Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1342, (27 April - 3 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Rome on the Potomac

Trump has turned into a president who has tasted war and likes it, writes Jeremy Salt

Just when he thought he had the biggest weapon in the world, US President Donald Trump was trumped by Russia, which apparently has a bigger one.

This was just after Trump thought he had proved the point by dropping a nine-metre, 9,500kg bomb on Afghanistan, its blast yield equivalent to 11 tons of TNT and though not quite nuclear only just below. The media reaction was the same as it was after the smart missiles the US fired into Baghdad in 1991: hushed awe at the size of the bomb and the size of the crater. The impact was designed to be felt in Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang. Don’t mess with us, it was designed to say. We’re dangerous.

Weren’t 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired into Syria enough? Why call this bomb the “mother of all bombs” when it’s almost always daddy who starts wars? Albert L Weimorts of the US Air Force Research Laboratory developed this weapon. Congratulations, Al. May your heirs remember you for your small contribution to the end of civilisation.

There seems to be no end to the irresponsibility of the people we elect to govern us. They lie all the time. Just in the last half century, the lives of millions of people have been extinguished as a result: 3.5 million in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; more than three million during a decade of sanctions against Iraq (1990-2012); more than a million, probably, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003; tens of thousands in Libya; and about half a million in Syria so far.

Apart from the dead, millions of people have been maimed for life or born with genetic defects from the US’ use of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam and depleted uranium shells in Iraq. Countless millions more have been driven from their homes and scattered far and wide across their own land or across its borders. Many of the refugees from Syria were Iraqis who had fled their country only a few years earlier. Iraq saw the greatest outpouring of refugees since Palestine in 1948, but that was only until Syria came along.

While families mourn their dead, the politicians responsible for these acts of mass murder play golf and go to church. Life goes on as usual, because we have no mechanism for punishing the powerful, only the weak.

Trump ordered the missiles to be fired into Syria in between taking bites out of a piece of chocolate cake. Rarely before have we seen such a combination of the catastrophic and the inane. Having dropped the biggest bomb, and having warned North Korea against testing an inter-continental missile that could reach the US, the US tested the latest variant of another weapon in its arsenal, a nuclear gravity bomb.

Threatened by Trump, North Korea put its forces on high alert. So did South Korea, which will have to bear the brunt of the destruction if Trump orders an attack on the North. From being the candidate who promised no more wars, no more regime-change operations, and we need the money back home, Trump has turned into a president who has tasted war and likes it.

The accusation that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad organised a chemical weapons attack on his own people in Khan Sheikhoun has been repeated by most world leaders through the media and their mouthpieces at the UN. But Theodor Postol, the emeritus professor at MIT in the US who along with US journalist Seymour Hersh exposed the lies behind the chemical weapons atrocity around Damascus in 2013, says there is no evidence of a chemical weapons strike from the air at Khan Sheikhoun.

Analysing the evidence, he concludes that the dispenser of the chemical toxin was a metal tube and not a missile. This was exploded on the ground and was not set off by an air strike on a takfiri weapons depot that contained chemical weapons for future use, as had originally been thought possible. Postol says that the White House claims, repeated by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, are “obviously false”.


FURTHER ATTACKS: Shortly after the Khan Sheikhoun events, reports came in of hundreds of people being killed by chemical weapons released after a US-led air attack on an Islamic State (IS) arms depot in the village of Hatla in eastern Deir Al-Zor province in Syria.

The attack was launched at 5.30pm on 12 April and continued until 5.50pm. It started a fire that was not put out until 10.30pm. Chemical weapons in the bombed depot released clouds of white smoke that then turned yellow. According to official Syrian sources, hundreds of people, among them IS terrorists, foreign mercenaries, and civilians, died from asphyxiation. It is not necessary to believe this as it stands, and it is possible to remain sceptical until the facts are in, but this attack was not even mentioned in the mainstream media.

Deir Al-Zor was quickly followed by the bombing of Shia civilians being transferred from the villages of Fuaa and Kafraya in Syria in exchange for takfiris and their families allowed out of Madaya and Zabadani. The released civilians were clustered in or around seven buses when the bombs went off, killing 126 people, including 68 children. These figures are likely to rise as the wounded die. The takfiris first lured children into their trap by offering them potato crisps, yet there has been no response from Trump or other Western leaders. The latter lied about Khan Sheikhoun. Here the gory truth is pushed into their faces, and they have nothing to say.

The way this atrocity near Idlib was reported (or not reported) by the mainstream Western media was revealing. On its Internet site the London Daily Telegraph ran the North Korean missile test, the “clamour” to strip Syrian First Lady Asma Al-Assad of her British citizenship, the Turkish referendum, the Bahrain Grand Prix and a comment by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on how Al-Assad’s “murderous behaviour” had given Russia an opportunity.

There was no mention of the Syrian atrocity except as a secondary item under the world news link. For its part the UK Sunday Times led with North Korea, with Syria run under a world news heading of “Pope condemns suicide blast”. The UK Daily Mail led with “radiant curtsies for the Queen”. The Syrian atrocity was so far down the page it would have been easy to miss.

In the US, the Washington Post’s lead page ran first with the North Korean missile test and followed with a comment on “why would Al-Assad use Sarin in a war he’s winning? To terrify Syrians.” The paper ran a picture of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner wearing a military vest, a story on “chatty co-workers”, and “25 of the world’s best photos” before running the atrocity against the Syrian children under a small world news heading.

The New York Times ran a series of Trump stories as its lead items, then, reading down, it reported on Easter photographs, a “virtual tour of a larger than life art exhibition”, Turkey’s referendum, “bring back 70s style knits”, “what kind of pet should Donald Trump get,” and finally under a small world news heading it got to “As atrocities mount in Syria, justice seems out of reach on crimes committed by the Syrian government.”

This story was a rehash of accusations based on allegedly filched Syrian government documents and photographs. There was no mention of the civilians just massacred by takfiris during the population swap near Fuaa and Kafraya. The Los Angeles Times ran with Trump’s executive orders followed by local or lightweight stories and finally under the world news link a story on Syrian state TV “claiming” the convoy had been hit by a suicide bomb, with “pro-government activists” saying that the vehicle used was a pickup truck purporting to deliver food. What really happened will have been any reader’s guess.


NOT A WORD: What was striking about all these so-called quality Western newspapers was that in not one of them was there a word of outrage, condemnation, or compassion for the victims of the massacre near Aleppo from any of the Western politicians sounding off after the strike on Khan Sheikhoun.

The only person quoted as speaking out was the Roman Catholic pope. There was no apparent attempt by any of these papers to seek comments from the politicians who had expressed such outrage at the killing of children at Khan Sheikhoun. Neither have they had anything to say since Postol exposed the official Western claims as lies.

In the so-called Western tradition, there have been 2,000 years in which an elaborate structure of laws based on ethics has been constructed, which Western politicians nevertheless ignore whenever it suits them. Forget Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Justinian, Hobbes, Grotius or anyone else who might come to mind as the architects of the legal and moral world order the politicians are turning upside down. What is the point of these laws and codes of behaviour when there is no one and nothing to restrain these people?

They operate with complete impunity. They don’t have to learn from their mistakes because they are never punished for them and because it is always someone else who pays the price, usually brown or black people in a far-off land.

US journalist Fareed Zakaria called Trump a “bullshitter” during last year’s elections campaign in the US, something Trump’s lost supporters would now agree with. However, for Zakaria, the neocons and the deep state in the US Trump has finally become a “real president” by bombing Afghanistan and sabre-rattling against North Korea.

He might end up worse than former US president Bill Clinton. He is picking up where former president Barack Obama left off. Libya and Syria were Obama’s wars, and he flung missiles at many other countries. He only stepped back from bombing Syria in 2013 because he realised he was being set up. He was poor on Palestine, as they all are, but Trump promises to be worse. He supports full-scale Zionist colonisation, is planning to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and has appointed his property developer son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior White House advisor.

A full-blown Zionist and an Orthodox Jew who does not represent mainstream American Jews, Kushner is supposed to bring peace to the Middle East. Here is a word-for-word excerpt from the transcript of what Trump had to say recently in a joint interview with the London Times and the German newspaper Bild: “You know what, Jared is such a good kid, and he’ll make a deal with Israel that no-one else can… you know, he’s a natural, he’s a great deal, he’s a natural… you know what I was talking about, natural … he’s a natural deal-maker – everyone likes him.”

So here it is, US foreign policy in the making. It is pathetic, it is inane, it is dangerous, it is stupid, it is folly, and it is tragic for everyone. It is the last days of the Roman Empire arriving on the banks of the Potomac.

The writer has taught the modern history of the Middle East at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara in Turkey.

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