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Issue #1777      May 17, 2017

Culture & Lfe

A trumped up excuse for war

The April 4 chemical warfare incident at Khan Shaykhun in Syria was instantly blamed on the Bashar al Assad government by the forces trying to oust the popularly elected Syrian government. Those forces are backed – supported, armed, funded and reinforced – by the US, so it was perhaps not surprising that the US President and his administration of right-wing hawks jumped on that bandwagon, embracing war with Syria with remarkable vigour and single-mindedness.

Before the US election, many observers believed that between the candidates, the bigger threat to peace came from Hillary Clinton whose hawkish credentials had been well established in Libya and elsewhere. But Donald Trump, despite his pre-election posture of having good relations with President Putin of Russia and intending to extricate America from unwanted wars in the Middle East, needed to distract attention from the gaffes and missteps that have already marred his “for profit” Presidency.

The Trump administration seized on the “poison gas attack” in Syria, despite it being an all-too obvious “false flag” operation intended to discredit the al Assad government, as the pretext for launching a cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base. Flattening the Syrian air base with 59 Tomahawk missiles served to divert attention at home in the USA from the ongoing investigations into alleged Russian election tampering, as well as from the very public rallies and protests against the new administration’s domestic policies.

Even members of the US’s own intelligence community have voiced their scepticism about the allegations of a poison gas attack by the Syrian Army. Ray McGovern, a former Army officer and CIA analyst who prepared the president’s daily intelligence brief under the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, questions the chemical attack seeing it as a case of “fixing the intel[ligence]” to justify the policy after the fact.

“They came up with this embarrassing three-and-a-half pages about the event that don’t hold water, and [now] we have an MIT professor totally debunk it.” The MIT professor is Ted Postol whose analysis of the event flatly contradicts the “assessment” issued by the White House.

“I think it’s clear that Donald Trump found it expedient to fire the 59 Tomahawk missiles ... as a way to quell the media frenzy surrounding ‘Russiagate’ that was causing his approval ratings to tank,” Elizabeth Murray, who was formerly the deputy national intelligence officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council, told the on-line progressive news journal Truthout. Murray had a 27-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where she served as a media and political analyst on Middle Eastern issues.

Murray believes the Trump missile attack violated international law and set a dangerous “shoot-from-the-hip” tone for US foreign policy under the new administration. “There’s little mention of the 13 Syrian civilians who were killed by the US missiles, including four children, which is a clear war crime,” she said.

Murray pointed out how the US bombing also took place in the absence of any actual evidence of Syrian government involvement in the preceding attacks, and that, if anything, there are indications that the US-backed Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels may be responsible.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA operations officer who worked on counter-terrorism in Europe and the Middle East, also told Truthout that “Trump is demonstrating to the public that he can be tough with America’s ‘enemies’ and that he is also not afraid to offend the Russians. He has been accused of being a de facto Russian agent so it is particularly important that he demonstrate that he is not.

“The cruise missile attack is a visceral reaction to show he is not a tool of Putin, and show he’s a tough guy and can react immediately,” Ray McGovern added.

Giraldi, who is currently executive director of the Council for the National Interest, a think tank focused on Middle East policy, sees the Russia situation becoming increasingly embarrassing for President Trump.

“Trump is particularly thin skinned and he reacts to protect his image, in this case doing something quite stupid in Syria to make a point about himself and his administration,” Giraldi said.

“By giving his generals the green light to launch the missiles, he was able to silence media criticism, appease pro-war neo-conservative elements [‘neo-cons’] and shore up his flagging image,” Murray explained. “The neo-con-controlled US mainstream media are now referring to Trump as ‘presidential’ ... so in that sense, it worked.”

Despite Trump’s pre-election posture, Murray believes that US military activity in Iraq and Syria is being ramped up in a clandestine manner; and since deploying ground troops to these countries is wildly unpopular, the Trump administration has decided to keep the American people in the dark.

McGovern agrees, citing the failings of the media: “The transcendent problem is that Americans don’t know what is going on in the world.” Murray felt similarly, pointing to the silence around the US attacks on Mosul.

“It disturbs me that so little is reported about what is taking place in Mosul, Iraq, where thousands of innocent people are dying from US-led coalition air-strikes – one report said more than 2,000 Iraqi civilians died in the month of March alone. But the American people are simply told that Mosul is being ‘liberated’,” she said.

“These kinds of policies will leave us dependent on journalists and whistleblowers willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to tell the truth,” Murray added. “Meanwhile, weapons manufacturers and Washington, DC-based ‘beltway bandits’ [the think tanks and contractors servicing the Defence Department and intelligence agencies] will continue to thrive under a foreign policy of endless wars.”

Murray had been optimistic about Trump’s early statements about seeking a modus vivendi with Russia, cooperating with Moscow to counter ISIS in Syria, and not seeking a Syrian regime change.

“But these were just words,” she said. “As with nearly every other US president, Trump has caved to the pressures brought by neo-conservative elements within the government and the military-corporate complex, otherwise known as the Deep State.

“I believe that Trump will now proceed according to the dictates of these powerful groups, which means more wars to support the military machine and the interests of Israel, which wants the overthrow of governments in Iran and Syria,” Murray explained. “In return, he will see far less media criticism and even receive accolades as with the ‘presidential’ missile strikes on Syria.”

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