I'll publish a fuller update on this the 2nd annual Groundhog Day in Syria once all the results are in. The way it looks now is as follows:
• US/UK lobbed twice as many missiles as last year.
• Just as last year, most of the missiles fell in the sea or got shot down by Syrian air defenses (using Soviet-era weapons).
• One of the more significant targets was, once again, a military airfield; however, this time all of the missiles that targeted it were intercepted.
• Russian facilities and air defense sectors in Syria were not targeted.
• The US had apparently begged and pleaded with the Russians not to retaliate, and had received some assurances, allowing them to leave their
• The pretext was another certifiably fake chemical weapons provocation in Gouta, which was about to be inspected and certified as fake by experts from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; hence the rush to shoot first (and refuse to ask questions later).
• This year's attack, being a virtual repeat of last years, is even more pathetic and idiotic, and more evidence that the US and the UK are being run by mental defectives. Plus it has a distinct whiff of desperation and sour grapes: the US has lost Syria.
Meanwhile, here's last year's appraisal. It really seems close enough as is; just some figures will need minor adjustment.
When listening to people you shouldn’t necessarily trust (because, for instance, they are known to be liars) it is very important to try to assess whether or not they are lying. And so it is with the representatives of the US government and their counterparts in the EU: they have lied about a great many things in the past; are they lying about Syria now? They lied about the Gulf of Tonkin and used these lies to start the Vietnam war. They lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and used that to justify the invasion of Iraq. They lied about humanitarian disasters in Kosovo and in Libya, and used these to dismember Serbia and to destroy Libya. And so a good, conservative starting point is to assume that the Americans are lying, then search for evidence that would indicate that this time they might be telling the truth. Let’s take a close look.
At a meta level, lying is often a question of demeanor. Those who are telling the truth tend to weigh the evidence, attempting to reconcile contradictory facts, because there always are a few such facts. The truth about any incident is almost always a bit messy, especially in the early days, before all the facts are in. On the other hand, those who are lying generally make a big effort to keep their stories straight.
Then there is the question of timing: if the story becomes “known” almost immediately after an event, and never changes no matter how much contradictory evidence comes to light, there is a very good chance that it is a lie. If, on the other hand, it emerges gradually, in the course of a painstaking investigation and careful sifting and weighing of the evidence, there is a good chance that it’s the truth. It is particularly awkward if the story leaks out prior to the event itself, or so soon after that the various mouthpieces, who start telling the exact same story using the exact same words and phrases, had no time to consult each other. In this latest supposed chemical weapons attack in Syria, EU’s foreign policy figurehead Federica Mogherini went public with her condemnation of it rather soon after it transpired—perhaps too soon to give her time to verify the facts. Did she simply get a memo from the US State Department containing her talking points? How many decades will we have to wait before this information is declassified? Let’s hope that a nice Russian hacker will oblige and liberate it beforehand, and that Wikileaks will publish it.
It is also a bit awkward if the supposedly spontaneous response to an event required preparations that had to have started prior to the event itself. For instance, preparations for the US invasion of Afghanistan started before 9/11. Another example: after the Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, a group of hackers called CyberBerkut published information that showed several henchmen of the Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky conspiring to fix media coverage of the event before it transpired. In this latest incident, several military experts have chimed in to say that the operation involving firing Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase had to have been planned beforehand; there was simply no way to make it happen on a moment’s notice. There was another strange coincidence: ISIS went on attack immediately after the incident in Idlib, and massed attacks are never impromptu. Who gave ISIS advance warning?
Lastly, it is rather awkward when a new lie bears an uncanny resemblance to an old lie. This supposed chemical weapons event did have a certain Groundhog Day quality to it: it was almost an exact replica of the supposed chemical weapons attack that had led Syria to voluntarily give up its chemical weapons stockpile. Exactly how many times is it possible to make a country give up its chemical weapons and certify it as free of them? Twice? Three times? At what point does the entire process turn into a farce?
But back to the story: the current story being told and retold about Syria is that the Syrian air force used chemical weapons against women and children in the Idlib province. It was first told immediately after the event, based on no investigation whatsoever. No evidence was collected, no lab tests, nothing. There are, however, certain facts that do not fit this story. First, Syria had surrendered all of its chemical weapons to international inspectors, and the US paid to have them destroyed. The people in charge of that operation were even awarded a Nobel peace prize for their efforts; will this prize now be recalled, seeing as they appear to have failed? Second, it is known that the so-called “Syrian rebels” (or “moderate terrorists,” if you like) do have chemical weapons and the ability to make them. Although Western media was careful not to report on this, they have used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. It is interesting to ask where they got them; according to Seymour Hersh, they got them from Libya, along with other weapons, with Hillary Clinton’s help.
Third, there is no evidence that chemical weapons were indeed used. What has been shown so far, as far as “evidence” goes, was White Helmets (an organization known for staging fake atrocities) rushing to the scene and fussing over some dead children who, we are expected to believe, died from Sarin gas poisoning. The actors wearing the white helmets were not wearing proper masks or gloves while handling supposed chemical attack victims. We are therefore within our rights to inquire as to these actors’ time of death, and when and where burial services will take place, in case we wish to pay our respects, because by now they would all be dead of Sarin poisoning.
Finally, if we look carefully at the photographs of the children who were the supposed victims of a Sarin gas attack, in several of them we can observe evidence of blunt trauma to head or neck. We are therefore within our rights to inquire as to the time and manner in which that trauma occurred. Did the White Helmets knock them off with blows from a rifle butt, then posed them as chemical attack victims for a photo op? Sarin gas does not cause contusions.
Since there is no actual evidence that a chemical attack took place, or that the Syrian government is complicit in it if it did take place, we need to fall back on the standard technique used to assess circumstantial evidence of a crime: establishing means, motive and opportunity. We must certainly grant that opportunity did exist: Syrian jets did bomb the area at the time, specifically targeting a munitions dump, which could have contained chemical weapons, and the Syrian government did not deny any of this. But we can’t say that the Syrians had the means without contradicting a great many people who stated unequivocally and on the record that Syria no longer possesses any chemical weapons.
Most convincing of all is the absolute, complete lack of motive. To the contrary, the Syrians were very much motivated to not do anything to disrupt the process of settling their civil war through diplomacy just as it was showing signs of starting to work. The Syrian government had largely won the war and had no reason to resort to such desperate measures. On the other hand, the “moderate terrorists,” who are at this point very close to being wiped out, had every reason to try such a desperate stunt, hoping that it would somehow turn the tide in their favor, or at least delay the inevitable.
Based on all of the above, I believe that we are justified in accepting as a working hypothesis the following: the supposed Syrian chemical weapons attack in Idlib is a false flag, quite possibly a fake false flag. Perhaps chemical agents were released into the air; perhaps not. Only lab test results on soil samples can tell us that. Perhaps children died of poisoning, or perhaps they died from being bludgeoned so that they could be posed as victims of a chemical attack; only an autopsy can tell.
Now, whereas the truth can be helpful or damaging, and can be put to various purposes, it is rarely purposeful in and of itself, a lie is often concocted to achieve a specific result. As I mentioned, this particular lie was clearly not designed to help the Syrian government. On the other hand, it could be said to have helped the “moderate terrorists,” who are currently in dire straits. But they are bit players in this drama. It seems strange to assume that a few foreign mercenaries can dictate the direction of US foreign policy or military strategy; it takes a bigger tail than that to wag such a big dog.
But is this a matter of US foreign policy or military strategy, we need to ask, or is it something else entirely? So far, the military action was as follows. The US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from two ships in the Mediterranean off Syria’s coast. These cruise missiles cost $1.8 million apiece, for a total price tag just over $100 million. But that’s just the cost of the ordnance; the operation as a whole, including the planning, probably cost closer to $300 million, and if you include the cost of the planning and all of the other associated activities, it is likely to have exceeded half a billion.
Only 23 of the 59 Tomahawks reached the target area, meaning that $60 million of ordnance was in effect simply tossed overboard. The fact that over 60% of these very expensive missiles are basically duds is not exactly celebratory for the mighty US military. We can be quite sure that none of them were shot down by either Syrian or Russian air defense systems. The Syrians currently lack the capability to shoot down these cruise missiles. The Russians do have the capability, but the air defense systems they currently have in place in Syria cover just the area around their airbase in Khmeimim and their naval base at Tartus. These two locations are hundreds of kilometers away from the target area and the curvature of the earth would have prevented them from tracking or targeting missiles flying at an altitude of 50 meters. Thus, it is safe to assume that more than half of the Tomahawks simply fell out of the sky.
The intent of the attack was to thwart the Syrian government in using their air force to bomb civilians using chemical weapons which, according to US officials, don’t exist. To this end, the target was a Syrian military airfield. Interestingly, the attack targeted the wrong end of a rather long airfield, which wasn’t being used. It appears that most of the missiles exploded quite harmlessly. A few of them hit things that could be considered targets: a mess hall, a radar installation, and six elderly Mig-23 jets. These jets are over 30 years old and were quite unlikely to have been in active use. Their value is barely $100,000 each, for a grand total of $600,000. The Syrian airbase was back in business less than 24 hours later, resuming flying sorties against ISIS.
Thus, in military terms, the US squandered half a billion to inflict perhaps a million dollars’ worth of damage on the Syrians. That is 0.2% efficiency—more of a self-inflicted defeat than a victory, and definitely not something to brag about. In tesponse the Russians have announced that the deconfliction protocol they agreed with the US, which allowed US planes to fly safely over Syrian territory, is no longer in effect. Now the Americans will either have to be cleared through Damascus ATC, or they are targets to be shot down. The Russians also said that they will beef up Syrian air defenses. They do have the technical ability to completely seal off Syrian airspace, fulfilling Hillary Clinton’s promise to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, except now it will be the Americans that won’t be flying there. It also bears noting that Russian military doctrine avoids exclusive reliance on air defense systems. In the normal course of events, if a US vessel started firing Tomahawks at a Russian target, that vessel would be taken out of commission some time between firing the first and the second Tomahawk by a Russian supercavitating torpedo. Thus, it is generally inadvisable to put Russian air defenses to the test.
Damaging as that is, the political damage is perhaps even more significant. There was resounding international condemnation of the US attack, which the self-important Americans are likely to regard as just noise, but there was also ridicule: Bolivia’s UN ambassador, speaking at the UN Security Council, held up a picture of Colin Powell holding up a vial of white powder as a poignant reminder that the Americans have a rich history of setting their pants on fire. Having demonstrated that they can no longer bully countries into submission, the Americans have no cards left to play either militarily or diplomatically. Since the attack on Syria took place without the appropriate UN Security Council resolution, the US is now a rogue state—and an impotent one at that. Who in the world would want to negotiate with such an unreliable, untrustworthy partner?
And so we have to conclude that this lie was not fashioned to help the US internationally. Was it useful to the US domestically, then? Politically, the attack on Syria took place without the authorization from Congress required by the US constitution, but that’s not particularly interesting, since the US constitution is by now about as effective as an old copy of Pravda in an abandoned Siberian outhouse. Militarily, demonstrating that 60% of Tomahawk missiles are duds is not exactly on strategy for the military-industrial complex. Trying to shut down an airbase by targeting the wrong end of a runway and blowing up some old junk is not exactly on strategy for the US “intelligence community” either.
In fact, it appears that there is exactly one person this lie was designed to benefit, and that person is Donald Trump. There are five distinct ways in which he has benefited from this entire fiasco—the dead children, the relentless lying in public, the Tomahawk duds and the international fallout.
First, he has shaken off the allegation that he has colluded with the Russians by demonstrating his extreme belligerence against a Russian ally. The entire Russian “election meddling” charge is preposterous but is damaging to him nevertheless. The US has a pay-to-play political system where the voters are used as pawns in a delicately gerrymandered scheme. It uses a fine-tuned divide-and-conquer algorithm to determine which set of Washington/Wall Street insiders gets into office. But in case of Trump’s election victory this system misfired badly. It appears that the voters have finally decided that they aren’t going to vote for any more Washington/Wall Street insiders no matter what. The establishment’s face-saving solution was to blame Russia.
Now, this may seem strange at first. It is not as if foreign powers aren’t allowed to meddle in US politics. Israel practically owns most of Congress through AIPAC—but don’t say that too loudly or you’ll be called an Antisemite. The Saudis financed a huge chunk of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign. Even some shady Ukrainian oligarchs got to throw a few million dollars at the Clintons. Lots of other foreign powers apply leverage to the US political establishment in a wide variety of ways. The Russians are actually the exception. Where are the Russian lobbyists? Where are the bags of Russian cash being thrown at American politicians? There are just the allegations of “hacking” and “trolling,” all entirely unsubstantiated. The reason “blame Russia” actually works is, strangely enough, that Russia is blameless—and is therefore safe to blame without running the danger of uncovering some nest of corruption within the US political establishment. Since this tactic works on the level of words and gestures, Trump’s grand gesture of blowing up a handful of elderly Migs in Syria is enough to “prove” that he is not “Putin’s poodle.”
Second, Trump has succeeded in dramatically lowering the expectations as far as any negotiations with Russia are concerned. During his election campaign he promised that he would normalize relations with Russia. But it is difficult to deliver on this promise because the Russians have developed a distinctly anti-American stance, given such recent developments as the US-led government overthrow in Kiev, NATO warmongering in Eastern Europe, US and EU sanctions against Russia, the constant demonization of Russia and of Putin personally in Western media and numerous other slights and insults, such as the banning of Russian Special Olympics contestants from international competition. Improving relations with Russia would require the US to take a long list of actions to which the US establishment would not consent, and even then Americans need to understand that Russia is just not that into them any more. With US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heading over to Moscow, it would have been awkward for him to come back empty-handed. But now that the US has bombed a Syrian airbase and has publicly accused Russia of “colluding” with the “Assad regime,” Tillerson is just going to have some nice dinner at a Moscow restaurant with Maria Zakharova, the bright and personable Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, perhaps exchange some pleasantries with Sergei Lavrov, and hop right back on the plane. Problem solved!
Third, the fiasco with the Tomahawks took place while Trump was meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping and completely overshadowed Xi’s visit, thus saving Trump from the embarrassing lack of anything tangible that Xi’s visit achieved. Having trumpeted loudly about being a great dealmaker, it would have been rather awkward for him to admit that all he can do is waste important people’s time by making smalltalk at a golf course. Can someone please do something about North Korea? Not unless you don't mind turning Seoul into a cratered wasteland! Also, there is a good chance that Xi told Trump to his face that the US is no longer the most powerful and influential country in the world—China is—and nothing like that could be allowed to leak into the public consciousness in the US.
Fourth, Trump has managed to herd the warmongers within the US establishment, who have been pushing for a full-scale war in Syria for some time now, into a cul de sac of their own creation. Now their war planning has to account for the fact that they can’t operate in Syria without triggering a wider international conflict. Simple questions, such as “How much damage will there be?”, “How much will this cost?” and “How long will it take?” will be enough to keep them bogged down in the planning stage. As they struggle in vain to find plausible answers to these questions, Trump can preen and posture, declaring loudly that “something must be done,” then adding sotto voice that the costs have to be reasonable, the potential damage contained, and it better be over by the next election.
Fifth, this event seems to have given this rather unlikely—and unlucky—White House occupant a new lease on political life. Trump’s presidency, only a few months old, is circling the drain. Repeal of Obamacare has failed, his tax reform plan appears to be dead on arrival, there is deafening silence on the subject of raising the debt limit, which is what is required to avoid a government shutdown this summer, and his infrastructure development plans are nowhere near being realized. Even his notorious wall along the Mexican border remains purely conceptual. His approval rating, already abysmal, was falling further and further as he battled forlornly against a rabidly hostile Washington establishment. But now, thanks to this Syrian incident, his standing with the atrocious miscreants who populate this establishment seems to have improved somewhat while his former supporters among the general population recoil in disgust. Of course, no one knows how long this bounce will last, or whether his supporters will ever forgive him.
In all, this event, though minor, casts an unflattering light on the current state of the erstwhile American global hegemon: militarily impotent, diplomatically an object of derision and ridicule, politically dysfunctional and internally conflicted, economically and financially precarious and led by a ridiculous buffoon who can’t stop himself from blowing up everything and everyone around him, including himself. Mind you, the US is still quite dangerous, but at this point it is dangerous mainly to itself.