Belmont Club

The Wrong Problem

Despite the fact that a Syrian airbase was targeted by US cruise missiles it is Russia and Iran that are squarely in the crosshairs of the administration. One hint is who’s cheering and who’s jeering. ABC news says “Netanyahu welcomes US attack on Syria base”. Al Jazeera reports that “Saudi Arabia said it ‘fully supports’ the strikes, adding that it was a ‘courageous decision’ by Trump in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in Khan Sheikhoun.” Iran, by contrast, “said it strongly condemned the missile strikes against the Syrian army’s Shayrat air base.” Hezbollah was beside itself with anger. Russia strongly condemned “the illegitimate actions by the US” and warned of “extremely serious” consequences.

Suddenly it seems clear that the administration is trying to reduce Russia’s influence in the region and Israel is determined never to have Iranian proxies established in southern Syria. The Sunnis now realize that there is an alternative protector to the Jihad: America.  That was was the political basis of the Surge.

One of the targets demolished by the cruise missiles was the talking point that Trump was Putin’s slave. In what must be one of the most astounding turnabouts in journalistic history, the New York Times warned that the Syria strike puts the U.S. relationship with Russia at risk. Suddenly Governor Romney, so recently rehabilitated, is wrong again. He’s joined there by Hillary Clinton whose exhortation to bomb Syrian airfields is reprised by Reuters, though doubtless she will be allowed to exit via the back door.

Whether intentionally or not, Donald Trump has managed to strategically surprise both Vladimir Putin and most US punditry.  Suddenly all the problems the commentators worried about turned out to be the wrong ones. Gone is the orange-gutan caricature replaced overnight by a figure at once more mysterious yet also more formidable than the fantasy figure purveyed by the media. Everyone is now scrambling to understand who Trump really is, the one who appeared suddenly in a cloud of smoke. They are hindered by their own talking points. The media was its own worst enemy.

The strike on Syria kicked over a whole anthill of self-deception. The Washington Times noted that “Syria produced a ‘ridiculously huge amount’ of deadly sarin gas,” according to an internal Defense Department memo. “That stockpile, which Obama aides declared was reduced to zero by summer 2014, is back in the news.” David Nakamura of the Washington Post tweeted H.R. McMaster’s assurance that the Navy’s missiles very carefully avoided the tanks of sarin gas to avoid collateral damage. This could only be possible if the US knew the location of all the poison the previous administration had already destroyed. In belated acknowledgement of what must now be obvious, the “fact-checking website PolitiFact on Wednesday retracted a 2014 article that found it ‘Mostly True’ the Obama administration helped broker a deal that successfully removed ‘100 percent’ of chemical weapons from Syria.”

None of these somersaults necessarily justify Donald Trump. His enemies may still have valid reasons for opposing his policies but it seems clear they’ve had the wrong list of reasons in their hand from the start. Look at the list. Cross off “stooge of Russia”. Pencil in “worry about war with Russia”. Remove “unwilling to oppose Assad”. Insert “may start a new Vietnam”. Erase “nuclear Senate option”, paste in  Neil Gorsuch confirmed by Senate as US Supreme Court justice.

As I observed in the last post, the Boss fight in Syria is still to come after Raqqa falls. Putin is not out of moves, nor is Assad. Worry whether Putin will respond asymmetrically in Ukraine or in the Baltics or Trump may overreach in Syria. Worry that Congress is giving up its war powers to a usurping executive.  But you probably shouldn’t worry about the Republican War on Women, transgender bathrooms or the GOP being a front for the Kremlin.

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War With Russia: An urgent warning from senior military command, by General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Russia’s invasion and seizure of Georgia in 2008 was our ‘Rhineland moment’. We ignored the warning signs – as we did back in the 1930s – and we made it ‘business as usual’. Crimea in 2014 was the President’s ‘Sudetenland moment’ and again he got away with it. Since 2014 Russia has invaded Ukraine. The Baltics could be next. Our political leaders assume that nuclear deterrence will save us. General Sir Richard Shirreff shows us why this will not wash.

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, by Joby Warrick. A thrilling dramatic narrative that traces how the strain of militant Islam behind ISIS first arose in a remote Jordanian prison and spread with the unwitting aid of two American presidents. Warrick drew on unique high-level access to CIA and Jordanian sources, and wove gripping, moment-by-moment operational details with the perspectives of diplomats and spies, generals and heads of state. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.

His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae, by Graeme MaCrae Burnet. A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? And will he hang for his crime? Presented as a collection of documents discovered by the author, this multilayered novel — centered around an unreliable narrator — will keep the reader guessing to the very end.

Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T.J. Stiles. This is a biography of Gen. George Armstrong Custer that radically changes the popular view of the man and his turbulent times. Stiles’s portrait of Custer is both deeply personal and sweeping in scope, proving how much of Custer’s legacy has been ignored. He demolishes Custer’s historical caricature, revealing a person in all his complexity while living fully “in time”.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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