U.S. Attack on Syria

The sky erupts with missile fire as the U.S., U.K. and France launched an attack on parts of Damascus, the capital of Syria, early Saturday in retaliation for Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons last weekend. (Photo: Hassan Ammar / AP)

 

A team from the OPCW was due to arrive in Syria to investigate the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Douma on Saturday, April 14th.  However, that is the morning on which Washington, in coordination with France and the UK, decided to launch around 100 missiles into Syria.  Russia analyst and former British military officer, Paul Robinson had a good summary and analysis of the strikes at his blog :

What stands out for me is the choice of weapons in this attack: long-range missiles. The Brits, for instance, fired their missiles from close to their airbase on Cyprus. They didn’t come close to Syria. It seems that they were afraid of Syrian and Russian air defences, and they weren’t prepared to go to the effort of suppressing them, which would have required a long and costly campaign and would have run the danger of getting them into a war with the Russians. The Russian Ministry of Defence says that its own air defences didn’t get involved but that those of the Syrian army shot down 71 of the 103 missiles fired. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (not normally noted for promoting pro-Assad propaganda) claims that 65 were shot down. The Americans are currently denying this. The truth is hard to determine. It may be that the Western allies are right to be fearful of the Syrian/Russian air defence system. Or maybe not. What is clear, though, is that they don’t seem to be willing to take the chance. They also don’t want to get too deeply involved. So, they have limited themselves to firing a few missiles in an utterly pointless manner, while making some wild claims that this would ‘set back Syrian chemical weapons programme for years.’

This is playing at war. Unfortunately, it is symptomatic of how the Americans and the Brits wage war nowadays. They can’t resist getting involved, but the outcome doesn’t matter to them enough for them to commit the resources, and make the sacrifices, required for a successful outcome. So, in Afghanistan they committed themselves enough to stir up the locals, to flood the country with money which boosted corruption and filled the coffers of the Taliban, and generally to make everything worse, but not enough to win (which would  have required a simply enormous amount of resources). In Libya, they did just enough to push the country into chaos, but not enough to put it back together again. In Syria, they’ve pumped in enough weapons and money to thoroughly mess the place up (and in the process supply a whole bunch of people who really aren’t their friends), but not enough to overthrow Assad. And so on.

Now, to be fair, it’s a sign of some intelligence that they haven’t gone any further than they have. It would have been completely disproportionate to have done so. We must welcome the fact that in attacking Syria, they limited themselves to a symbolic gesture and stayed well clear of Russian targets. As I said in my last post, achieving the objective of regime change would require enormous destruction. It’s a good thing that our leaders aren’t prepared to go that far. The problem is, though, is that if they want to succeed that’s how far they have to go. If they’re not prepared to do so, they shouldn’t get involved at all in the first place. Unfortunately, they just can’t stop themselves. Consequently, they end up playing at war, failing time after time, while causing a lot of death and destruction in the process.

Robinson makes an excellent point.  These actions seem to just be an excuse to waste huge amounts of money on arms and to destroy countries whose leaders don’t comply with our wishes or are in the way of our geopolitical and economic desires.   There is certainly no will to stabilize or install a functioning government because, as Robinson points out, it would require too much investment in terms of human resources, which would also risk major casualties.

However, the bad will and distrust that builds as a result of these repeated actions and the propaganda that leads up to them has created a dangerous atmosphere between nuclear superpowers whose military personnel are in close proximity.  What if there is a slip-up in the “choreography” of these launches supposedly designed to avoid hitting any Russian targets?   What if Russians dial up the hotline to find out what’s going on and are put on hold for nearly a half hour as the Russian military claimed happened in 2016 when the Syrian army was hit in Deir Ezzor?   Why do we want to take it that far?  And why does our leadership keep saying and doing reckless things that the Russians have to allegedly provide a face-saving out for?

As for Russia’s response to this illegal attack on its ally without even waiting for the results of an investigation that might actually substantiate the allegations against the Syrian government, Russia analyst Gilbert Doctorow wrote the following:

For the Russians there could only be outrage. They were on the receiving end of what was a publicly administered slap in the face to President Vladimir Putin, who was named and supposedly shamed in Trump’s speech for providing support to the “animal” Assad. Putin had been calling upon the U.S. and its allies to show restraint and wait for the conclusion of the OPCW investigation in Duma.

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, repeated after the attacks Moscow’s prior warning that there would be “grave consequences” for the U.S. and its allies. These were not spelled out. But given Putin’s record of caution, it would be surprising if Moscow did anything to exacerbate the situation.

That caution left the U.S. exposed as an aggressor and violator of international law. Since we are in a New Cold War, habits from the first Cold War are resurfacing. But the roles are reversed today. Whereas in the past, it was Washington that complained to high heaven about the Soviet military intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, today it is Russia that will go on the offensive to sound off about US aggression.

But is that all we may expect? I think not. Putin has a well-earned reputation as a master strategist who takes his time with every move. He also knows the old saying that revenge is a dish best served cold. He has frequently advocated “asymmetric” responses to Western moves against Russian interests. The question of counter moves had already been on his mind since the U.S. Treasury introduced new and potentially harsh economic sanctions on Russia with effect from April 6.

In fact, Russian legislators were busy preparing to introduce in the Duma on Monday a bill empowering the Russian president to issue counter-sanctions. These include an embargo on the sale of critical components to the U.S. aircraft industry which is 40 percent dependent on Russian-sourced titanium for production of both military and civilian planes. There is also the proposed cancellation of bilateral cooperation in space where the Russians supply rocket engines used for U.S. commercial and other satellite launches, as well as a total embargo on sales of U.S. wines, spirits and tobacco in the Russian Federation.

Aside from the withdrawal of titanium sales, these and other enumerated measures pale in significance to the damage done by the U.S. sanctions on the Rusal corporation, the world’s second largest producer and marketer of aluminum, which lost $12 billion in share value on the first day of sanctions. But that is to be expected, given that the United States is the world’s largest economy, measuring more than 10 times Russia’s. Accordingly its ability to cause economic damage to Russia far exceeds the ability of Russia to inflict damage in return.

The only logical outcome of further escalations of U.S. economic measures would be for Russia to respond in the one area where it has something approaching full equality with the United States: its force of arms. That is to say, at a certain point in time purely economic warfare could well become kinetic. This is a danger the U.S. political leadership should not underestimate.

Considering the just inflicted U.S. insult to Russia by its attack in Syria, Moscow may well choose to respond by hitting U.S. interests in a very different location, where it enjoys logistical superiority and also where the counter-strike may be less likely to escalate to direct crossing of swords and the unthinkable—possible nuclear war.

A number of places come to mind, starting in Ukraine where, in an extreme reaction, Russia has the option of removing the regime in Kiev within a 3-day campaign, putting in place a caretaker government until new elections were held. That would likely lead to armed resistance, however, and a Russian occupation, which Moscow neither wants nor can afford.

Speaking of the restraint showed by Putin, I keep making the point that many pundits and politicians keep accusing Putin of being aggressive, yet they are constantly banking on Putin’s restraint in the face of a never-ending series of provocations.  Is there not some irony here?

Our corporate mainstream media did its usual despicable job of largely egging on the militarism.  Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) provides the gory details here and here.  Doctorow, in another article, followed the European media on the Syria attack and reported more variety of coverage and viewpoint, especially in Germany (which declined to participate in the attack) and Euronews:

The Die Welt online edition today discusses how the United States and Europe used the mission to test the battleground effectiveness of some of their latest weaponry.

Frankfurter Allgemeine has two feature articles, neither of which follow the American media agenda and might be said to show some independence of thought.  One article presents and defends the notion that the weekend attacks showed the Pentagon is “the last bastion of Sense” in the Trump administration. What they think of the President is self evident.  Meanwhile the other article tells us that despite the attacks Syrian President Bashar Assad will not give in and is holding to his chosen course, while the Russians are said to be counting on opening a strategic dialogue with the USA over arms control.

….To be sure, the most remarkable departure from the US media track that I note in Europe yesterday and today is on the television, specifically on Euronews.  The company’s motto is “Euronews. All Views.”  Nice sounding and usually irrelevant, but not this weekend. To be sure, the US, UK, French government accounts of what they achieved are given full coverage in each hourly news bulletin.  But at the same time, the Russians are given what appears to be equal time to set out their totally diametrically opposed positions: on whether any chemical attacks at all occurred in Douma, Eastern Goutha, on the violation of international law and of the UN Charter that the Allied attack on Syria represented, on its being “aggression,” on its link to the Skripal case.

In fact, on Saturday Euronews exceptionally gave nearly complete live coverage to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as he spoke in Moscow to the 26th Assembly of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy. During this talk, Lavrov divulged the findings of the Swiss laboratory which had examined samples of the chemicals gathered in Salisbury in relation to the Skripal poisonings, findings which he said pointed not to Novichok, as was reported by Boris Johnson, but to a nerve agent developed by the United States and produced also in Britain.  Lavrov likened the faked attack in Salisbury to the faked chemical attack in Douma.

Letting the Russians deliver extensively their views on what happened in Syria without commentary by their own journalists might be considered extraordinary by Euronews or any other European broadcaster’s standards, for which the public can only be grateful.

My mentor, Sharon Tennison, was in Washington DC in the lead-up to the strike on Syria.  Here is the atmosphere she reported:

Mood in Washington, April 8 – 13: The immediate possibility of war between Syria and Russia was on TV screens in hotel lobbies and congressional waiting rooms and tensions were felt behind closed doors in nearly every meeting. It felt like our capital was completely “locked down.” No one wanted to mention their positions on current issues. I’d never before experienced our capital like this.

Simultaneously, young families visiting Washington were innocently enjoying historic monuments, etc. In impromptu inquiries, I asked if they were paying attention to politics and got nonchalant answers back. Apparently they were unaware of the current situation. How could they not be aware? Maybe they view TV news as hyped up fictional TV programs? What a disconnect!

 

 

Russians Meet Mainstream Americans (RMMA) in Walnut Creek, California

RussianVisitorsWithAnnWright2

Photo courtesy of Center for Citizen Initiatives

“No, I will not tell you about war.  It is disgusting and should never happen,” Lena recalled her father telling her when she was a child and would ask him to tell her tales of his experience in the Great Patriotic War – as WWII is known in Russia, which took the lives of 27 million Soviets.  Lena, a wife, mother, and teacher of English and German, who is originally from Western Ukraine and lives in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountain Region of the Russian Federation, was the first of four ladies from Russia to speak at the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, California on April 5th.

In her opening remarks, she explained the reason for her involvement in the program.  it was her father’s words that had inspired Lena to work for peace and the prevention of war.

Prior to Lena’s comments, Sharon Tennison of the Center for Citizen Initiatives introduced the evening’s 4 visitors from Russia and the history of the program that had brought them there.

Sharon introducing the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on April 5, 2018

Tennison’s earlier program in the 1980’s, during the first Cold War, brought groups of non-Communist Party Soviet citizens to visit Americans across the United States.  The Soviet visitors stayed in the homes of volunteer Americans for several days during their stay in a particular city.  During their visit, the Soviet citizens would meet community leaders, members of the media, business people and average Americans – who could all see for themselves that, in most important ways,  these were just people like them.  Groups of Americans had already visited the Soviet Union for the same people-to-people outreach, which had enabled Tennison to network with Soviet citizens.

With tensions between the West and Russia at an all time high in the post-Soviet era, Sharon has resurrected the idea.  After visiting Atlanta and two cities in Texas, the four Russian ladies were now touring the San Francisco Bay Area.

The second lady was Tatyana, who has lived in Crimea all of her life, the daughter of a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father.  She teaches English and history.  I met Tatyana during my trip to Crimea in October of 2015 .  For her opening, she spoke of the monument that was just erected in Yalta to FDR.  Yalta was, of course, the location of the famous conference of the “Big Three” (FDR, Stalin and Churchill) as WWII was winding down in 1945.  She wanted to remind others of the wisdom of FDR, who as U.S. president during WWII, was allied with the Soviet Union and treated the country and its leadership with respect, and hoped to work toward a peaceful post-war coexistence, despite ideological differences.

The third lady was Natasha from Krasnodar, a mother and business woman with experience in the agricultural industry.   I had also met Natasha on my October 2015 trip.

Natasha Ivanova of Krasnodar, Russia, speaks at RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on April 5, 2018

The fourth speaker was Ilyana, a wife, mother and hydro-engineer from St. Petersburg.

Lena, Tatyana, Natasha and Ilyana all took over an hour’s worth of questions from the audience, which filled the conference room, with probably 60 or so in attendance.  The most heated topics seemed to be the Crimea issue and internal Russian politics – particularly gay issues, media/propaganda and Putin.

When Tatyana attempted to provide a local, on-the-ground experience of what happened in Crimea during and after the Maidan protests and the illegal deposing of the democratically elected president of Ukraine at the time (Yanukovich) – which did not comport with the mainstream western media depiction – one woman in the front row shook her head and made it clear that she was not very open to Tatyana’s narrative.

When the subject of the recent presidential elections in Russia in which Putin won ~76% of the vote, an even better showing than was expected, a couple of audience members suggested that the elections were not free and fair.

Lena explained that there were 7 parties in Russia and that Putin ran as an independent.  All four ladies attempted to provide the audience with an explanation of why Putin is so genuinely popular in contemporary Russia, describing the chaos, criminality and massive poverty of the 1990’s (referred to by many Russians as “the crazy 90’s”) and the stability, lack of external debt, economic resurgence, decline in street crime, and renewed pride that the Putin era had brought.  One of the ladies, who admitted she did not vote for Putin, agreed that there was not yet a credible alternative to the current Russian leader.

In response to more questions about the allegedly poor state of human rights in Russia, Lena explained that each region of Russia had an advocate for human rights and children’s rights that citizens could appeal to.  The advocate would investigate the cases and serious issues were brought straight to the attention of the Russian president.

One member of the audience asked about the political opponents of Putin who seemed to mysteriously end up dead.  All of the ladies expressed skepticism at the claims of Putin being behind the deaths and cited the lack of evidence provided to substantiate the claims.  After pointing out that Russia was a very wealthy country with abundant natural resources, Ilyana asked the audience, “Who has an interest in portraying Putin this way?”

Ilyana of St. Petersburg, Russia, speaks at the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on 4/5/18

Naturally, the issue of media and propaganda came up with suggestions by one audience member that the Russians were subjected to propaganda.  The ladies explained that there was a diversity in the Russian print media and that Russians had access to international media, including American, via satellite and internet.  Ilyana asked the audience to consider the following:  “Who owns your media?  Do these owners have interests?  What are their interests?”

In response to another question on this, Tatyana explained that the New York Times Moscow bureau would periodically come to Crimea to report.  But they would talk only to a few people who represented about 5% of the viewpoint in Crimea, but they portrayed it as though it represented 100%.  “You see, they did not lie, but they distorted.”

One audience member pointed out that our revered NYT had promoted on its front pages what amounted to government-sourced gossip about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that led to a million deaths and the destabilization of an entire region.  He also added a cautionary note about believing unsubstantiated claims of political murders in far-away foreign countries.  “What if someone from another country believed the rumors and gossip about the Clintons being behind the death of Vince Foster and Seth Rich without evidence presented?”

Lena from Yekaterinburg, Russia, speaks at the RMMA event in Walnut Creek, CA on 4/5/18

On the topic of propaganda, Lena stated:  “I don’t think I’m brainwashed.  I live in Russia [and know what it is like there].  I don’t want to leave my country.  But I also have a son here in the U.S. and a grandson and a lovely daughter-in-law.  My heart is with you [America], but it is also with Russia.”

 

Alleged Douma Chemical Attack; Trump’s Threat of Action in Syria Within 24-48 Hours; U.S. Sends 2nd Missile Destroyer to Coast of Syria; Russia Places Military on High Alert

 

This is not the article I originally intended to post today, which had to do with four Russian women visiting a city in the Bay Area and having an exchange with a local audience on Russia and U.S.-Russia relations.  That post will be moved to later in the week.  Due to the grave nature of possible escalations between the U.S. and Russia over an incident that supposedly occurred in the town of Douma in Syria this past weekend, I feel compelled to provide information and analysis on that.

Off-Guardian has provided a good time-line of the alleged chemical attack and contextual events surrounding it, which I excerpt below:

 

  • February-April 2018: The Syrian Arab Army has been making quick, decisive gains on the ground in recent weeks. Eastern Ghouta has all but fallen. Barring foreign intervention, the Syrian government’s victory is now all but assured.

  • March 13th 2018 Russian military command claims US is aiming to strike Damascus on an “invented pretext”. Advises them against it.

  • March 13th 2018 Syrian forces reported finding caches of chemical weapons in labs around liberated areas of Ghouta.

  • March 19th 2018 Russian and Syrian military figures reported they feared the rebels would stage a “false flag” chemical attack in order to drag US/NATO into action in Syria.

  • March 30th 2018 Donald Trump told a crowd at a speech in Ohio – and later repeated in a tweet – that the USA would be pulling out of Syria “very soon.” This is met with consternation in the capital and across the media.

  • April 6th 2018 UNSC meeting convened – at Russian request – to discuss the alleged attack in Salisbury, UK. Every member of the UNSC who spoke was categorical in their condemnation of any use of chemical weapons.

  • Night of April 7th/morning of April 8th…a chemical attack is reported by the US/UK funded “White Helmets”. The US blames Syrian govt. and holds Russia “responsible”.

 

Off-Guardian then proposes some questions that readers should be asking in light of the above time-line.   Read it here:

Douma Chemical Attack: Timeline of facts so far

CommonDreams posted a subsequent article summarizing the Russian government’s publicly stated position about the alleged chemical attack in Douma and its possible use as a casus belli for a U.S./NATO attack on Damascus in the near future which, would threaten Russian personnel stationed there.

Staking out its position ahead of an emergency UN Security Council meeting later in the day, Russian government officials early on Monday are warning the U.S. government and President Donald Trump from direct retaliation or further intervention in Syria following an alleged weekend gas attack outside Damascus that has caused heartbreak and uproar inside the war-torn nation, across the region, and beyond.

While Trump declared Sunday there would be a “big price to pay” for whoever was responsible for Saturday’s attack in the city of Douma—where local aid groups said at least 49 people were killed and footage emerged of people, including young children, who appeared to be victims of a chemical weapon or agent—the Russian foreign ministry responded by warning of “most serious consequences” if the U.S. took military action against the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad before all the facts are known.

In the midst of what foreign policy analyst Phyllis Bennis described to Common Dreams as an “extremely perilous moment” in the region and for global conflict between major powers, the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement that elements of the chemical attack were “fabricated”—suggesting it was a false flag operation perpetrated by rebel militant forces within Syria—and designed to provoke further intervention or a retaliatory strike against Assad’s forces.

“It is necessary to warn again that military intervention under invented and fabricated pretexts in Syria, where at the request of the lawful government there are Russian military personnel, is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to the most serious consequences,” read the statement. “The aim of these false speculations, that have no basis, is to shield the terrorists and the irreconcilable radical opposition, who reject a political solution, at the same time while trying to justify possible armed strikes from outside.”

At a Monday morning press conference, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Russian and Syrian government have been trying to warn the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has been investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, that such an event was likely coming.

“We already had a chance to comment on the current situation before this current situation became reality,” Lavrov told reporters. “Our servicemen staying in the Syrian Arab Republic, ‘on soil,’ repeatedly warned—and the Syrian government also said about it—that a serious provocation is being prepared, aimed at blaming Damascus for the use of a chemical poisoning agent against civilians.”

U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley threatened unilateral action by Washington if the UN Security Council did not act against the Assad government for the unproven accusations against it.

Russia analyst Gilbert Doctorow detailed the response of the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya,  in a recent article :

To anyone watching the UN Security Council “debate” last night it is crystal clear we are in the last days before all hell breaks out. The wall of mutual contempt between Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya and US Ambassador Nikki Haley was on full display. Nebenzya took to pieces the entire argumentation of the US side regarding Douma and the ‘chemical attack.’ He detailed the rebel caches of chemical weapons and equipment for their manufacture that Russian troops have found in recently liberated territory of Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere. He spoke about the past provocations of faked chemical attacks including the one used to justify the US cruise missile launches on the Syrian air base at Sheirat a year ago. He linked the US training and support for terrorists in fabrication of chemical arms to the faked nerve agent attack on the Skripals in the UK, which he described as a vaudeville act. He heaped scorn on Haley for her denying Russia the status of “friend,”  saying that the US has no friends, only sycophants, whereas Russia has genuine friends, and seeks nothing more in relations with the United States than civilized discourse.  In response to this unprecedented denunciation of the USA and its policies of global hegemony, we heard from Nikki Haley the familiar story of how the UN Security Council could now either adopt a US resolution condemning the Assad regime, in effect, or admit its total irrelevance while the US continued on its own unilateral path to resolving the Syrian question.

In the meantime, there are reports of Russia successfully jamming U.S. drones in Syria and Washington sending a second missile destroyer to the Syrian coast to meet up with the USS Donald Cook, which is already there:

The next few days may see already a second US Navy destroyer entering the Mediterranean Sea, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources at the Pentagon.

“The US already has one guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, in the eastern Mediterranean, where it could take part in any strike on Syria, according to US defense officials. A second, the USS Porter could get there in a few days,” the newspaper wrote.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet wrote that Russian warplanes had allegedly buzzed the Donald Cook at least four times, but the report was later denied by the Pentagon.

Newsweek is now reporting that, in response to Washington’s threats, Russia has placed its military on high alert:

 The Russian military has reportedly gone on high alert in anticipation of a potential U.S. attack on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Moscow ally accused of using chemical weapons in a seven-year civil war.

Leading Russian politicians and military officials reacted to President Donald Trump’s promise Monday to respond “forcefully” within “the next 24 to 48 hours” to the Syrian military’s alleged use of toxic gas earlier this week in rebel-held Douma, a suburb of Damascus.

 

Vladimir Shamanov, head of the lower parliamentary house’s defense committee and a former airborne troops commander, said Russia had an obligation to protect its ally. Syria has denied the chemical weapons charges and has called for the U.S. to withdraw from the country.

….ABC News reported Tuesday that the Syrian military deployed missile defense systems near Assad’s presidential palace in Damascus and that the U.S. destroyer was in striking distance of the country. Russian Beriev A-50 early-warning aircraft were deployed to the coast, according to Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency. The elite Black Sea Fleet has declared a state of alert, according to Al Jazeera.