The unhinged, racist demagogue with a non-interventionist mindset is being undermined by the liberal-neoconservative Deep State because he refuses to to let the CIA kill Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator with a massive body count that is none of our business.
It’s a popular notion among those with a soft spot for reactionary isolationists, the notion, popularized by a founding editor of The Intercept, that Donald J. Trump is engaged in an internal war with the U.S. empire. The U.S. president, of course, campaigned on escalating every conflict he would inherit, but he had nice things to say about a once and future CIA partner and his bloody war on terror; confusingly, this meant he was — relative to those looking to start WWIII by saying Russian imperialism is bad — an antiwar lesser evil
In power, Trump has bombed a couple empty Syrian regime targets, sure, but as his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, recently suggested, those strikes were, in effect, an effort to make U.S. condonation, if not de facto U.S. support, of the Assad regime’s scorched-earth total war more palatable. “If they want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that,” Haley remarked, “but they can not do it with chemical weapons.”
Trump’s unwillingness to deep-six Bashar purportedly stood in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who campaigned, let us suppose, on bunker-busting Damascus and Moscow in order to achieve regime change for Syrian al-Qaeda. As The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald explained on Democracy Now! a few weeks after Trump took office:
The CIA and the intelligence community were vehemently in support of Clinton and vehemently opposed to Trump, from the beginning. And the reason was, was because they liked Hillary Clinton’s policies better than they liked Donald Trump’s. One of the main priorities of the CIA for the last five years has been a proxy war in Syria, designed to achieve regime change with the Assad regime. Hillary Clinton was not only for that, she was critical of Obama for not allowing it to go further, and wanted to impose a no-fly zone in Syria and confront the Russians. Donald Trump took exactly the opposite view. He said we shouldn’t care who rules Syria; we should allow the Russians, and even help the Russians, kill ISIS and al-Qaeda and other people in Syria. So, Trump’s agenda that he ran on was completely antithetical to what the CIA wanted. Clinton’s was exactly what the CIA wanted, and so they were behind her. And so, they’ve been trying to undermine Trump for many months throughout the election. And now that he won, they are not just undermining him with leaks, but actively subverting him.
That Trump’s “agenda” was a) coherent, and b) “completely antithetical to what the CIA wanted” was, at the time, a bizarre thing to argue. Some CIA officials, like many others, have surely recognized that the president of the United States is a reckless buffoon, but it is not because he is at war with the agenda of an intelligence community that he has gifted a record-high budget and a blessing to largely do as it pleases. In Syria, the alleged inspiration for an unprecedented deep-state coup d’état, Trump has been killing loads of Syrians — has been bombing mosques — with about as many objections from the deep state as from the anti-imperialists who learned to love the war on terror, which is to say: none at all.
When U.S. munitions have fallen on the regime of Bashar al-Assad (popularly shortened to “Syria”), the strikes have been, from the perspective of those who don’t support Assad or Trump but hate their critics more, blessedly cosmetic. But that is not, according to a new book from veteran journalist Bob Woodward, because Trump is instinctively opposed to Iraq 2.0 (not to be confused with the ongoing U.S. air war, in Iraq).
Per The Washington Post:
After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.
Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.
The takeaway here is not that Trump is committed to regime change, but rather that he is constitutionally militaristic, impulsive and, as recognized by everyone around him, an idiot child — one who would soon forget why he wanted to kill the fellow head of a pathetic but deadly personality cult, likely by the time of his next Fox News-induced, white nationalist temper tantrum.
The U.S. president, an adult man, is no doubt aware that Bashar al-Assad is still alive, having just sent a delegation of U.S. intelligence officials, who purportedly want to overthrow them both, to meet with their regime counterparts in Damascus. General Mattis, it seems, correctly gauged that the president was simply mad and raving on the toilet, as is his wont.
It is not the first time, however, that generals have undermined a whimsical urge to steal the day’s headlines by starting another war: the U.S. president earlier floated the idea of invading Venezuela, to the chagrin of all the beribboned figures with whom he has chosen to surround himself. These are neither heroes nor coup-plotters, those natsec establishment types who challenge or on occasion ignore a mentally unfit president’s impulsive desire to kill, but people who have freely chosen to associate with Trump because they are generally pleased by his agenda, including a willingness to let the military and intelligence community manage their own affair; his outbursts are an unpleasant cost of what is by and large business as usual.
Deranged, it always was, to believe a U.S. “deep state” would seek to regime-change such a compliant U.S. president as Donald J. Trump because he wouldn’t given them Assad’s head on a platter. It is poetic justice, if not all that funny, for it to be revealed that it was Trump himself who wanted to knock off, however briefly, Clinton’s “reformer.”
Those who have spent years now arguing for the existence of a deep divide between Trump and the military-industrial complex, so large as to spur a coup — over Syria, incredibly, where the preservation of the regime in Damascus has long been the establishment consensus, with varying degrees of transparency — ought to be seen as no less dangerously clownish than the president they compulsively defend, from enemies real and imagined.
Charles Davis is a journalist in Los Angeles whose work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.