By now you are aware that on April 4th a gas attack took place, purportedly launched by Syrian president Bashar Assad. Gruesome pictures and videos of dead children were played non-stop by the US media. Two days later, Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against Syrian military positions in retaliation for the attack.
The military response came as a shock to Trump supporters as it was a direct repudiation of Trump’s previous position of putting American interests before those of other countries. It was even a reversal of a position that Trump had taken just a few days before. Was his decision the result of deep strategic thinking or is it an indication that the neocon deep state has managed to trick Trump to achieving their goals?
Trump’s old position on neocon wars
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US embarked on a series of long wars in the Middle East. The charge to invade Iraq was led by a group of war hawks called neoconservatives. Their theory was that the reason Islamic terror exists is because Muslim countries are led by dictators. If only Muslims had an opportunity to embrace liberal democracy and capitalism, they would stop raging and become peaceful consumers.
In hindsight we know things didn’t play out that way. Our interventions turned out to be costly boondoggles that sent the dollars of hardworking American tax payers to rebuild countries we had destroyed. We found out that the inhabitants of the countries we invaded and destabilized were not interested in our “gift” of liberal democracy. The order of those nations broke down resulting in chaos. The dictators were not replaced by constitutional republics but by jihadists.
Before last week, Trump was consistently against military interventions where the US interests were minimal. He opposed the Iraq War and he was strongly opposed to intervention in Syria as the tweets above show.
What turned Trump?
What would turn a man who has opposed unnecessary military interventions for the better part of 20 years? Some accounts have Trump being swayed by his daughter Ivanka. She tweeted, “Heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria following the atrocious chemical attack.” Trump authorized the missile strike less than 24 hours after that tweet.
But I’d like to think that a man of Trump’s caliber would not be swayed by his 35 year old daughter’s reaction to some sad photos. Other accounts posit a 4-dimensional chess theory. They argue that Trump is several steps ahead of everyone in strategy. One of the proponents of the 4D chess, Scott Adams, argues that Trump killed multiple birds with his Syria attack, including the silencing of the “Trump is in league with the Russians” faction in Washington. Another explanation came from Ivan Throne who suggested that the Syria strike was Trump putting into effect the fundamental principle that regime change requires military validation.
While I hope that these rationales for Trump’s actions turn out to be true, I fear the reality is more disconcerting. Is it possible that the neocon-run deep state has tricked him into jettisoning his isolationist views and adopt the interventionist military policies of George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton?
The evidence points in that direction. A New York Magazine article sheds light on a battle that has been raging between the nationalist Steve Bannon, who opposes military escapades that do not advance Trump’s “America First” agenda, and Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, who favors a more conventional, neocon approach. All signs point to Bannon being the loser in this power struggle. He was removed from his role on the National Security Council while Kushner seems to have his hand in everything from orchestrating relations with China to inspecting US troops in Iraq.
On Saturday night, Mike Cernovich added a new wrinkle: His sources are reporting that Trump’s National Security Council Adviser General McMaster has been manipulating intelligence reports to convince the president to start a ground war to depose Assad. If Cernovich’s source is correct, both Kushner and Bannon opposed the strike. McMaster’s role introduces another potential beneficiary of a war between the US and Syria: The Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned us against. War means that profit levels will be high for military contractors.
What do the neoconservatives want?
But what is motivating the war hawks? Syria poses no threat to the US but it does pose a threat to two US allies in the region: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Although they are unlikely friends, the current interests of these two countries are the same. Israel wants to get rid of Assad because he supports Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Saudis want to get rid of Assad because he is aligned with their sectarian enemy, Iran. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia play a big role in US foreign policy through lobbying dollars. Saudi Arabia also leverages its status as the world’s largest oil producer. Israel, on the other had, has an advantage Saudi Arabia does not—it’s interests are advanced by the many neocons within the US government.
The mission of the neocons is to carve out a Sunni state out of parts of Iraq and Syria. This would benefit both Israel and the Saudis by countering the influence of Iran. Neocon Max Boot writes:
In Iraq, Sunnis need to be offered a Sunni regional government, akin to the Kurdish regional government, with its autonomy protected by its own militia and ultimately guaranteed by the United States. If Baghdad won’t go along, the U.S. should bypass Baghdad and directly arm and train the Sunni tribes. In Syria, Sunnis need to be offered a future in which they won’t be terrorized by Assad and Shiite militias.
Of course, Boot tries to sell intervention in Syria (and Iraq) as a way of stopping ISIS, but he is well aware that toppling Assad will more than likely result in jihadists rushing in to fill the void just as they did after the fall of Hussein in Iraq and Kaddafi in Libya. Given that ISIS is the strongest Sunni force in the region, getting rid of Assad will almost certainly result in ISIS taking control of Syria. The neocons will not care because it is in Israel’s interest to depose an enemy and replace him with chaos. A country engaged in civil war will pose no threat to Israel.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are free to pursue their own interests but if they want to rearrange their backyard, they should do it together and stop relying on American men to do their dirty work. It is an injustice that American soldiers have lost their lives and limbs fighting in the desert while Israelis soak up the sun on a Tel Aviv beach or Saudis party with Instagram girls in Dubai.
As for Trump, it is possible that he is executing a brilliant strategic plan that the 4D chess theorists posit. But as Occam’s razor would have it, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. It is more likely that Trump has been bamboozled by the McMaster and the other neocons in his cabinet.