20 Apr Fifty-Nine Tomahawks
On Thursday, April 6th 2017, President of the United States Donald Trump waved a hand or muttered a command and the world didn’t change. Instead, as is the way of such things, it got even worse. Sides polarised, divisions grew, and, ironically, nothing at all changed in the Middle-East.
The first thing we have to do when we’re looking at the big picture is to try to figure out whatexactly it was that President Trump actually did. We know that he blew holes in a runway called al-Shayrat, in the Homs province of Syria. We know he did it because he thought that al-Shayrat airfield was where a chemical weapons strike had been carried out from. That’s what his established media has said, and so that’s what we have to go with.
After all, President Trump himself said after the strike, “It is in [the] vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
This is, of course, a bit specious when you put it alongside the verified reports of the mainstream media that ISIS has deployed chemical weapons on more than fifty separate occasions. It becomes even more specious when you think about the huge amounts of depleted uranium shells that the Americans themselves have battered Iraq and, probably, the bits of Syria currently infested by ISIL with.
In essence, if “preventing and deterring” the spread of chemical weapons onlymean chemical weapons used by people the United States disagrees on domestic policy with, you don’t have a cassus beli. You have a rather malleable excuse to shoot Tomahawk missiles at people.
That’s before we even get into whether or not a strike like this would do anything to prevent Assad or anyone else from doing it again. Or if they might do it again to provoke a strike like this, even.
It is, of course, very improbable that President Trump doesn’t know all that already—he is, after all, the nexus of any number of intelligence agencies. I’m sure that amount of information inflow is overwhelming, but it’s also very hard to mistake things when someone says, “everybody has chemical weapons”.
So what was he doing launching ninety million dollars’ worth of Tomahawk missiles into a runway? A runway which, according to the Telegraph, was back in operation the next day?
Russia, as a result of the strike, has drawn away from relations with the US. On the night of April 8th, the Russian military cut off its deconfliction communications with the United States military. This means that neither side has any idea what the other side is doing at any given moment, and both forces are now on alert to look out for one another. Reportedly, the US has turned to using low-risk planes to run missions against ISIS in Syria, and has greatly reduced the number of those missions.
Russia, meanwhile, continues as it has been because it remains the only great power which was actually invited into the country to help by Bashar al-Assad. That’s what you have to keep in mind: in the Russian opinion, the leader of a sovereign nation has asked for aid against rebels and ISIS forces in the area. While Russia has been roundly criticized for its actions in the region—anything from who it’s bombing to how effective that bombing is—Russia remains the only power in the area not in Syrian colours that can claim any legitimacy.
As we know, the Syrian civil war is a convoluted mess. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States among many others are all involved in funding and equipping the Syrian “rebels,” who appear to freely move between rebel and ISIS ranks. This suggests that there’s less of a hard definition between them than there was originally thought to be, but that hasn’t stopped the United States and others from funding and arming and training rebels in the area.
Now, Russia and the US are divided, and not cooperating against ISIS. Syria is becoming increasingly hostile to pretty much everybody. Everyone else is mostly confused about the whole thing, because no matter what agenda you look at this with—even the one captured in President Trump’s quote—the al-Shayrat strike was either unnecessary, or not enough to accomplish anything.
Hence, the popular world-view of the strike is that it was the normal application of Wilsonianism—or, America’s militant democracy back at work after it had wandered off to take a nap for a decade under the Obama administration.
Now we have news that Russia and Iran will do everything they can to prevent and redress any further military intervention by the United States.
President Trump’s own establishment lauded the strike. The liberal media, in the person of Brian Williams, described it as “beautiful,” and President Trump’s own support-base, which is very much like Marine Le Pen’s support-base in its tendencies and discourse, was split solidly down the middle.
There is pushback, of course, from American intelligence agencies. You can read about that at the pro-Trump Breitbart News, but it basically says that the Americans tracked the bombing run and verified everything before proceeding. It’s very well-presented, but unfortunately also irrelevant.
Assad could have signed his name on the crater and circumstances would be little-changed where it counts.
Where does it count, you wonder?
World War III remains entirely unlikely. Nobody wants to go to nuclear war over Syria. Nobody even wants to go to normal war with Syria. However, as the geopolitical poles drift apart even further, and as the EU crumbles, what we’re really seeing is a total dissolution in what had once been quite a secure bloc of Western opinion.
President Trump’s strike on Syria does most of its work in the mind-spaces of the various populations who look on. As right and left continue to divide and polarise and crystallise in opinion, each side has also begun to fracture.
As an example, many both left and right, though they can’t agree on migrant and refugee questions, do agree on whether or not to go to war with the Middle East. As free speech fractures, and as people continue to violently disagree with one another across just about every divide, consensus becomes impossible and legitimacy begins to falter.
The Syria strike did nothing but further polarise, further divide, and further crystallise people on all sides into places where they refuse to even speak logically to one another.
Just as a US-local example, an ethno-centrist named Richard Spencer organised a protest on the lawn of the White House against the war, which caused left-wing anti-fascist groups to organise a protest of the protest, and the two groups clashed violently without listening to one another.
So you have a liberal group protesting an anti-war protest, and then picking a fight about it. We’ve come about as far around the bend as you can come without driving directly over the cliff. As violence blooms across the EU, as division splits polities from America to Germany, all the strike does is further polarise everything without actually accomplishing anything of particular note with regards to the actual military objectives in the region.
It may be worse than that, too. The strike might be a prelude to more military objectives, some of them under different flags than ISIS’s or Syria’s.
North Korea continues to rumble. The Chinese continue to not want to deal with it. Migrants, potentially radicalised, continue to flood into the EU. Turkey continues to encourage them. Populist voices get slightly louder, but their message doesn’t change.
Our conclusion? Nothing changes but stays the same, and the world waits to see what happens next—perhaps never even realising that set-piece battles went away with World War I.
Today, politics is a war of attrition, and both sides are slowly being worn down and as tends to happen, therefore become even more unreasonable. Just like every armed conflict since 1919 has been and will be.
Right up until the last one.
Trevor Duncan, a freelance contributor who approaches the world armed with satire, wit, and fingers often too big for the keyboard, is a journalism major from Canada who is rather alarmed by what he’s been seeing in the world these days.