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The Latest Airstrikes in Syria Were Only a Gesture of Disapproval
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“Big noise on the stairs, but nobody comes into the room,” runs an old Chinese saying. This is an apt description of the very limited airstrikes on Syria launched by the US, Britain and France overnight, which came after apocalyptic tweets from President Trump and threats of military retaliation by Russian diplomats.

In the event, the fears of a “Russian-American clash” and runaway confrontation leading to a “third world war” have turned out to be overblown. They did not look quite so exaggerated earlier in the week when Trump tweeted about US missiles: “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart’.”

The Russians hinted that their retaliation might include American targets.

Of all the options available, the US-led coalition chose the one involving minimal action and geared not to provoke Russia or Iran. This was a one-off attack on three suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities, one in Damascus and two west of Homs. It was more of a gesture of disapproval than an attempt to damage President Bashar al-Assad’s military machine. Hours after the missiles had struck, his supporters were understandably demonstrating their defiance in the centre of Damascus.

Trump, reportedly under pressure from his military chiefs, may have chosen the most cautious option, but in fact there were no good options. Assad has all but won the civil war. Even if it was possible to weaken him, this might present opportunities to Isis and al-Qaeda, which are battered but not entirely out of business.

The attacks may or may not deter Assad from using poison gas in future, but they will not change the balance of power against him. Chemical weapons are only a small part of his arsenal and have played only a minor military role in the war. Out of the half million Syrians who have died in the conflict over the last seven years, just 1,900 are estimated to have been killed by chemical weapons.

Yet the military balance of power really has changed in Syria over the last week, although the reason for this has largely passed unnoticed internationally because of the focus on the gas attack in Douma and its consequences. The big development is that Douma, the last armed opposition stronghold in Eastern Ghouta, surrendered to the Syrian armed forces on 8 April. The remaining Jaysh al-Islam fighters have been taken by bus to Turkish-held territory in northern Syria during the course of the week. This is Assad’s greatest victory of the war, surpassing in importance even the recapture of East Aleppo at the end of 2016.

ORDER IT NOW

The Syrian army began its so-called Rif Dimashq offensive against the towns and villages of Eastern Ghouta on 20 February. For seven years, the survival of this opposition enclave in east Damascus had been a sign that Assad did not control all of his own country. There were rebels within mortar range of the heart of his own capital who regularly bombarded the Old City. In the past there were other such opposition enclaves, but they have fallen one by one.

Eastern Ghouta had a population of 400,000 and was partly agricultural so could feed itself to some degree. It was at first blockaded rather than besieged, with supplies coming in through a vast tunnel network and permissive or corrupt government checkpoints.

But in the last year the government has closed entry and exit through its checkpoints and has blocked the tunnels. Inhabitants started to suffer from an acute shortage of food, fuel and medical supplies. The scarcity got worse when the government began its offensive in February. Much of the population took refuge in basements where they could only see in the dark by using small torches. Those who lived there complained of the lack of fresh water and food, the stench because of broken sewage pipes and the presence of venomous scorpions.

Possibly it was the Syrian government’s frustration at the continued resistance of part of Jaysh al-Islam, the Saudi-backed jihadi movement in Douma, that led it to use chlorine gas. It had done so before without provoking an international reaction, but this time authentic-looking video was broadcast around the world showing dying children gasping for breath. The pictures provoked a wave of international fury which culminated in the US-led airstrikes on 14 April.

If the Syrian government’s purpose in launching a chemical weapons attack was to force the final surrender of the Douma rebels, then it succeeded. Within hours of it happening, Russian military police moved into Douma to supervise the departure of rebel fighters and to suppress looting by government forces. On 12 April, the Syrian national flag was finally raised over a building in central Douma and the long siege was over.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Russia, Syria 
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  1. G Pinfold says:

    This was a missed opportunity for a gesture of disinterest.

    • Replies: @m___
  2. Of all the options available, the US-led coalition chose the one involving minimal action and geared not to provoke Russia or Iran.

    Wrong. The minimal action would be to not attack Syria.

    The attacks may or may not deter Assad from using poison gas in future…

    This implies that Assad has used gas attacks in the past. That is a lie.

    • Replies: @El Dato
  3. Embarassing.

    There has been no proof in the past, there is no proof now.

    While it is true that you cannot put anything beyond an Oriental, is it not astounding, that President Assad exclusively uses poison gas when he is winning and the only result is to give the Free West™ an excuse for intervention?

    Orientals my be Orientals, but are they stupid?

  4. “Possibly it was the Syrian government’s frustration at the continued resistance of part of Jaysh al-Islam, the Saudi-backed jihadi movement in Douma, that led it to use chlorine gas. It had done so before without provoking an international reaction, but this time authentic-looking video was broadcast around the world showing dying children gasping for breath. The pictures provoked a wave of international fury which culminated in the US-led airstrikes on 14 April.”

    I thought that this site is for genuine alternative media; this article makes it more like another mouthpiece of the Western propaganda.

  5. mencken says:

    Cockburn is MSM and drinks the kool-aid like the rest – hence the comments re Assad using gas….

    so his analyses are only partially useful and mainly only to the sheeple.

    but if it makes them question a bit more then that helps.

    wish he would grow some balls and tell the truth tho – especially re the timings (just before UN inspectors start work), the MI6 connection with the staged attack and Gerasimov’s warnings from March 13th…

    better than nothing but still a LONG way short of good

    • Replies: @m___
  6. El Dato says:
    @WorkingClass

    This implies that Assad has used gas attacks in the past. That is a lie.

    In “The Independent”, it is axiomatic that Mr. Assad gasses his own people whenever Western Elites are not assuming their international schoolmaster role as much as they should.

    Questioning this is an Un-Thought.

    • Agree: Herald
  7. sam sung says:

    The Independent is a dreary UK rag controlled by the PoS scion of one of the 90s Russian Oligarchs.

    It should be getting coverage in UNZ.

    • Replies: @Herald
  8. TheJester says:

    Why is it that every time Assad and his forces start making headway against ISIS, the West discovers a chemical weapons attack (that will not be investigated for evidence) that requires a Western military response?

    “Look at the children …,” they say. It seems that children can be ripped apart and cities destroyed by Western air forces, but poison gas is absolutely forbidden … at least when in someone else’s hands. The West, of course, always reserves the right to resort to nuclear weapons should it see fit. Only it can have and use weapons of mass destruction.

    This presumption by the West of having the “high moral ground” is absolute nonsense. Western political and military leaders should be tried for war crimes for their actions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Afganistan, Lybia, and Yemen.

  9. Sean says:

    Excellent overview from Cockburn.

    • Replies: @anon
  10. KA says:

    Syrian Observatory , not a friend of Syrian gov and is anti regime, pro rebel ,promoted by UK has reported 65 missiles were down which tried to target airports and military structures .

    Russia says 75
    US says none downed .

    Why shower 100+ missiles on. some research centers and old unoccupied buildings ?

    No this was not a pinprick and was not meant but turned out to be one.

    When people gloat of killing hundreds of Russians openly or send 100 missiles to destroy already emptied CW sites , and show pictures that leave you wondering what the impacts were from those 100 missiles , you know the fix is in to explain failures and hide the intention .

  11. m___ says:

    The elephant, and only he, Putin looses face politically. In concert, Chinese, Russian, US, global elites of power, were concerted to put him in place, which he gracefully submitted to. The Western wing of our elites, was most pressed. They have no cycles of credibility and economic gaming left. Contrary to the Chinese and Russians, silkroads, mining and trade in Yuang.

    The rest is pot-shots, and public whining as part of herding the crowds.

    Arena sports, professional wrestling partook the masses and their ministers(the riders of the internet, anything tv, and what is left of print).

    An enlightening stroke of good genius and capable decision-making, stealthily encourage us to think that the global copula can concert in harmony, and timely, caters to some rational and there shows hope they can now maybe advance to some real, timely decision making in what matters. Too little, too late, certainly, better then nothing because never stares back.

    Islam’s nuclear option: breeding wars, toxicity, resource exhaustion, and on, are pressing issues, that affect our privileged ones inclusively, contrary to target practice in some wasteland.

    • Replies: @HallParvey
  12. m___ says:
    @G Pinfold

    Great sense of humor, you got. Wonder if you also see some coherence our knights Unz do not.

  13. m___ says:
    @mencken

    Most correctly so, we call it the “bend”. Start of on the right track, and duck into the ditch. Makes one wonder, what a way to make a living.

  14. @m___

    Arena sports, professional wrestling partook the masses and their ministers(the riders of the internet, anything tv, and what is left of print).

    This is all show biz, all the time. The big shoot, as far as we know, killed nobody. It may or may not have destroyed some empty buildings. They may or may not have held, at some time, piping and boilers and stuff to process something chemical. Beyond that, we know absolutely nothing.

    This is, as you inferred, Professional Wrestling, i.e. “Rasslin”. Lots of noise designed to deflect the MSM and sell tickets.

    • Replies: @m___
  15. anon[228] • Disclaimer says:
    @Sean

    When all this started with the first gas attack in Damascus, the Russians identified it as gas munitions manufactured in the Soviet Union – but sent to Libya, not to Syria.
    Robert Fisk

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/13/chemical-weapons-hypocrisy/

    Very excellent overview indeed!!!

  16. Sean says:

    Can you tell me what America’s objective is in Syria and why the US, the worlds most powerful country, has been more or less beaten by Assad if it is so keen to overthrow him. Trump just gave Assad a (second) slap on the wist for flouting their international chemical warfare obligation, nothing more. If the country was a great prize the US could have toppled it with one air raid, it was after the US under Obama (the military especially) backed away from overthrowing Assad that the Russians came in. McMaster was sacked because he wanted to put several divisions into Syria. Trump is not going to waste effort on that country, which was a shithole even before Assad and Sons and his foreign legions devastated it.

  17. m___ says:
    @HallParvey

    Your wording is better, it is evident You agree as to the bit cited.
    What is your view on what the problems are that really matter, in our opinion, the population issues globally, since they affect all other concurring problems as toxicity(pollution) and on. Then within the marker of population excess, how do you see the Islamic general view on this?

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