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A counter-productive and murderous gesture: Tillerson’s and McMaster’s reason for missile strike

Tillerson and McMaster explain missile strike as a gesture, which however is more likely to enrage and provoke Moscow than deter Damascus.

Alexander Mercouris

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The US missile strike on Syria’s Sharyat air base provides a good opportunity to compare the sharply different approaches the US and the Russia have to the use of force.

The Russians use force sparingly as an instrument of state policy to advance what they see as their national interests.  Every Russian military endeavour since the end of the Second Word War has been judged and carried out to further some concrete objective of the Russian state.

The Russian intervention in Syria is a case in point.  The Russians intervened in Syria legally – upon the invitation of the legitimate government – and with a clear objective: to preserve the Syrian state and to defeat the various Jihadi terrorist groups operating in Syria.  It is precisely because the Russian intervention in Syria is carefully judged and carried out to further a specific objective that it has up to now been so successful.

By contrast the US all too often seems to undertake military action for frivolous reasons, without thinking through its implications, and without any clear objective other than a desire to look ‘strong’ and ‘tough’.  This happens all the time and the missile strike on Sharyat air base is simply a case in point.

That this so is shown by the inability of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump’s National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster in their joint news conference after the missile strike to come up with any coherent explanation of what it was supposed to achieve.  Essentially they confirmed it was no more than a reprisal raid for the alleged Syrian chemical weapon attack on Khan Sheikhoun, even though no international investigation has established Syria’s guilt, and even though the US was not itself a target of that attack.

In trying to explain the reasons for the raid the best Tillerson could come up with was this

I think the other thing that’s important to recognize — that as Assad has continued to use chemical weapons in these attacks with no response — no response from the international community — that he, in effect, is normalizing the use of chemical weapons, which then may be adopted by others.  So it’s important that some action be taken on behalf of the international community to make clear that these chemical weapons continue to be a violation of international norms.

I think it’s also important to recognize, as I think everyone does, the chaotic circumstances that exist on the ground in Syria, with the presence of a battle underway to defeat ISIS, the presence of al Qaeda elements inside of Syria, and a civil war that is underway.  So, clearly, one of the existential threats we see on the ground in Syria is if there are weapons of this nature available in Syria, the ability to secure those weapons and not have them fall into the hands of those who would bring those weapons to our shores to harm American citizens.

So there are a number of elements that, in our view, called for this action and which we feel was appropriate.  We feel the strike itself was proportional because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical weapons attack

When Tillerson was challenged directly to explain the reasoning more clearly, the result was this chaotic exchange

Q    Can I ask H.R. — sorry — both the Secretary and H.R. McMaster — what is the overriding message here?  Is it that — this is not clearly a declaration of war, but is it that for President Trump and this administration the credible threat of military force is back on the table?  Was this articulated or explained in any way to President Xi prior to the President’s remarks?  And do you see this as in any way sending a message more broadly on your policy towards North Korea that the President is willing to take decisive action?  If both of you would weigh in.

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, I think as you just stated, this clearly indicates the President is willing to take decisive action when called for.  And I think in this particular case, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, which violates a number of international norms and violates existing agreements, called for this type of a response, which is a kinetic military response.

I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today.  There’s been no change in that status.  But I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line, and cross the line on violating commitments they have made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.  I think it is clear that President Trump has made that statement to the world tonight.

Deciphering this muddled language, the attack – which changes nothing in the overall balance of the fighting in Syria, with even the Western media now admitting that the Syrian air force is not only continuing to operate from Sharyat air base but is continuing to bomb Khan Sheikhoun – is being justified as nothing more than a ‘signal’ or ‘gesture’ to President Assad of President Trump’s ‘resolve’ and ‘toughness’ and of his ‘determination’ to stop the Syrians using chemical weapons.  This before any formal investigation has even established that the Syrians have in fact used chemical weapons.

Taking military action to send out a ‘signal’ is just about the worst possible reason to take military action.  Essentially it amounts to taking military action simply as a gesture and because one can.

If the US wanted to send a ‘signal’ to Syria to prevent it using chemical weapons then the first thing it should have done was agree at the UN Security Council a proper international investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun incident to find out whether Syrian really has been using chemical weapons.  If such an investigation – conducted properly and impartially and without pressure – were to conclude that the Syrian military did indeed use chemical weapons during the Khan Sheikhoun attack, then the Russians – who have no interest in having Syria use chemical weapons – would have exercised their influence on Damascus to ensure this never happened again.

Needless to say a warning from Moscow to Damascus would have achieved precisely what is supposed to have been the purpose of the US missile strike – to stop Syria using chemical weapons – and no one need have been killed to achieve it.

Instead by launching a missile strike the US has enraged the Russians and has ensured that instead of warning Damascus they will now take further action to support Syria.  That will of course make the conflict in Syria even more dangerous and more intractable.  It is difficult to see how that can possible serve any conceivable US interest.

This is what happens when military action is taken in such a frivolous and ill thought out way and with no clearly defined objective.  However it is how the US has long since been accustomed to behave, even though this is the primary reason why its various military interventions almost invariably end in failure.

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At Age 70, Time To Rethink NATO

The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via The Unz Review:


“Treaties are like roses and young girls. They last while they last.”

So said President Charles De Gaulle, who in 1966 ordered NATO to vacate its Paris headquarters and get out of France.

NATO this year celebrates a major birthday. The young girl of 1966 is no longer young. The alliance is 70 years old.

And under this aging NATO today, the U.S. is committed to treat an attack on any one of 28 nations from Estonia to Montenegro to Romania to Albania as an attack on the United States.

The time is ripe for a strategic review of these war guarantees to fight a nuclear-armed Russia in defense of countries across the length of Europe that few could find on a map.

Apparently, President Donald Trump, on trips to Europe, raised questions as to whether these war guarantees comport with vital U.S. interests and whether they could pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.

The shock of our establishment that Trump even raised this issue in front of Europeans suggests that the establishment, frozen in the realities of yesterday, ought to be made to justify these sweeping war guarantees.

Celebrated as “the most successful alliance in history,” NATO has had two histories. Some of us can yet recall its beginnings.

In 1948, Soviet troops, occupying eastern Germany all the way to the Elbe and surrounding Berlin, imposed a blockade on the city.

The regime in Prague was overthrown in a Communist coup. Foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell, or was thrown, from a third-story window to his death. In 1949, Stalin exploded an atomic bomb.

As the U.S. Army had gone home after V-E Day, the U.S. formed a new alliance to protect the crucial European powers — West Germany, France, Britain, Italy. Twelve nations agreed that an attack on one would be treated as an attack on them all.

Cross the Elbe and you are at war with us, including the U.S. with its nuclear arsenal, Stalin was, in effect, told. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops returned to Europe to send the message that America was serious.

Crucial to the alliance was the Yalta line dividing Europe agreed to by Stalin, FDR and Churchill at the 1945 Crimean summit on the Black Sea.

U.S. presidents, even when monstrous outrages were committed in Soviet-occupied Europe, did not cross this line into the Soviet sphere.

Truman did not send armored units up the highway to Berlin. He launched an airlift to break the Berlin blockade. Ike did not intervene to save the Hungarian rebels in 1956. JFK confined his rage at the building of the Berlin Wall to the rhetorical: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

LBJ did nothing to help the Czechs when, before the Democratic convention in 1968, Leonid Brezhnev sent Warsaw Pact tank armies to crush the Prague Spring.

When the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa was crushed in Gdansk, Reagan sent copy and printing machines. At the Berlin Wall in 1988, he called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Reagan never threatened to tear it down himself.

But beginning in 1989, the Wall was torn down, Germany was united, the Red Army went home, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the USSR broke apart into 15 nations, and Leninism expired in its birthplace.

As the threat that had led to NATO disappeared, many argued that the alliance created to deal with that threat should be allowed to fade away, and a free and prosperous Europe should now provide for its own defense.

It was not to be. The architect of Cold War containment, Dr. George Kennan, warned that moving NATO into Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics would prove a “fateful error.”

This, said Kennan, would “inflame the nationalistic and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion” and “restore the atmosphere of the cold war in East-West relations.” Kennan was proven right.

America is now burdened with the duty to defend Europe from the Atlantic to the Baltic, even as we face a far greater threat in China, with an economy and population 10 times that of Russia.

And we must do this with a defense budget that is not half the share of the federal budget or the GDP that Eisenhower and Kennedy had.

Trump is president today because the American people concluded that our foreign policy elite, with their endless interventions where no vital U.S. interest was imperiled, had bled and virtually bankrupted us, while kicking away all of the fruits of our Cold War victory.

Halfway into Trump’s term, the question is whether he is going to just talk about halting Cold War II with Russia, about demanding that Europe pay for its own defense, and about bringing the troops home — or whether he is going to act upon his convictions.

Our foreign policy establishment is determined to prevent Trump from carrying out his mandate. And if he means to carry out his agenda, he had best get on with it.

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The ISIS attack in Syria appears to have failed in its real mission

ISIS probably tried to get Mr. Trump to keep troops in Syria, but in reality this attack shows no compelling reason to remain there.

Seraphim Hanisch

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ISIS is one of the bloodiest, most brutal organizations to ever exist in modern history. During its meteoric rise, the “Caliphate” struck with death and fear across the deserts of Iraq and the wastes of Syria, seducing a seemingly increasing number of recruits from the West, developing its own currency and financing abilities, all the while remaining a death cult, in the conviction that their eventual destruction would trigger a far greater Islamic uprising.

But something changed for them starting in about 2013. While ISIS got quietly aided and abetted by President Obama’s (perhaps not unwitting) support through neglect and then even quieter collaboration (Obama thought ISIS could be “managed” in the effort to oust Bashar Al-Assad from Syria), its power and reach extended through much of Syria.

But then came Russia. Russia didn’t think ISIS should be managed. Russia determined that ISIS should be destroyed. And in 2015, invited by Syria, the Russians came and went to work. They did most of the heavy lifting in terms of driving ISIS back, while (inconveniently for the US and West) also carefully taking back Syrian territory from antigovernment groups that were supported by the US and its coalition of forces operating in the country, including Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and all the names it took on afterwards. This was quietly carried out because the Americans also had face to save, owing to Obama’s clumsy decision to send American forces into the country, which gradually grew and metastasized into a significantly sized fighting force.

With an extremely complicated group of alliances and enemies, the American forces were forced to quietly abandon their mission of removing Bashar al-Assad from power and to pivot to actually destroying ISIS. President Trump does deserve some credit for his part in helping this to happen. He also deserves a lot of credit for his recent decision to pull American troops out of Syria.

This move was severely condemned by the US hawks, resulting in the resignation / firing / retirement of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and, in an amusing show of hypocrisy, the pundits from the Anti-Trump crowd at CNN and other news outlets characterized this decision as the US President proving once and for all that he is a Putin operative, a real-life Manchurian President.

ISIS evidently wanted the US not to leave either, so it conducted an attack on Wednesday, January 16th, tragically killing 19 people, with four Americans among the dead. The New York Times was lightning-fast to jump into the fray to carry out what was probably ISIS’ real mission with this attack: to sow seeds of doubt among the US authorities, and to keep American forces in the region (emphasis added).

Four Americans were among 19 people killed in Syria on Wednesday in a suicide bombing that was claimed by the Islamic State, just weeks after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of United States forces and declared that the extremist group had been defeated.

The attack targeted an American military convoy in the northern city of Manbij while troops were inside the Palace of the Princes, a restaurant where they often stopped to eat during patrols, residents said. While the Americans were inside, a nearby suicide attacker wearing an explosive vest blew himself up.

The bombing raised new questions about Mr. Trump’s surprise decision last month to end the American ground war in Syria. Critics of the president’s plans, including members of his own party, said Mr. Trump’s claim of victory over the Islamic State may have emboldened its fighters and encouraged Wednesday’s strike… Mr. Trump’s withdrawal announcement, made over the objections of his top national security officials, “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a prominent Trump ally who has nonetheless criticized the military drawdown.

“I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Mr. Graham said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The rest of the article, of course, had the Trump Administration defending itself, with Vice President Mike Pence as the spokesman of that defense.

However, already only two days later, the noise about this seems to have faded. There is no ongoing media fury about the President’s decision to remove troops. In fact, aside from the ongoing investigation to confirm that ISIS indeed did carry out this attack, there is no indication of a change in the troop withdrawal process.

If this situation remains as it is, it is a very good sign for these reasons:

  1. President Trump is showing his resolve and confidence in a decision he knows to be right (to withdraw) and not to accede to the War Party wishes.
  2. ISIS is losing its reputation as a significant fighting force as far as the US population is concerned, as it probably should. With the US gone, Russia can prosecute this war full force without risk of creating more serious incidents with the Americans.
  3. The possibility exists that this attack, already heinous in what we know, could have been a false flag, designed specifically to provoke the US troop withdrawal to stop and be reversed.

This last scenario has oddly not been visibly mentioned, but it should be, because it probably happened in April 2018 and earlier. The Duran covered this quite extensively, and while the “official” (Western) investigation has come up curiously silent on the alleged chemical weapons attack last April in Ghouta, the overwhelming body of reports from the region suggested that the “gas” attack was nothing at all but drama to keep the US ensnared in the region. Remember, President Trump at that time also expressed the intention of withdrawing US troops from the area, and this event caused a reversal for a time.

ISIS tried to become a nation. It operates on terror and theater, but it considers itself free to kill people along the way as it creates its pageantry. For the souls of all those innocent people who perished in this attack, we must pray and not forget.

But ISIS is substantially done, and what is left will be dealt with by Russian and Syrian forces.

For once, the definition of “American courage” might be not to fight. President Trump’s decision to remove the troops remains one of the most significant achievements of his presidency, and one of the most important in terms of restoring balance to the United States that it deserves to have.

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Trump grounds Nancy Pelosi from taxpayer-subsidized travel

Nancy Pelosi is exhibiting all the maturity of a 14-year-old druggie teenager who just got grounded, only House Speaker Pelosi is 78.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Nancy Pelosi is 78 years old. She is the Democrat Party leader of the House of Representatives, and presently she is Speaker of the House since her party holds the majority of seats there. She is also grounded, like a naughty teenager.

Like a naughty, gossipy teenager, she is bitterly embroiled in a popularity war against another septuagenarian, US President Donald Trump (age 72).

One has to admit that there is a great deal of humor that can be extracted from this. After all, we are taught as kid to “behave like adults.” No doubt The Donald and Mrs. Pelosi were taught this too, probably even more strongly than those of us who are younger.

However, the American media is eager mostly to brand this as a “temper tantrum” of the President, because most of the American media, for some reason, just doesn’t like Mr. Trump. We have noted before here on The Duran the thought experiment surrounding Mr. Trump: “what if he had run as a Democrat, but with the exact same policy set as he has now?”

It is really too bad that it is not possible to see what would happen, but a thinking person can use this thought experiment to discover that most of the sentiment against Mr. Trump is simply because he ran as a Republican.

At any rate, we have a situation where it is being reported by a one-sided media that President Trump is at fault and is being somehow unfair and mean to Mrs. Pelosi. Mrs. Pelosi evidently thinks so too, for after Mr. Trump yanked her travel privileges via taxpayer-paid military transportation, she shot back, claiming that it was in fact President Trump who blew the security for the troops and personnel on this planned trip by announcing a secret trip publicly. CNN reports:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi canceled a planned trip to visit troops in Afghanistan Friday, after — her office alleged in a statement — the White House leaked the details of the congressional delegation’s commercial plane travel.

In the middle of the night, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the President announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

Which, to borrow the parlance of the Internet, is VERY big, if true.

It’s one thing for Trump, as he did on Thursday, to rescind the military plane Pelosi and the rest of her colleagues were planning to fly on as a way of exacting revenge on her for asking the President to delay his planned “State of the Union” speech on January 29. To do so publicly — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out the letter Trump sent to Pelosi — is to raise the stakes. To leak commercial travel plans to make absolutely certain that Pelosi can’t go on the trip is a bridge even further.

Now, to be clear, this is an allegation made by Pelosi without corroboration to date. And, the White House denies it. “When the Speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out,” a White House official told CNN’s Sarah Westwood and Kevin Liptak. “The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat out lie.”

It appears that Mrs Pelosi is copying The New York Times and The Washington Post narrative style of “slander the President, acknowledge somewhere buried in the article that the slanderous charge is unsubstantiated, but get that slander out there so people hear it and read it!”

It is a shoddy attempt for the news media to manipulate its consumers all while “protecting itself” from libel.

The unfortunate fact is that it does work, at least insofar as to galvanize the anti-Trump crowd into a very solid bloc of insanely angry Americans. Further, in using the classic style in which a drug addict or active alcoholic manipulates people to pity him or her, Mrs. Pelosi and the media act like the druggie teenagers arrayed as one against Dear old Dad, who is the only adult in the house.

The White House. But, still.

To put a bit of adult analysis on this story is very simple, but it is honestly not very thrilling. To be honest, it is probably more fun to be like the mainstream media and the Democrats – energized by passion, doing stupid things publicly and getting attention and praise for it.

But here is what appears to be the hard cold boring reality behind this saga.

President Trump is committed to getting a change made in how the United States handles illegal immigration. For decades, the country has been getting slowly infiltrated, if not invaded, by immigrants who at the very least game the welfare and social support mechanisms of various levels of US federal, state and local governments. When people come into the country illegally and go on welfare, taxpayers start paying non-citizens for being here. Taking care of even 100,000 illegal immigrants with such programs is likely to be extremely expensive. Housing, food, healthcare, schooling, legal protection by police… it goes on and on.

But there are not just 100,000 such people here. Last year, the Border Patrol apprehended well over four times that number. 467,000 illegals were apprehended in 2018. Estimates show anywhere from 12 million to 22 million illegals presently living in the United States. While it is certainly doubtful that all of them are gaming the welfare system, they are in the country, unknown, untracked, and not being good citizens by paying taxes and supporting our agreed-upon infrastructure and services the same way that American citizens are.

That is a huge money drain.

Add to that the drugs that do flow across the Mexican border, a fair infusion of criminals like murderers and rapists, and the possibility of terrorists making use of the open border to infiltrate the US and the situation becomes both costly and dangerous.

This is why President Trump wants to change it with a barrier running the length of the US-Mexico border.

While it is unlikely that all 2,000 miles need to have a wall, we certainly need more of a barrier than what we have now, and the barriers that DO exist are extremely successful in cutting the flow of illegals. From the high point of 2000, immigration apprehensions have on the whole fallen by quite a bit. This chart shows the track through 2016.


But our 467,000 apprehensions is an enormous number – larger than the population of the city of Long Beach, California! 

This is an enormous number, but it is far lower than the 1.6 million that got caught before the existing barriers were built. This is also the number of illegals that were caught. We do not know how many were not caught.

Now, President Trump begins to look like the adult in the room, because he wants to fix this, bringing the numbers down much closer to zero, and also finding a way to vet and interview immigrants that truly can contribute to the US dream as Americans. So, as part of creating a real border security apparatus, he wants to extend and even complete the Border Wall. It is not very expensive – even a $50 billion price tag is only about 1.3% of the bloated federal budget this year, and President Trump thinks the wall can be finished with half that amount. At this time, he is only asking for about $5 bn.

And all Nancy Pelosi will say is “no!” So, like a good parent, the President refuses to reward such behavior by giving her what she wants. Now there is a partial government shutdown. President Trump took it on himself, but he is correct. He is doing this because the Democrats are doing this childish druggie routine. And he cannot reward this behavior.

Pelosi and her loyal sidekick Senator Charles Schumer are like a clique of druggie kids in the class, disrupting everything by commanding some attention. But it seems they are gradually losing it, and the government remains shut down. However, they wanted to act like it is Trump’s fault, so Nancy Pelosi was trying to do “business as usual” and go to Afghanistan for whatever reason (do they want her?).

And the President said, “hey, not so fast. You have a partially closed government, and I have been here every day waiting for you to negotiate a deal. You have to be nuts to think this shutdown is not going to affect you, so you cannot use our military transportation while the government is shut down. It is only fair.”

Now who is looking like the bratty teenager?

For some people who read articles like this, the answer will probably still be “President Trump.”

But maybe if they put down the cannabis and the booze and read facts for a change, their heads will clear up and they will come to see what the rest of properly thinking people have already seen.

In this feud, there is an adult in the room. And he is having to manage the childish behavior of a woman six years older than he is.

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