Woodward’s Book Should Kill the Myth of a Pro-War Coup Against an Antiwar President

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.

To “leftist” admirers of Assad’s Syria

By Farouk Mardam-Bey

As a Syrian who has always identified politically with the left, I am particularly appalled by those men and women who call themselves left-wingers — and are therefore supposed to stand in solidarity with struggles for justice worldwide — and yet openly support the regime of the Assads, father and son, who are chiefly responsible for the Syrian disaster.

Following four months of intense bombardment by the Russian air force, Bashar Al-Assad’s army, along with Shiite militias hailing from everywhere and mobilized by the Iranian mullahs, have now finished ‘liberating’ Eastern Aleppo. Liberated from whom? From its inhabitants. More than 250,000 inhabitants were forced to flee their own city to escape massacres, as had the people of Zabadani and Daraya before them, and as will many more Syrians if systematic social and sectarian ‘cleansing’ continues in their country under the cover of a massive media disinformation campaign.

That in Syria itself wealthy residents of Aleppo, belonging to all religious sects, rejoice over having been rid of the “scum” — meaning the poor classes who populated Eastern Aleppo — is not surprising at all. We are accustomed to it: the arrogance of dominant classes is universal.

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What Price Assad’s Rehabilitation?

Bente Scheller, Middle East Director of Heinrich Böll Stiftung and author of the excellent The Wisdom of Syria’s Waiting Game: Foreign Policy Under the Assads, asks if the West is prepared to pay the high political and financial costs of rehabilitating Assad.

A rehabilitation of Syria would come at an exorbitantly high price, politically as well as financially. How much is the West prepared to pay?
Photo: Beshr Abdulhadi. This image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

If you cannot overthrow the tyrant, co-operate with him – after four disastrous years in Syria this seems to be the conclusion the international community has arrived at. While back in 2011 Bashar al-Assad’s days appeared to be drawing to a close, a growing number of people are now suggesting to see him as part of the solution, as illustrated recently by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Vienna.

The more methodical and brutish Syria’s dictator disregards human rights, the more he seems to assume the role of a potentially reliable partner in the eyes of some. That is primarily due to the Islamist terror army ISIS. Albeit there are few atrocities with civilian victims the regime is not responsible of committing and although it commits these crimes to a much greater, deadlier extent – Assad is readily seen as the “lesser evil”.

The implication that the situation in Syria could be pacified through a co-operation with Assad in the battle against terrorism is as plain as it is ill-conceived when it comes to the actual implementation. The fight against ISIS requires three things: the means, the will and a strategy.

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On Monsterphilia and Assad

My latest for Guernica Magazine.

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Earlier this month, the British street artist Banksy produced a video on Syria that attracted over five million viewers in three days. At a time of intensifying state repression, the target of Bansky’s satire was not the regime in Damascus but its opponents.  By contrast, the most watched video from the chemical attack in August, showing a traumatized young survivor, managed only half a million hits in over a month.

Six weeks after the attacks on Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians, regime forces have choked off food supplies to the targeted neighborhoods. Survivors of the chemical attack are now facing the threat of starvation. Children have been reduced to eating leaves; and clerics have issued fatwas allowing people to eat cats and dogs.

The belated discovery of the Syrian conflict by “anti-imperialists” after the US government threatened war inspired impassioned commentary. The strangulation of its vulnerable population has occasioned silence. But dog whistles from issue-surfing provocateurs like Banksy are unexceptional; they merit closer scrutiny when they come from respected essayists like David Bromwich.

In a recent front-page article for the London Review of Books, Bromwich identifies many rogues in the Syrian drama: Barack Obama, John Kerry, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, “the jihadists”.  But conspicuously absent is Assad’s Baathist regime. Vladimir Putin is the closest Bromwich admits to a hero. The Syrian people are denied even a cameo.

Continue reading “On Monsterphilia and Assad”