It has been rather hard to find any positive headlines in the international press on Donald Trump leading up to and even after his election as president. In the US, such a thing can only occur when a disobedient president, who resists the pro-war bipartisan consensus, finally buckles and does what he is told.
Finally, on Friday night, the ranks of Republican neocons and Democrat liberal hawks, the two tactically divergent flavours of the same war party, were finally satisfied in their hysterical calls for military action. The president, as part of his competencies under the Syria Accountability Act (decided in 2003!), violating international law once again, took military action against Syria in what appears to be 180-degree shift from a stance taken only a few days before, which was not to insist on the departure of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The reason, we were told, after being simultaneously flooded with multi-million click Facebook videos of dying children by NGOs, was a sarin attack by the demonic butcher Assad, who apparently is mad enough to risk a war that he has been winning for months. Of course, there was no question of leaving time for an independent investigation or discussion on that front. We already know the format from previous attempts to use weapons of mass destruction as a pretext to launch preventive and ‘humanitarian’ R2P action: in light of the horrors, there must be no thinking or hesitation—action must be taken.
And finally, who would have thought, there would be such approval, from the New York Times’ and Washington Posts, and even the Clinton Democrats. And there goes the ‘anti-war president’, who had promised less US interference in foreign affairs, a weakening of Syria’s al Qaida opposition, more democratic process, and the glimmer of hope for a return to the normality of international law. And yes, although often overlooked by a complacent Left fixated on societal issues, there was a part of the electorate that sincerely voted against Hillary Clinton and her clientele of hysterical anti-Russian ‘liberal hawks’, for whom a continuation of cowboy-style brinkmanship politics to destabilise Syria, and therefore an increasingly direct confrontation with all of the other international powers involved in the conflict (Russia, Iran, China), was perceived as inevitable. It seemed with Donald Trump that perhaps here was a political leader who might give peace a shot, opening diplomatic channels to Russia—the only military power that can defy the United States, and finally, even if only for a while, being firm about cutting support for the hordes of jihadists unleashed and supported by an alliance of Western powers, the Wahhabist Arab monarchies, Israel and Turkey.
How, then, can we explain Donald Trump starting to literally torpedo all of his prior efforts to find an agreement with Russia, and for peace in Syria? We shall not even consider the childish explanation that the chemical attacks, whose origin no one tried seriously to determine, has anything to do with this change of heart. But what is the reason then? Was it the departure of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council only a day prior to the strikes that tipped the scales in favour of giving in to the war lobby? Clearly irreconcilable contradictions within the administration have been basic to its formation: could there really ever have been a middle ground between Goldman Sachs free-trade adherents and protectionism, between anti-war libertarians and pro-Zionists and imperialists? Are we currently merely witnessing the scales being tipped against the option of a rollback of the US empire?
Or, as some have suggested, are the military strikes just an innocuous concession to Washington’s war hawks, a piece of theatre to silence the constant attacks portraying Trump as a Russian puppet and weak president? After all, is Syria not in possession of some of the world’s most powerful, modern and efficient anti-ballistic weaponry, the Russian-delivered S-300 and S-400 aerial defences, that should have been triggered automatically and caused at least some damage to the fleet of Tomahawks, all fired in one big gesture on a quasi-empty airfield of the Syrian army near Homs? Only the next days will show whether Trump will slide deeper into an escalating war posture, in the tradition of the previous administration, which constantly reversed its commitments, or finally start to honour international agreements.
But even if the strikes have only been a carefully crafted diplomatic gesture, such a move is still a gamble. Trump still risks losing the support of, even alienating, some of his most vocal and ardent supporters from the libertarian Right, who perceived him as the anti-war candidate. Furthermore, if the past is any indication, Washington’s elites are not going to be any less insistent in their opposition because Trump made a concession: if anything they will interpret his move as weakness. Meanwhile, his manoeuvre risks weakening trust in a transparent foreign policy and continues the shady legacy of 4th-generation warfare psy-ops, and bold and erratic moves for which the US is known outside of the Western bubble.
Whatever occurs in the next days, give any such scenario, it is deeply worrying that Washington’s pro-war elite, with its barbaric and brutal fervour, even if only symbolically, has imposed its will and values once again on a world yearning for peace, and for a Washington that might finally show some restraint in international affairs.
And nothing else is to be expected: Structurally, even if the US is disturbed by recent advances in Russian weapons technology defying some of its most precious assets, its military remains the most powerful, most numerous, and most widely distributed in the world, and even a truly dovish President would have little chances to impose himself against the fanaticism of Washington’s elites to brutally play this asset in the pursuit of its policy objectives.