Syria war danger: The time to resist is now
A cruise missile targeting Syria is fired from a U.S. Navy ship in April 2017. | Robert S. Price / U.S. Navy via AP

Trump promised missiles would fall on Syria. For once, he kept his word. The time to resist is now. — Editors

Missiles “will be coming.” That’s the threat of President Donald Trump this morning in response to claims that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad deployed chemical weapons in the Islamist rebel-held town of Douma over the weekend. His warning seemed to be aimed more at Moscow than Damascus, however, with his tweet proclaiming Russia should “Get ready,” because his missiles are “nice and new and ‘smart!’” Trump’s militaristic threats and reckless boasting set the stage for a major new U.S. attack in the Middle East and increase the danger of a much larger international conflict. Needless to say, such warmongering must be resisted.

The details of what exactly happened in Douma are still incomplete, to say the least. Medical groups that operate in rebel territory allege that at least 43 people were killed and 500 more injured, exhibiting signs of exposure to chemical agents. The World Health Organization is demanding access to the area in order to verify the claims, but it still can’t get inspectors into the region. Russia, Syria’s ally, says it sent a team of investigators and found claims of a chemical attack bogus. With U.S. bombs now likely to fall at any time, proof of any use of chemical weapons may very soon be hard to come by.

The lack of hard evidence of what happened and who was responsible is not deterring Trump, though. He has cancelled his planned trip to the Summit of the Americas in Peru and Secretary of Defense Gen. “Mad Dog” Mattis has cancelled a trip to San Francisco in order to stay in Washington. A “coalition” is apparently being assembled, including France and the U.K., to take action against Syria within “24 or 48 hours.” There are reports from London, though, that even Prime Minister Theresa May is asking Trump for more proof.

A Syrian chemical weapons attack at this time makes no sense—militarily or politically. Government troops were on the verge of routing the forces of Jaysh al-Islam, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that held Douma and surrounding areas. The rebels were already on the run, so why use gas now? The fact that such alleged chemical attacks seem to repeatedly occur just as Syrian troops are about to secure victory against Western-backed forces should raise a few eyebrows.

Truth, as the old saying goes, is always the first casualty of war. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin? Iraqi WMDs? Create a pretext, then take action before anyone can prove or disprove what happened.

Regardless of whatever truly transpired in Douma, it is undeniable that the shifting of attention toward Syria could not come at a more convenient time for Trump. The office of his personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has just been raided by federal prosecutors, who reportedly hauled off documents related to campaign finance violations and other possible misdeeds. The Mueller investigation seems to be closing in on the president more everyday, and former FBI Director James Comey’s tell-all book is due out within a week. The trade war with China is not going at all as planned, with Trump-voting farm states being hit particularly hard by new tariffs. And now, in a sign that Republican hopes of holding onto Congress in November must be quite grim, Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has decided to jump ship rather than go down with the crew.

With so many bad headlines swirling, what better time could there be for a new war?

Israel already fired the opening shots with its air raid on Syria a few days ago, but now it’s Trump’s turn to get in the game. The sudden move toward military action in the Middle East and the saber-rattling toward Russia seem like so many signs of a classic distraction operation. Don’t look here. Look over there.

Trump likely hopes that brandishing U.S. firepower abroad will mute criticisms of him at home. Get the TV talking heads to rattle on about how he stuck to the chemical weapons “red line” that President Barack Obama supposedly failed to enforce and to stop speculating about hush money paid to porn stars.

But there are bigger things at stake in this geopolitical game than the legal troubles of the president. The domination of U.S. imperialism in the oil-rich Middle East, seemingly so secure when George W. Bush launched his Iraq invasion in 2003, is increasingly challenged. Iran refuses to kowtow to Washington, and Russia is rebuilding its own network of alliances in the region after decades of absence.

The strategic interests of American capitalism are on the line, and voices not typically seen as friendly to Trump are jumping aboard the war wagon with him. The Washington Post, owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos—who is running his own Middle East business offensive in U.S.-allied states (and Syria foes) like the U.A.E. and Bahrain—is beating the drums of war louder than perhaps any other mainstream media outlet.

President Donald Trump, second from right, meets with the “war cabinet” at the White House in Washington, April 9, 2018. In addition to military leaders, also present were Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, Vice President Mike Pence, and National Security Advisor John Bolton. | Susan Walsh / AP

Telling Trump that “a few cruise missiles” won’t get the job done, the newspaper encourages the president to take advantage of the “capture of U.S. and allied forces of a large part of eastern Syria” and “stabilize” the country. The whole affair will be rather cheap, The Post says, “a tiny fraction of the tens of billions spent on reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

When it comes to the Mueller investigations, Trump may have no greater media enemy than Bezos’ Post, but the needs of empire make the strangest of bedfellows.

A war in Syria would be the first act of the new “war cabinet” that Trump has assembled, with unreconstructed neocon John Bolton leading the charge. For Bolton and those like him in the Washington military establishment, regime change in countries such as Iraq, Iran, and Syria has long been a major goal. Unilateralism and military might, not diplomacy and collective action, are their preferred strategies. Bombing Syria may well prove to be the opening salvo in a wider war with Iran, something long pushed by Bolton and strongly supported by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E.

While Syrians will pay the cost of war with their lives, we in the United States could end up paying for it with our democracy. A major military campaign now will make it much easier for Trump to attempt to fire Mueller, quash the latter’s investigation, bring back outrageous actions like the Muslim ban, and initiate a new wave of deportations under the justification of “national security.” And of course there will be the financial costs paid in terms of funds that could have gone to schools, health care, and other social needs. As Rev. William Barber has said, “Disadvantaged communities here and abroad pay the highest price for militarism.”

With military strikes against Syria a near certainty within the coming days (or even hours) and Russia pledging to retaliate if its soldiers are in danger, activists across the United States must begin organizing for immediate anti-war demonstrations, call-ins to legislators, and more. The urgency of activating the peace sentiments of the American people as part of a broad-based resistance is apparent. We encourage our readers to be key players in that effort. The time is now.


People’s World Editorial Board
People’s World Editorial Board

People’s World Editorial Board: Editor-in-Chief John Wojcik, Managing Editor C.J. Atkins, Social Media Editor Chauncey K. Robinson, Senior Editor Roberta Wood, Senior Editor Joe Sims, Copy Editor Eric A. Gordon, Washington D.C. Bureau Chief Mark Gruenberg