By Laksiri Fernando
The images emerged from Khan Sheikhoun in Syria and some unconfirmed reports indicate to possible chemical weapon use or sarin gas disposal in the alleged attacks on 4 April in the rebel held area in Idlib, North Western Syria. The images were most gruesome, babies and young children dying suffocated and in immense pain and suffering. The death toll is counted as 80 altogether. This was among hundreds and thousands of people who have died in this gruesome war in the Middle East. The images were similar to what have been emerging from the drought stricken Somalia and elsewhere in Africa where children were dying of hunger and sickness. There were no obviously direct ‘attacks or responsibilities’ other than the drought. The death toll however was counted in hundreds or even thousands throughout years without any national or international solution.
War and hunger due to poverty are two scourges that haunts the present world otherwise boasted about globalization, neo-liberalism and innovative technology. One advantage of technology however is the difficulty of the powers that be to hide the facts for too long although information is still distorted or presented in biased manner.
Suspects and Accusations
Bashar al-Assad and his brutal regime in Syria are the natural suspects for the recent chemical attack. Admittedly the regime indulged in such attacks in 2013 and even after agreeing for independent international monitoring and investigation, there are three reported cases of some chemical use in the ongoing civil war. Therefore, the Syrian regime can be the first suspect.
However, the opposition groups are not innocent spectators. The former Australian PM, Tony Abbot, once characterized the civil war as a ‘war between baddies and baddies.’ Apart from Russia supporting the Assad regime, quite openly, there are several opposition groups directly and indirectly supported by America and several Western countries or their affiliates. They only have an agreement (yet unclear) to fight against the ISIS. The Army of Conquest that controls the Idlib area is supported by Saudi Arabia. There is no secret about it. Like the Assad regime, Saudi Arabia is also playing a brutal role in the Syrian civil war.
In the above context, the American President, Donald Trump’s reaction to the Sheikhoun chemical attack cannot be considered completely humanitarian or guided by his conscience alone. Even if he had firm information that the attack was conducted by Assad’s orders, which is overwhelmingly doubtful, he should not have ordered immediate missile strikes, without going before the UN Security Council first, which could have been called within hours. His excuse can be similar to America launching the Iraq war on the claim that Saddam Hussein was holding weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
What is the point in having the Security Council, if a super power, however powerful it is, could take unilateral decisions on matters that do not directly affect its own security?
If Assad has attacked America, it is completely a different story. The timing of his missile strike is also politically significant. It was during the ever important visit of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping to America and having dinner with the President himself. It was a symbol of coercion. Although it was reported that the President Jinping expressed that he understands the situation, that is a Chinese or an Asian way of biting the bullet.
Now America has dropped a GBU-43 bomb in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border in the Nangarhar province, quite unrelated to any of the incidents and only to show its military might. This is considered ‘the mother of all bombs’ only second to a nuclear bomb. Still the civilian casualties are not known. It is speculated that symbolic message this time is against North Korea or even China.
President Bashar al-Assad has personally denied any chemical weapon use in Sheikhoun at a AFP interview, claiming it could be a 100 percent fabrication. His view cannot easily be ignored, although he can be the first accused. When the Western powers (America, UK, France) moved a resolution in the Security Council on the issue, even after a missile punishment, purpose was to denounce the alleged chemical use and not to independently investigate the alleged incident. This is the kind of international justice that is emerging in the new Trump era. It is now revealed that Trump’s missile attack has accidently killed 18 rebels!
In the whole drama, the most intriguing is President Trump’s policy summersaults. It is still continuing. Given his stout character and his past, it is difficult to imagine that he is so fond of other people’s babies, although he is a family man. He never expressed such emotions for dying babies and children in Africa. He didn’t have compassion for children and those who flee the countries in conflict to save their lives when he banned travel from those countries including Syria. He has said that he can change. Is he going to change the travel ban is the question now, if he is so compassionate of other people? Otherwise, his expressed sentiments appear crocodile tears.
There are so many aspects to his about turn. During his election campaign, he mercilessly criticised his predecessor, Barack Obama, for his involvement in the Syrian conflict. He almost approved Assad’s regime and declared a policy of non-involvement, except fighting against the ISIS and radical Islam. A regime change was not within his policy orbit. More generally, he distanced himself from neo-liberal policy of ‘nation building’ in other countries.
Trump first appeared focusing inwardly on economic matters and wanting to build America First, at least before becoming the world’s policemen perhaps later. Now his priorities have changed. Now he wants to be the policeman first and the businessmen next. Or is there a hidden connection between the two, even unknown to him before? It is possible. He has almost forgotten about building the Mexican Wall now! It is possible that the American military establishment is overtaking him.
A Possible Saudi Connection?
It is well known that America’s military spending is exorbitant. America spends around 600 billion dollars annually, nearly 35 percent of the total military expenditure in the world. It is almost ‘overstretched.’ That is a recipe for a ‘fall of a great power’ according to Paul Kennedy (Rise and Fall of Great Powers). When Trump assumed duties, he complained about American contributions to even NATO and called the outfit ‘obsolete.’ He also asked his allies in Japan and South Korea to be self-reliant. Now he is mincing his words. There can be a secret behind this summersault. There can be someone financing or promising to finance his military budget, at least partially. After all, he is a businessman notorious for dubious business deals.
The second largest spender on military is China. But it is only around 215 billion dollars and more importantly, less than 2 percent of its GDP. Russia is the fourth, spending only 66 billion. These are 2016 figures. Who comes the third is Saudi Arabia spending around 87 billion, but it is the highest compared to its GDP (13 percent). Its capacity and indirect spending are more and there can be a connection between Trump’s about turn in Syria and Saudi Arabia’s military and political ambitions in the region.
Most intriguing about Trump’s volte-farce is the dumping of Vladimir Putin. There were accusations during the election campaign that Trump was aided by Putin or Russia through cyber-attacks and election manipulation. Whether true or not, Trump had occasion to openly praise Putin. Then why is he unceremoniously dumped? The only rational reason that could be given is that perhaps Putin was taking an unnecessary upper hand, after lending some support to Trump, and Trump is now reacting to this situation. However, that is not a reason to attack Syria. All these characters are not reliable, whether it is Trump, Assad, Putin or Kim Jung-un. They appear to be ‘gang or mafia leaders’ operating in dubious circles.
As many have argued, while the chemical attack is a war crime, a missile attack on a sovereign country is equally a violation of international law. Unfortunately, international law currently is overwhelmingly manipulated by theses gangs for their own power purposes.
Afghan Bombing and Beyond
Now Trump is turning his guns in other directions. It is reported that the symbolic threat of the GBU-43 bomb dropped in Afghanistan is North Korea and/or even China. This view is also similar to what is expressed by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai who immediately denounced the bombing as ‘experimenting of American arsenal in other people’s territories.’ The 59 tomahawk droppings in Syria also could be such an experimentation. Karzai has been a consistent ally of democratic Western efforts in fighting against Taliban and Islamic fundamentalism. He is reliable in his statement and expressed outrage.
What is now emerging after Trump’s ascendency is more of a fascist or an authoritarian type of reactions against all enemies, real and imagined. It is perhaps not by accident that Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, whitewashed Adolf Hitler by saying that even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons against his people. But the fact of the matter is that thousands and thousands of people died in gas chambers under Hitler. Although Spicer has retracted his statement under protest later, that is the type of thinking visible among Trump’s team. It is also noteworthy to mention that the use of Atomic Bombs came from America in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even at the verge of Japanese surrender quite unnecessarily, rather as an experimentation.
During the election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly accused China as a currency manipulator, right or wrong. He also clearly expressed misgivings about China’s economic ascendency even threatening to impose unprecedented 45 percent tariff for Chinese goods. That is the type of ‘free trade’ and ‘neo-liberalism’ that he is following. Here, there is a clear economic competition or jealousy. Perhaps military action might be more effective, in his present thinking, than economic measures. Trump might not attack China directly, but pre-emptive strike against North Korea is all possible. What might prove finally is John Pilger’s prophecy ‘The Coming War on China’ (a documentary). He has also expressed these views in the New Internationalist.
North Korea is planning to celebrate its founder, Kim Il-Sung’s 105th birth anniversary (Day of the Sun) from the 15th April for a week. All these are truly farcical. However, there are no instant solutions to change the situations in countries like North Korea or Syria. There is a possibility that North Korea also stage a nuclear experiment during these celebrations. If America’s rumoured intended pre-emptive strike is reliable, even there is no need for a nuclear experiment on the part of North Korea, to strike. This is the danger. Trump can call North Korea and/or Kim Jong-un ‘Evil’ or any other name, and strike on the self-claimed God’s given mandate. Obviously, Trump is a Christian fundamentalist. There is no much difference between Islamic fundamentalism and any other religious/ideological fundamentalism.
In my humble opinion, either Donald Trump is mad or he is a ‘new fascist’ who has manged to come to power, in still a democratic country. There is no much difference between people like Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. What might be necessary urgently is a strong anti-war movement in all countries to unite people and work towards disarmament and peace in the world. China has proposed negotiations and peaceful resolution to the situation in the impending catastrophe in the Korean peninsula. I hope China would call an immediate session of the Security Council to possibly avert an emerging disaster.