On Friday last week, as President Donald Trump was serving roast duck to Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Florida mansion Mar-a-Lago, two US destroyers in the Med were launching Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase in Syria; this being a response to the alleged use of sarin gas to kill about 80 people in the town of Khan Shaykhun by the Assad regime on the 4th April.
As The Donald chatted with the Chinese delegation he must have looked like a real bad boy as news of the saturation bombing broke. Negotiations probably went extra smoothly after that.
Trump ordering the strike on Syria has disappointed his supporters who thought the whole point of electing him was to get America away from involvement in Middle Eastern wars, but at the same time has cheered Hillary supporters who like to see shock and awe – from a safe distance.
So why did Trump do it?
Conspiracy theories abound. Did the neo-cons somehow get to him? Fingers are pointing at his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Is Kushner running a Zionist agenda to destabilise the region? Is Trump blind to this?
Probably not. Let us not forget in the days after the 4th April the news was full of pictures of gassed children. Trump was under pressure to “do something”. Trump must know what most of us suspect: that the Syrian regime did not use the chemical weapons. Assad had absolutely no reason to use gas on the town of Khan Shaykhun and Assad would have known how the world would react if he did.
Both Assad and the Russians, who are on the ground there in strength, claim that a regime airstrike on a warehouse being used by ISIS inadvertently released the gas that ISIS were storing there. This is far more likely than Assad deciding he needed to kill 80 civilians for no obvious reason.
So what was Trump to do? Do nothing and suffer the media onslaught for letting children get gassed, or respond with force and play into the hands of the neo-cons who want all countries adjacent to Israel reduced to rubble. Answer – put on a fireworks show.
Officially 59 cruise missiles were launched, that’s a rather odd number so most likely 60 were supposed to launch – 30 from each destroyer – probably one failed in the tube. Officially, one fell in the sea and the other 58 hit the airbase.
But the Russians, who are operating out of the airbase themselves, were warned ahead of time, since if Trump had killed any Russians Putin would have responded badly and of course the Russians told the Syrians as the Americans knew they would. Net result, when the cruise missiles arrived there was almost no-one there. The planes had mainly gone of course, and most of the staff as well. And what is amazing is that there was only a tiny amount of damage: a few hours after the attack flying operations resumed from the airbase, neither runway having been put out of use. It looks like the missiles had much reduced warheads.
It is interesting to note that the Russian observers claimed that only 23 missiles reached the base, the other 36 mainly landing harmlessly in the dessert, although nine civilians, including children, were killed in the nearby village of Shayrat.
So what Trump has done is pacify the American media while at the same time inflicting next to no damage on the Syrian regime. He has also given Putin a pretext to talk tough and say if this happens again Israel will be attacked directly. That pretty much guarantees it won’t happen again.
The net result is that Trump looks bad ass, the neo-cons have gained nothing, and Putin has been gifted the moral high ground, possibly a little thank you for all the election email hacking. Any apparent Trump vs Putin aggro is just acting. They’ll probably have a good laugh about it at the next G8.
This blog's verdict: Trump wins again.