Trump Attack on Syria a Deadly Political Game and Reflection of Deep Systemic Crisis
Gerald Horne and Paul Jay discuss the cynical politics behind the attack and the decay and dysfunctionality of the American state
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.The American bombing of a Syrian air force base comes at a rather interesting point in time of American politics. First of all, let’s take the steps that might have happened instead of this bombing. If, in fact, the Syrian government is responsible for these attacks, and we still don’t know that they are — this has been asserted by the United States — but there’s certainly been no independent investigation. If in fact it was, or it wasn’t, if you are the President, one would think the next thing you do is, “Let’s have an investigation. Let’s go to the UN Security Council and demand an independent investigation to find out what party is responsible for this.” Or, if you in fact have intelligence, as they claim to have, that this was the Syrian government, then don’t you go to the UN Security Council and present your evidence, and get a Security Council resolution?
And, frankly, if you are afraid of a Russian veto, well, that’s never stopped the U.S. in the past. And if the Americans came to a Security Council with such persuasive evidence, and the Russians vetoed it, then there will be some moral argument on their side that they took some action. It wouldn’t be so unilateral. That being said, none of that happened. In no time at all, in a matter of hours actually, the Trump administration launched this bombing attack. And, as I said, comes at a rather interesting moment, in terms of American politics.Now, joining us to discuss this is Gerald Horne. Gerald is an historian and an author. He holds the John J. and Rebecca Moore Chair of History and African American Studies, at the University of Houston. He’s the author of many books and most recent is, “Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary.”Thanks very much for joining us again, Gerald.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
PAUL JAY: So, what do you make of this moment? Trump is under attack for being pro-Russian, and just a few days ago he talks about over-throwing Assad is not the target. Which must have royally — excuse the language — pissed off a whole lot of the American foreign policy establishment.
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think you put your finger on a major issue, that this attack on Syria can be easily interpreted as a kind of wag the dog strategy by Mr. Trump. That is to say, the bloodhounds were on his trail, as a result of his pre-November 2016 contacts with Moscow. Supposedly helping him to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton, and to show that he can stand up to Moscow, he launches this attack. It leads to Moscow, basically saying that the hotline, which was designed to prevent the U.S. Air force, and the Russian Air force, from colliding over the skies of Syria, that that hotline is now no longer operative. And you have a number of Democrats coming out and congratulating him for making this attack. Even Senator Tim Kaine, of Virginia, who’s been a stickler with regard to the War Powers Resolution of the early 1970s — which mandates that presidents go to Congress before attacking a nation — he congratulated Mr. Trump on this attack. Although, he did say, like Nancy Pelosi, the Congresswoman from San Francisco, that he should now come to Congress to get an authorization for military force. So, in some ways Trump has thrown the bloodhounds off his trail, at least temporarily.
PAUL JAY: We should add that the Vice-President, if he’s in on these conversations, Vice-President Pence, when asked who would you model your vice-presidency after, and he said Dick Cheney. And Dick Cheney, of course, is the one that manufactured all the arguments for the invasion of Iraq. I don’t know whether we’re rising to that level or not, in terms of lying and conspiracy. And I would not rule out that Assad is responsible for all this. I think it’s not outside of the bounds of what he’s capable of, although it makes no political sense for him to do it at this time.
GERALD HORNE: It makes no political sense. And keep in mind that after investigating the August 2013, supposed attack by al-Assad, using chemical weapons, the independent journalist, Seymour Hersh, came to the conclusion that actually, it was the rebels assisted by their Turkish allies. Keep in mind that both Damascus and Moscow have claimed that there were chemical weapon stocks that were hit accidentally by their aircraft, and that let loose the plumes, and the clouds that help to kill these individuals. That particular story has yet to be refuted authoritatively. Certainly you are correct to suggest that the international community should have done an investigation, before there was any kind of resort to military action.
PAUL JAY: It’s a rather sad comment on the state of the United Nations, and the Security Council, that there’s not even a word of opposition outside of the Russians. I missed some of the earlier speeches. The only ones I saw were the Russians and the Syrians calling this an act of aggression. But all the other major powers, European powers certainly, applauded the American move. The Japanese applauded the American move, the Chinese were somewhat more reticent, but they certainly didn’t condemn the American bombing. This means that we’ve come a long way from a Security Council that many of the members opposed the U.S. intervention, Iraq, and including France, stood up to the Americans. And were not persuaded by Colin Powell’s dog and pony show of weapons of mass destruction. Here, there’s barely a pipsqueak of questioning whether the American intelligence is justified or not, or correct.
GERALD HORNE: Well, if you look at France, you might be able to get an understanding of why Marine Le Pen, the right wing candidate, is slated to do well in the upcoming elections, because President Hollande, the so-called socialist, applauded Mr. Trump’s attack, while Ms. Le Pen castigated that attack. I think it’s also fair to point out that Bolivia, which is representing the Latin American left, denounced the U.S. attack. But all in all, it’s quite unfortunate that there was not much more denunciation from the international community. But, look at the U.S. domestic scene. Here you have MSNBC, which styles itself as the left amongst cable channels. But Rachel Maddow, who sees herself as some sort of leader of the left, and the resistance to Trump, has had as a guest, most recently, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the defrocked leader of NATO, a right wing Danish politician. NATO, of course, is the anti-Moscow cabal. And what this reveals, is that the Russia-gate scandal, which should be investigating the pre-November 2016 contacts between Moscow and Trump, has bled into trying to whip up a new cold war, hence Mr. Rasmussen appearing upon Rachel Maddow’s show. This is part of the problem.
PAUL JAY: On CNN, they, if you want to talk about people being dredged up to be interviewed, they had James Woolsey recently, I think yesterday, asking his view on what to do with Syria. He immediately turned it into a recommendation for Trump to launch a military attack on Iran, Iran nuclear facilities, even though there’s zero evidence that there is, in fact there was ever, a nuclear weapons program. But the IAEA saying that Iran’s living up to the nuclear agreement, and Woolsey says, attack Iran and on your way back take out Assad. And this relic, who’s also an advisor to the Trump administration, although he headed the CIA under Clinton, he’s dredged out on CNN. The war drums are beating.
GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s not only the war drums; it’s the hypocrisy and the sanctimony. Here you have Mr. Trump, who got elected in no small measure, because of his pledge to keep Syrian refugees outside the United States, now is shedding copious amounts of crocodile tears about Syrians being killed, supposedly at the hands of Mr. al-Assad. Then you have Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who’s probably the biggest winner from this whole episode, he’s probably been smoking celebratory cigars in his residence. Because this attack on Syria marks a giant step forward towards a second attack, this time on Iran, which is clearly in the crosshairs. Likewise, I don’t think it was coincidental, once again, that Mr. Trump was meeting with President Xi Jinping of China, as this attack was unfolding, because North Korea is also slated for regime change. There was an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, prominently featured by a well-known academic, calling for that precise remedy to be inflicted upon Pyongyang. I think that it’s more than the war drums are beating — we’re headed towards a catastrophe.
PAUL JAY: The role of MSNBC and the Democratic party leadership, in a narrow political game, you would say, they should have actually accused Trump of trying to save his rear, and raise the issue of international law. It would have been better, in terms of their partisan attacks on Trump. Not to give him this attack that looks like a political victory. Yet they do. The leadership Democratic Party — and you’re absolutely right to include people like Rachel Maddow and the media — they actually seem more committed to this kind of War Hawk stance towards Russia and Iran, than they are than even wounding Trump.
GERALD HORN: Well, it’s quite curious that in today’s New York Times, which was printed before the attack on Syria, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton basically called for precisely what Trump executed. That is to say, a bloody attack on Syria. Interestingly enough, and it should be pointed out in all fairness, that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, basically called for Congress to be involved in this scenario. And, of course there are other Democrats on the left wing fringe, who have called for international law to be invoked. But certainly, you are largely correct to suggest that in some ways Mr. Trump, who got elected on a platform of not getting involved in such escapades as the one he has just executed, now has taken the tack of the neocons, and the liberal interventionists. Which, by the way goes against what he tweeted in August 2013, when the United States was once again on the verge of attacking Syria, when he counseled President Obama not to do what precisely he has just done.
PAUL JAY: Well, it’s been said by several people that a president should not go to war with their own intelligence agencies. And clearly the American intelligence agencies want a ratcheting up of the tensions with Russia. Certainly the leadership of the Pentagon want a ratcheting up of the tensions. And, in fact, there’s an AP report, comes out sometime on Friday, where it actually says that the Pentagon is looking into the possibility that the Russians were directly involved in the chemical attack. It may be this didn’t even come, when I say may be, there’s kind of two assumptions here: one assumption is that the Syrian government actually committed this attack. And the other is that it didn’t, but the Americans want everyone to think it did. And if you follow the second assumption, it may not have even emanated from the Trump administration. He may be getting cornered himself by all these forces, both within the Republican Party, Democratic Party, and military industrialists establishment, the intelligence agencies. He had a lot of people who didn’t like this warming up with the Russians, and that’s now kind of blown up, at least for a while.
GERALD HORNE: Well, it’s apparent that the wolves in the intelligence agencies were after Mr. Trump. And rather than succumb, he threw Syria off the dog sled. It’s quite curious that once again in the New York Times, there’s a front-page story, about the CIA claiming that they have evidence about contacts between Mr. Trump and Moscow, well before November 2016. In fact, it’s not only Mr. Trump in conflict with the intelligence agencies, it’s apparent that there’s also a conflict between the FBI and the CIA. Recall, that before November 2016, Fox News was reporting that the New York office of the FBI was in virtual mutiny against James Comey, because they wanted more red meat to be tossed to Conservatives about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s e-mails. And, of course, Mr. Comey capitulated. On the other hand, it seems like the CIA was much more critical, and much more hostile to Mr. Trump than the FBI. And that’s why you have this front-page story in the New York Times today.
PAUL JAY: So, what does that tell us about the real, bigger picture? And, for example, you have a billionaire, a single guy named Robert Mercer, and his daughter Rebecca, who are able to essentially — and we’ve done this story on The Real News — essentially made Trump president. This hedge fund guy comes in, he’s a high-speed quantitative trader of one of the most successful funds in the world — maybe the most — company called Renaissance Technology. Picks up the Trump campaign after the convention, gives him Bannon, gives him Kelly Anne Conway, and together they make Trump president. So, then you have wars within the intelligence agencies and the White House. You have factional fighting. The system itself seems in decay, and they don’t seem very fit to rule.
GERALD HORNE: Well, you hit the nail on the head. And it’s very interesting that this is taking place against the backdrop of this mini summit between President Xi Jinping and Mr. Trump. Because, if you look at elite analysts, they’re pouring out a small library of books, talking about the rise of China and the imminent decline of the United States. Of course, that particular tendency hit a zenith a few years ago, when the British writer, Martin Jacques, published a book entitled provocatively, “When China Rules the World”. The Financial Times columnist, Gideon Rachman, has a new book out just this week called, “Easternization.” Which of course, you should juxtapose to “Westernization,” which is about the rise of China and the decline of the United States. It seems that rather than confront that rather bitter and brutal reality, the elite in Washington would rather quarrel and squabble between, and amongst themselves and, by the way, launch unwarranted attacks on nations like Syria.
PAUL JAY: Well, when you can’t solve your domestic economic and political crises, the answer’s always been war.
GERALD HORNE: Well, that’s the case. And unfortunately, we’re not finished, I’m afraid. As noted, North Korea is certainly in the crosshairs. The problem there, of course, is that North Korea is rapidly developing the capability to have missiles that it can reach Hawaii at least, if not the west coast of the United States of America. And likewise, I think that Washington may be under-estimating the ability of Iran, to organize and resist an attack. That if launched, could open the gates of hell.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. I guess the conclusion one can reach is, if these people aren’t fit to rule, and it seems to me it’s rather clear they’re not; people better get organized to do it themselves.
GERALD HORNE: Well, hopefully that’s on the way. I’m very heartened by the fact that the base, the popular masses, blocked the now successful appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. I see a kind of stirring at the grassroots that hopefully, will become stronger with every passing day.PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for joining us Gerald.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.
PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
Dr. Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations and war. Dr. Horne has also written extensively about the film industry. His latest book is The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. Dr. Horne received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from Princeton University.