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Bronner writes: "As President Donald Trump prepares his second reactive missile strike against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose chemical attack on Duma left 42 dead and dozens more wounded, a tragic seven-year civil war is on the verge of turning into an international conflagration - or worse."

Donald Trump with National Security Advisor John Bolton. (photo: Getty)
Donald Trump with National Security Advisor John Bolton. (photo: Getty)

America's Syrian Challenge

By Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News

12 April 18


s President Donald Trump prepares his second reactive missile strike against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose chemical attack on Duma left 42 dead and dozens more wounded, a tragic seven-year civil war is on the verge of turning into an international conflagration – or worse. The intensity of the strikes will determine the strength of the response by Assad’s Russian ally. No matter how devastating the attack, however, it will have no relation to any end-goal. There has never been any connection between tactics and strategy, or means and ends, when it comes to the role of the United States in the Syrian conflict. That is also the case with regard to the current debate. Besieged by personal scandal, fearing indictment or impeachment over “collusion” with Russia, the president (like other presidents before him) will employ a dramatic international action to deflect from his domestic problems and, without compromising himself, show that he is being tough on his one-time friend, President Vladimir Putin. Nor are Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party all that vocal. Imbued with “humanitarian” interventionist sentiments, and anti-Russian views inherited from the Cold War, their leaders and media pundits all insist that “something must be done” – what, of course, remains unspecified. Sleaze and incompetence are not the possession of any one political party. That missile strikes against Syria will have anything to do with the American national interest is more than doubtful. Such action is an emotional response with the most cynical and self-serving undertones and will do nothing to further a positive end to the conflict.

Syria is now entering the seventh year of a civil war that began in 2011 and that has become one of the bloodiest humanitarian tragedies of the still young twenty-first century. The numbers are staggering: 400,000 are dead, far more have been wounded, over five million are in foreign exile, and over six million are internally displaced persons. When the organized rebellion began in 2011 against the regime of President Bashir el-Assad, who took power in 2000 and has maintained a state of emergency ever since, more than two dozen groups (including three main Kurdish factions) formed the Syrian National Coalition and a Free Syrian Army. Inspired by the Arab Spring and infuriated by its suppression, they called for the removal of the despot. But there was not a single civilian leader of national stature among the rebels and, increasingly horrified by the brutality of Assad’s response, the overwhelmingly Sunni coalition was unwilling to enter into negotiations with him. Worse: the army lacked any centralized command structure or organized hierarchy.

The United States nominally entered the conflict in order to quell the spread of ISIL, whereas Russia, suspicious of American motives while fearful of Sunni extremism infecting the “–stans” along its southern borders, chose to support Assad. What legitimated ISIL originally, however, were developments within the Syrian National Coalition. Without legitimate national leaders, and with numerous bitter organizational rivals competing for power, the most organizationally disciplined and ideologically unified groups tend to win out – in this case, al-Qaeda and (its spin-off) the al-Nusra Front. Worth considering is that these extremist Sunni organizations have a natural affinity with ISIL as well as the Wahhabi faction of Saudi Arabia that gave rise to Osama bin Laden. Bitter rivalries in the coalition made it difficult to articulate any strategy for the future: Should Syria remain a nation state and, if so, how would it without including Assad and his supporters among Alawites, Christians, and non-Sunni denominations who distrusted and feared the opposition? Should Syria instead devolve into distinct regions and principalities governed by rival tribes and religious organizations, along with a rump-state ruled by Assad, which would necessarily strengthen neighboring nations and their territorial ambitions? Or, finally, should Assad and the opposition both accept becoming puppets of foreign “allies” so long as the other side was prevented from winning the war?

With the setbacks dealt ISIL by the United States, but also by the Alawite/Shiite regime of Assad and its Russian ally, the need to choose between these alternatives will only loom larger. The issue is not simply whether the United States will withdraw its troops and support but whether other interventionist states will do likewise. Trump’s missile strikes can only complicate matters further. Arms will still flow across Syria’s borders, not only from Iran and Russia but also from Iraq and Libya. There is no reason to believe that, given worsening relations with the United States, either Iran or Russia will depart. Nor will Saudi Arabia, the new favorite of the United States, whose hatred of Assad’s Shiites is combined with a certain sympathy for Sunni extremist groups. And Turkey is also enmeshed as it fights both Assad and its anti-Assad Kurdish minority. Frustrated by Western condemnation for its authoritarian turn and lack of support for either of its efforts, Turkey is threatening to leave NATO, which would obviously lead to closer ties with Russia.

The only way to deal with these complicated and interconnected dynamics is through (back-channel) negotiations, not only with Russia but also with Iran, in line with what were once successful cooperative efforts in mitigating the war in Afghanistan. But given President Trump’s views on the US-Iran nuclear deal, and his bellicose rhetoric, that appears unlikely. Some policy-makers have suggested that the United States withdraw from the conflict and allow Saudi Arabia and Israel, which already engaged in military strikes against Assad with American approval, should take its place. But that is the worst option. Not only would the two most hated states in the region become associated with the anti-Assad war effort but tensions could easily become inflamed with Iran, leading to an expansion of the Syrian conflict into an even more dangerous and genocidal war.

Should the United States stay in Syria? Not if it seeks to become the agent of regime change without a new sovereign or of reconstruction when it is not even clear what that means. Even the target of $200 million in American aid, which is a drop in the bucket, remains undetermined. In concert with new attempts at international and multilateral negotiations with Russia and Iran, moreover, it is becoming increasingly necessary to think outside the box and forward new and more radical suggestions, even if they are purely speculative. These might include an arms ban or treating the currency in military sales no differently than the trade in drugs. With its huge budget increase, of course, the American military establishment would not exactly prove enthusiastic supporters of this idea. And if dealing with the staggering refugee crisis in humanitarian terms calls for refinancing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which was defunded by the Trump administration, the new American contempt for multilateral action makes it difficult (if still necessary) to begin thinking about the prospects for a regional rescue. Having said all of this, now more than ever it is necessary to curb the American addiction to military strikes as the answer to every problem. It is easy to talk about collateral damage when the perpetrators do not pay the price. We need to place the Syrian people at the forefront of our policies, link tactics to strategy, and think outside the box with more imagination and less rigidity.

Stephen Eric Bronner is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of Global Relations for the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers University. His most recent work is The Bitter Taste of Hope: Ideals, Ideologies, and Interests in the Age of Obama. your social media marketing partner


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+9 # indian weaving 2018-04-12 12:44
Christ is this a full fledged MSM article, totally despicable for many reasons. Syria's war was not civil war, it was a war of resistance against these many 1000s of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda terrorists that are and were funded / trained /armed by the CIA and Pentagon to overthrow Assad. And NO chemical attack even happened in Syria, all staged fiction by the USA / CIA. Several articles have been published today and yesterday showing how these videos were filmed for deception and supporting the USA's / France's lies.
I could point out other lies by this author but the article doesn't belong on RSN, or RSN is now MSM.
+11 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-12 14:07
I have to say I have never read such a poorly informed and flatly wrong article on Syria. I think Bronner is just losing it or losing something. Here's just a few whoppers:

1. "against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose chemical attack on Duma left 42 dead " -- There is massive evidence that the event was faked. Assad was winnng, he was almost in control of Ghota. Why would he do something that invited an attack from the US.

2. "the seventh year of a civil war that began in 2011" --- this has never been a civil war. Syria was invaded by mercenaries funded by the US, Saudi Arabia and other places. Many of them came straight from Libya where they ran a similar operation. The mercenaries come from 40 or more nations around the world.

3. "With the setbacks dealt ISIL by the United States" --- in fact, the US has been in the war to protect ISIS and re-supply them.

4. "might include an arms ban or treating the currency in military sales no differently than the trade in drugs. " --- Oh, gee. The US is the biggest trafficker of both drugs and arms in the world. When the US entered Afghanistan in 2001, heroin production was declining under Taliban suppression. The US brought it back up to record levels. Most of the weapons in the hands of terrorists come from the US. Only someone who read nothing can not know this.

I'm done. Why do people who know nothing write?
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-12 14:35
Here's a story on RT about a mysterious video that was posted to a pro-Free Syrian Army Facebook page four years ago. It appears to show adults training kids how to act as if they were victims of a chemical attack. The intent of the video is not clear, but there are some very obvious similarities to all of the White Helmets released videos about chemical attacks.

We know that terrorist groups, including the White Helment, have kidnapped children. Some of the children in the videos have been identifies by parents as their kidnapped children. Often the kids are killed by the White Helmets. These are US funded and trained terrorists who are doing all of this.

Also, a war against Syria is really the agenda of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The US is just doing the fighting for these nations. There really cannot be anything worse than the US acting as Israel's or Saudi Arabia's mercenary forces -- killing for the racist and religious fanatics in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
+13 # Benign Observer 2018-04-12 17:12
I disagree with a number of the assumptions here. For instance I don't consider this a civil war. It's a civilian-rich battlefield for proxy wars with all the usual acters and the same profiteers.

To my mind our main challenge with regard to Syria is GETTING THE PENTAGON TO LEAVE.

I, for one, would be THRILLED to end one of our many entanglements. We had no business there outside a multilateral force. We made things worse. It's yet another reason to abolish the CIA, a big pile of them.

Seven years we've been bombing these poor people. 500,000+ dead, 10 million displaced, cities and villages in ruins. WE RAN OUT OF BOMBS! They have a president who wants us out.

+13 # kbroo2 2018-04-12 18:28
what an exercise in imperial hubris this piece is--from his certainty of what is yet to be established ("Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose chemical attack on Duma left 42 dead and dozens more wounded") to even posing the question as whether the u.s. "should stay in syria". When the military of one country crosses the border of another without permission it's called an INVASION, and there is no question--the u.s. needs to get out of syria !
+18 # Jim at Dr.Democracy on Facebook 2018-04-12 18:39
Many Americans agree with this conclusion: "Now more than ever it is necessary to curb the American addiction to military strikes as the answer to every problem.... We need to place the Syrian people at the forefront of our policies, link tactics to strategy, and think outside the box with more imagination and less rigidity."

Fact: the US military has killed far, far more civilians than any other organization on Earth over the past 50 years and far, far more than anyone else over the past 16: Over 500,000 civilians in Iraq alone AFTER the invasion. Our huge offensive budget and practice of bombing nations into chaos is the most destructive force on Earth... to nations' infrastructure, to life, to stability and peace.

We are our own "Axis of Evil."

Our political leaders must become MUCH smarter. The challenge is that this will mean far less useless spending that profits major corporations, their owners/big shareholders and, hence, the campaigns of US politicians.

We can afford an unmatchable military at one-tenth the current investment. So let's cut military spending only by half...and help the world be--not perfect--but more stable, safer, healthier. We can rely on collaboration with allies instead of cremation of societies.

This change will benefit our nation's general welfare. It will hugely reduce waste and taxes. And if we close hundreds of our foreign bases, our troops can live near their families and churn their spending through our own economy.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-13 06:27
jim -- well said and true.
+8 # Mainiac 2018-04-12 19:39
One other fact needs to be clarified in relation to the misinformation in this article: The Russian government was called by Assad to come to his aid in repelling a hostile force that had invaded his country. This request was in accordance with international law and the UN Charter. The US was not invited in, of course, since it has been part of the invading forces. The US stands — AGAIN — in violation of international laws.
+5 # rogerhgreen 2018-04-12 19:44
How does the author of this article know that Assad inflicted chemical weapon attacks on Duma? Assad denies it and Russia denies it. One theory is that if there was a chemical attack, it was perpetrated by rebels supported by the US, to provide an excuse for Trump to "wag the dog". That wouldn't surprise me. For sure Assad isn't a nice man, but he heads an elected internationally recognized sovereign government. What leader in the region is a nice person? If they were they wouldn't be in power long. At least Assad's government allows and defends religious diversity. In any case it is within Syria and none of the US's business. Why is Venezuela's domestic politics the US's business for that matter? For neocon reasons? That they're left'ish or lined up with left countries? If so, I guess the US helping the right-wing governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to butcher dissidents is OK, and so is massively supporting Israel to dispossess Palestinians from their land, or helping Egypt's and Thailand's military coup governments to stay in power. Is it that the US is against violence against civilians even if it's in another country's civil war? Those who think so should review the gory details of America's Civil War. Perhaps Britain should have intervened. If the US fires missiles at Syria then it is an act of war and Syria, with or without Russian help, has the right to attack the US. Or maybe the next time an American city brutalizes blacks, Canada should bomb it.
-2 # Diane_Wilkinson_Trefethen_aka_tref 2018-04-13 15:29
Quoting rogerhgreen:
Or maybe the next time an American city brutalizes blacks, Canada should bomb it.
This point alone is worth several Thumbs Up!
+2 # Benign Observer 2018-04-12 20:05
Here is an interesting debate on Russian television. They seem pretty convinced war is coming:
+5 # BetaTheta 2018-04-12 21:22
"That missile strikes against Syria will have anything to do with the American national interest is more than doubtful. Such action is an emotional response with the most cynical and self-serving undertones and will do nothing to further a positive end to the conflict."

This encapsulates just how things really work. Our "leaders" are captives of a reptilian brain mentality and live in constant fear of being seen as "weak." As a consequence, millions die.
+4 # librarian1984 2018-04-12 21:37
1. The generals in charge of our foreign policy are slavering for war. They SO want to fight Russia and Iran and they don't care what it costs, in blood or treasure. They are in the mold of LeMay or Westmoreland, Mattis telling Congress he wants to consider low-yield nukes in retaliation for Russian trolls. We all on board with that?

Putin delivered an important speech recently, not that it's been covered here, in which he said Russia WILL retaliate if they're attacked, that they have new weapons including nuclear engines and hypersonic missiles, which could result in tsunamis on any or all of our coasts.

How will the Pentagon react? I'd say their immediate use of MOAB after they got autonomy is a good predictor, and the development and discussion of ACCEPTABLE NUKES. These people are insane. I am more afraid of the Pentagon at the moment than Trump.

Trump expressed a desire to leave Syria -- and we got an immediate false flag operation. And what is the msm saying? What is Rachel Maddow saying?

We have to act! Immediately! We have no choice! We can't wait for evidence! What is Trump waiting for? He's RUINING the retaliation! He's broadcasting our moves!

Watch YouTube videos of Russian news shows. They are planning for war, gathering supplies, building bomb shelters.

This is fucking insane and the left is helping to foment the hysteria.

What a freaking tragedy. When the Cold War ended we should have partnered with Russia.
+4 # librarian1984 2018-04-12 21:54
2. The Pentagon during the Cuban missile crisis assumed they could push JFK around and pressured him to confront Russia aggressively.

Eisenhower warned US about the MIC but he did a lot to empower them. JFK actually stood up to them, and when they wouldn't relent he had his brother Robert use a back channel to make peace behind their back.

The Pentagon (like the CIA and Hillary Clinton) is criminally aggressive and makes consistently bad decisions. They never want to leave anywhere. Trump ran on ending wars, and he's made several attempts to keep that promise. Each time the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies and the msm pressure him to engage .. with a nuclear power!

It is truly Bizarro World when Tucker Carlson (with Glenn Greenwald -- when's the last time you saw him on MSDNC?) is arguing that we need to calm things down, while the Democrats are pressing Trump to 'get tough'!

This is extremely serious. The MIIC and the msm are manufacturing consent. This is widely recognized all over the world. But WE in the US have been purposefully isolated. We know far less than other citizens in the world because our government and military are utterly corrupt and determined to have even more war.

They used MOAB. They want to use nukes. I know people hate Trump but we have to support him even if it's just on this one issue. The generals are insane. The CIA is insane. We have GOT to stop this drive toward war. It will be the end of US.
+5 # allanmillard 2018-04-12 23:31
I could not get past the second line of Bronner's piece because of his acceptance of the Douma "attack" as fact. Such misinformed writing has no place on RSN, I submit. I agree with 'indian weaving' and 'Rodion etc'.

While there is always room for differences of opinion and interpretation of facts, there should be no room for "alternative facts".
+2 # librarian1984 2018-04-13 00:37
During Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearing, Rand Paul asked him if he thought it was time to get out of Afghanistan. Pompeo said blah blah no. Paul reminded him that reports have said there is *no military solution* in Afghanistan, that we're 'building roads and bridges for people who hate us' but Pompeo did not retract. Paul asked if he thought the Iraq War was a mistake. Pompeo wouldn't say yes. He expressed grave concerns that Trump's trying to get out of Syria and Afghanistan but too many around him, from both parties, do not want to leave. He said Trump campaigned as wanting to get out of these wars and received millions of votes from people who wanted just that, and that Trump's instincts are better than his advisors. He said he's worried Pompeo will be more concerned with trying to change Trump's mind than in following Trump's wishes.

Indeed, the left has given carte blanche to the intelligence agencies and military, entrusting them to DISOBEY the 'crazy' president.

James Comey's book is about to come out, a remarkable document by all accounts. It boggles the mind that Comey, like Mueller supposedly circumspect, an intelligence operative writing a tell-all? Why does everyone keep saying Trump is crazy when the people around him are acting in unprecedented ways?

The media used Trump to justify abandoning journalistic principles during and since the election, The MIIC thinks it's ok to depose POTUS.

This is very dangerous.
+6 # janie1893 2018-04-13 00:59
People in America are going to have to take to the streets by the millions and stage peaceful protests across America to make the govt. realize we know what is being done by those that run the Pentagon and the CIA. In very plain terms we must tell them WE AREN'T GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!!

Get out of Syria. Get out of Yemen.Stop arming Saudi Arabia and Israel and all the
warring groups in Africa.

0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-13 11:13
janie -- yes. No more war. I agree completely. But I am just depressed to think that street demonstrations don't have any effect anymore. The rulers of American just ignore them. People like Cheney and his neo-con followers have nothing but contempt for protesters. Democratic action is dead.

We need something stronger. We need to actually shut down the essential functions of the state and corporations. Even a consumer boycott of all gasoline or oil products would be better than a street demonstration. But how could we boycott all oil products? We should be boycotting all Israeli products.
+1 # yolo 2018-04-13 16:27
Yes the CIA is influencing our media, just read Udo Ulfkotte - Journalists for hire: how the cia buys the news. Not to mention operation Mockingbird. Glad to see people are beginning to wake up. Our media has become like the old Soviet Union which had a joke, "There is no Pravda in Izvestia, and there is no Izvestia in Pravda" or in English "There is no truth in News, and there is no news in Truth."
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-14 06:58
yolo -- I'd say that the US is 100 times worse than the USSR ever was. Actually, there was always a lot of truth and openness in the USSR. It was only the US media that said there was not any. I have a good friend who taught Russian in an american university between the 1960 and the late 90s when he retired. Every summer he took a group of US students to Russia to study with Russian students at a Russian university. The American students came back blown away by how much more Russian student knew about the world, contemporary events, the US, and everything than they did. It was the American students who discovered that they lived in a hermetically sealed propaganda system.

One of the best studies of how the American thought control system was created is Christopher Simpson's, "Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Psychological Warfare, 1945–1960." This tells about massive government programs in psychological warfare operations (as they were called in government documents) to re-shape all education so that it would become propaganda. Journalism was the central focus. Journalists are trained to think in formulas. This operation created what we now know as "professional journalism."

Simpson's work is based on declassified government documents.
+3 # jedson 2018-04-13 04:46
The main thing this article got right is that the policies of the US are putting us at great risk of an international conflagration. Essentially Trump is threatening to start the Third World War in order to defend the US imperial empire (and his image as a very tough guy). And he has the NY times and the Washington Post egging him on. Even if the neocons cannot see the profound immorality and illegality of what they are doing, do they not at least understand what a third world war would mean? The many inadequacies of the article have already been pointed out by other posters. The question I would ask is why would a supposedly progressive site post such an article? Are there no well informed articles on this subject that could have been posted?

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