack on Syria: a Silent Coup?

President Donald Trump salutes military personnel as he leaves Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, after taking the presidential oath. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

Written by David Hungerford exclusively for SouthFront

The missile attack by the United States against Syria on April 7, 2017 came as a shocking reversal of Trump administration foreign policy. Substantial steps had been taken to depart from the Obama policy of “regime change,” in favor of acceptance of the recognized Assad government. Peace and an international agreement on settlement of the war in Syria were in prospect.

Suddenly, everything went smash. A chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians was reported on April 4. Trump blamed it on the Assad government with no investigation. The missile attack, a flagrant act of aggression, came soon after.

It is useless to go no further than to hurl personal invective at Donald Trump. The concentration on personalities only gets in the way of the real task, the analysis of an evident political conflict.

To begin, the war in Syria has never been a civil war. The armed opposition is principally non-Syrian terrorists. They have been recruited and funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the knowledge and complicity of the Obama administration. [1]

The Obama administration never fought the terrorists. Instead it claimed that the Assad government “attacks its own people,” and demanded that “Assad must go.”

The U.S. even went so far as to attack the Syrian Arab Army (SAA.) On 17 September 2016 a U.S. air attack near Deir ez-Zor airfield in Syria killed between 90 and 106 soldiers of the SAA. It was claimed that ISIS was the intended target but there was a “positioning error.” Given the policy of regime change, the claim of a mistake is not credible. [2]

After five years of a devastating war and the Obama policy of regime change, United States policy looked to have taken a turn for the better under a new administration.

As a candidate Donald Trump had repeatedly said it would have been better to have left Saddam Hussein in place in Iraq, and Muammar Qaddafi in place in Libya. He said, “Iraq is Harvard for terrorism.”  It was a big departure from the usual campaign script, all the more so because it is true.

In a January 26 joint statement issued in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May said, “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.” In other words, the policy of “regime change” would be ended. [3]

On March 3 the military chiefs of staff of Russia, Turkey, and the United States met in Antalya, Turkey, for the purpose of avoiding conflict among their military forces in Syria. Russia is involved militarily in support of and at the invitation of the recognized government of Bashar al-Assad. [4]

Soon after that, the United States sent some hundreds of troops into Syria. Assad said they were “invaders.”  [5] Despite Assad’s objections, joint measures were taken to avoid U.S-Russia military conflict in the battle against opposition forces around the Syrian town of Manbij. [6] That, and other measures of U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria, while small, carried large implications for United States policy.

A long further step in a new direction for U.S. policy was taken when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking on March 30 in Ankara, Turkey, said that “the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” [7] In spite of the illegal U.S. military presence, the prospect of an internationally agreed-upon settlement was opened. At the beginning of April it seemed likely that the final defeat of the terrorists and the end of the war would come soon.

Then, on April 4, an estimated 70 persons, including civilians, were killed by a chemical attack in Idlib Province. Immediately and on no investigation Trump said, “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much … You’re now talking about a whole different level.”

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned Russia it “cannot escape responsibility” for the attack. She told the Security Council that Assad, Russia and Iran had “no interest in peace.”  [8]

The hope of a quick end to the war vanished.  Military coordination with Russia in Syria was suspended. General relations with Russia went ice-cold. Trump, who does not speak carelessly, said, “If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal [Assad], you wouldn’t have a problem right now.” He was told “look to yourself” in return. [9] Regime change was back. Trump received rare words of approval from the corporate media in the United States.

To blame the reversal on “betrayal” or other personal factors only gets in the way of the truth. Economic, political, and historical factors must be investigated to find the forces that overturned the peace policy, and how it was done.

The peace policy had gotten far along for it to be said that Trump jumped into regime change. He was pushed, and very hard. In ruling class terms, many questions arose from the peace policy.

What was to become of Iraq?  Its “government” was imposed by the United States in the wake of the 2003 invasion. Its oil revenues run to something around $50 billion/year. Before invasion and occupation, oil extraction was a state monopoly. Now it is extracted exclusively by foreign companies on terms they set themselves. Marketing is managed by SOMO, the State Organization for Marketing Oil. Thus the oil companies are not in view at time of sale. [10]

Iraq’s domestic economy is going nowhere. Unemployment and poverty are at very high levels. The oil companies make no special effort to hire Iraqis. Making matters even worse, the country is effectively partitioned into three regions. The northwest region has never been subdued by the conquest.

The Obama administration tried to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, but that proved impossible. As of January 2017 there were approximately 5000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Combat against extremists in the city of Mosul is intense. The valiant Iraqi national resistance continues, even under great difficulties. [11], [12]

The Iraqi people will fight the occupation until it is driven out. How long will U.S. troops remain? How long will the occupation Green Zone government stand? Will the foreign oil companies remain? Abandonment of regime change in Syria calls the end of occupation in Iraq into prospect.

The same questions apply to Afghanistan. The United States invaded and occupied the country in 2001, supposedly as part of the “war on terror.” A stubborn national resistance has fought the occupation ever since.

The occupation “government” controls little territory outside of the capital city of Kabul. Currently there are 8400 regular U.S. troops stationed there, plus hired soldiers.  Of them, 2100 are on combat duty. The reason they remain is obvious.

Aerial surveys are reported to have found Afghanistan “may hold 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lodes of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. For instance, the Khanneshin carbonatite deposit in Afghanistan’s Helmand province is valued at $89 billion, full as it is with rare earth elements.”  [13]

Poppy cultivation was almost completely eliminated under the Taliban, the indigenous former government. Under the occupation it has come back to generate a multibillion dollar per year export business in opium and heroin. The trade is virtually the only functioning sector of the economy.

If regime change in Syria is given up, will U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan? Could the Kabul regime survive? What will happen to the lucrative trade in illicit drugs? Will the Afghan people once more take control of their country and its resources? As in Iraq, abandonment of regime change in Syria calls into question the occupation of Afghanistan.

Similar considerations apply to Libya, Somalia and other countries.

There are other problems too. Terrorists have their uses in regime change and other things. The so-called Islamic State was virtually created by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while the Obama administration looked the other way. If the countries destroyed by regime change recover they will cease to be sources of terrorists.

Support for the U.S.-installed fascist government of Ukraine might be ended. An obstacle to normalization of U.S.-Russian relations would be removed.

Israel is another powerful force for regime change in Syria. What Israel wants from the U.S., it gets from the U.S.

Israel and Syria have never established diplomatic relations. Israel has long favored policies of breaking Arab countries into pieces along sectarian and ethnic divisions, as has occurred in Lebanon and Iraq. Syria is the only Arab country that has fully retained its independence and sovereignty.

Israel’s support for regime change in Syria was stated openly in 2015 when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN that “the toppling down of Assad will be a major blow to the radical axis, major blow to Iran…. It’s the only kind of outpost of the Iranian influence in the Arab world…and it will weaken dramatically both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.” [14]

Israel is an undeclared belligerent against the government in the war in Syria. It has bombed Syria several times since 2011. Areas of Syria bordering the Golan area have been held almost continuously by one anti-government armed faction or another. Although the factions have fought each other, they never have attacked Israel.

The Daily Beast reports that “As has been widely reported, Israel provides medical aid to Syrian rebels; more than 2,000 injured have received care in Israeli hospitals. The stipulation has been that the IDF does not check IDs when evacuating the injured, and once in hospital they aren’t interrogated. Even fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, which was at least until this week the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, reportedly have been taken in.” [15]

In sum, there are many reasons and there are powerful forces for a return to regime change.

The means by which the president was pushed into reversal must also be determined. For one thing, there is considerable and strong evidence that the president has lost control of the military, if he ever had it. The intelligence services have been outside of constitutional control for decades. It is no big stretch that the military should be also. [16]

As of this writing only one Trump appointment to the Department of Defense has been confirmed by the Senate, Secretary James Mattis. There is one holdover from the Obama administration, Assistant Secretary of Defense Bob Work.

Of other positions requiring Senate confirmation, there are only eleven nominees. Other than Mattis and Work the DOD is run by people serving in an acting capacity. None of them are even scheduled for Senate confirmation. Twenty-four positions requiring Senate confirmations have no nominee as of late April. [17]

The State Department is in no better shape. Trump is often criticized for having an unclear foreign policy, but he does not have a State Department. The corporate media cover it all up.

The Senate is closely divided, 51 Republicans and 48 Democrats.  The seat of former senator Jeff Sessions, now the Attorney General, is vacant at this time. Only one Republican need vote with the Democrats to bring a stalemate.

Hence only a scattering of high-level positions in the Department of Defense are occupied in any sense. It is completely unacceptable that any positions be filled by “acting” personnel. [18] Military officers are a tightly bound fraternity. They listen to each other first and always want more authority over civilians. There is no assurance they will pay attention to acting personnel in a deeply divided political situation.

The Democratic Party bears the political responsibility for the lack of DOD and State Department confirmations. Its conduct goes beyond “advise and consent.” It amounts to deliberate obstruction of civilian control of the military, and of constitutional conduct of foreign policy.

There is more. According to the Daily Beast, a small group of unnamed conservative billionaires wanted to draft James Mattis into the 2016 presidential race to confront Trump. At the time Trump was the prospective Republican nominee. [19]

John Noonan, a former Jeb Bush aide, was involved in the effort to draft Mattis. Noonan is quoted as saying: “I think a great deal of Republicans would rally behind an American hero if the choice is between Mattis and Trump . . . Trump is a fascist lunatic.”

Now the man who had powerful backers against Trump is Secretary of Defense. The corporate mainstream media as usual gives no coverage to these matters.

The great weight of evidence is that the April 7 missile attack was a silent coup. Foreign policy and control of the military are in hands that are not publicly visible. There is some room for doubt because Trump claimed responsibility for the attack. However, it is difficult to see what else he could have said. If condemnation of the attack is focused on him, questions of main importance are missed.

The forces of regime change have only dug themselves more deeply into a hole. The peoples and countries under attack, Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Afghanistan, and many others will never give up their resistance. Regime change means endless war. The rulers of the United States and the other aggressors are losing their greatest strength: their legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. They have no way out of their dilemma.

David Hungerford is a political activist who lives in New Jersey. His interests include problems of war and peace, and Marxist political economy.


[1] http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-04-21/afghan-ex-president-karzai-isis-tool-united-states

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_2016_Deir_ez-Zor_air_raid

[3] http://theduran.com/trump-shift-begins-theresa-may-no-regime-change-boris-johnson-assad-stay/

[4] http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/03/07/dunford-meets-russian-turkish-generals-syria.html

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/11/middleeast/syria-conflict-isis-us-military/

[6] http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/manbij-syria-us-troops-army-rangers-russia-turkey

[7] http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/30/politics/tillerson-haley-syria-assad-turkey/

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/05/syria-chemical-gas-attack-donald-trump-nikki-haley-assad

[9] https://www.rt.com/news/384758-trump-assad-animal-response/

[10] http://edition.cnn.com/2013/03/19/opinion/iraq-war-oil-juhasz/

[11] http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/01/04/us-doubles-number-advisers-in-iraq-forces-push-mosul.html

[12] http://www.aymennjawad.org/2014/12/the-naqshbandi-army-current-situation-in-iraq

[13] http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/rare-earth-afghanistan-sits-1-trillion-minerals-n196861

[14] https://wikileaks.org/clinton-emails/emailid/18328#source

[15] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/02/how-israel-plays-syria-s-civil-war.html

[16] http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_appointments_of_Donald_Trump#Department_of_Defense

[18] http://www.defensenews.com/articles/trumps-air-force-secretary-pick-heather-wilson-to-get-senate-hearing

[19] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/08/the-secret-movement-to-draft-general-james-mattis-for-president.html



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