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US missile strikes against Syria: Part of a longstanding policy of US Imperialism

April 15, 2018

Let me begin by saying that the US military assault on Syria this past Friday was nothing short of criminal. In fact, such an attack violated international law, in part because of the failure of the US to get approval from the United Nations Security Council, but more importantly because of the death and destruction it caused.

There has been plenty of outrage on social media since the latest example of US imperialism, with lots of people claiming that this was an example of the Trump administration wagging the dog. This is certainly not the first time that a US president has engaged in a military strike against another country, especially when a sitting president is in the midst of a domestic scandal. Bill Clinton did the same thing in 1998, when his administration bombed Sudan, targeting a pharmaceutical plant, which resulted in the premature deaths of thousands of Sudanese, since the pharmaceutical plant was the only one in Sudan producing critical medicines.

More importantly, the notion that this was a wag the dog tactic on the part of the Trump administration is just to simplistic a response to a very complex matter. What we will do here is to look at a brief history of US policy towards Syria, a geo-political analysis, the issue of WMDs in context, the US media response and other US military industrial complex factors that are always part of the equation with US imperialism.

US Foreign Policy and Syria

Syria, like the rest of the Middle East, is a creation of European Colonialism. The French imposed colonial rule over Syria, until 1946, when Syria gained independence.

The US took particular interest in Syria after WWII, primarily as the US dependence of Middle Eastern oil became the central determining factor in the region.

The CIA initiated a coup in Syria in 1949, which was one of nearly 20 coups that would destabilize Syria for the next two decades. For the US, the Syrian power structure was too autonomous, was deeply sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and not supportive enough of the plans to run pipelines through their country for US oil extraction.

Syria was also run by the Baathist Party, which the US generally did not support. Besides CIA coup attempts, the US was financing and arming Islamic groups in order to destabilize Syria, primarily a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, by Robert Dreyfuss.

Syria was also often in conflict with Israel, a conflict that came to head over the control of the Golan Heights, which Israel militarily took during the 1967 war. The US was claiming at the time that both Syria and Egypt were under the influence of the Soviet Union, although that argument was often a justification for undermining Syrian autonomy.

Another coup took place in 1970, which brought to power Hafez-al Assad. Assad became one of the most brutal dictators in the region, but that did not stop the US from developing a close relationship with Assad.

In 1976, Assad invaded Lebanon, with approval from the US, specifically Henry Kissinger, who was the point person for President Gerald Ford. Syria’s invasion on Lebanon was to counter the PLO effort to influence Lebanon, since so many Palestinian refugees were living in Lebanon.

Syria was a big supporter of the US war on Iraq in 1991, known as the Gulf War. The US rewarded that support with $2 billion channeled through the Saudi Kingdom. Hafez-al-Assad died of a heart attack in 2000, but was replaced by his son, Bashar, who still rules Syria today.

After 9/11, the US continued a close relationship with the Assad regime, but Syria was also on a US State Department short list of countries that sponsored terrorism. It was in 2002, that the US named Syria, along with Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as the “Axis of Evil.”

In the Spring of 2011, inspired by the other Arab uprisings, a Syrian pro-reform movement was initiated. However, the pro-Democracy groups were followed by armed rebels, who don’t always have the same goals.

The Obama administration had uniformly opposed the Arab Spring and in Syria, his administration engaged in bombing campaigns on more than one occasion, supposedly in response to the Russian support of Assad. US foreign policy expert Noam Chomsky made the observation the number of casualties more than tripled after the US and British air strikes. (see Who Rules the World? 2016) You can also see from this map that more US bombs were dropped on Syria, than any other country in 2016.

The US/British bombings, combined with the civil war in Syria, has resulted in the creation of over a million refugees fleeing the country.

This brings us to the present, which should make it clear that the most recent air strike by President Trump, is consistent with decades of US foreign policy towards Syria.

On Friday, 80 members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump stating that, “engaging our military in Syria … without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.” Rep. Justin Amash was one of those who signed on to the bi-partisan statement, but it is ultimately an empty action, since Congress will not do anything other than make statements.

On the matter of the claims that Syria has Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), we may never know. United Nations inspectors had come to Syria the same day as the airstrike, leading one to think that the air strike was a way to ultimately foil the UN investigation on the claim that Syria had WMDs.

US Media uniformity on the air strikes on Syria

Here we defer to the national media watchdog group, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, which posted the following: 

The curators of American public opinion at the three most influential broadsheets in the United States have decided that dissent from the build-up to new airstrikes on Syria is not really an opinion worth hearing. Of 16 columns leveling an opinion about “fresh” airstrikes on the Syrian regime in the coming days, only two—both in the Washington Post (4/12/184/12/18)—opposed the airstrikes. No New York Times or Wall Street Journalopinion piece came out against a renewed attack on Syria.

Ten expressly supported the airstrikes (three in the Times, five in the Post and two in the Journal), two did so by implication (both in the Times, both lamenting the US “doing nothing” in Syria), two were ambiguous and two were opposed to the airstrikes. A complete list of the columns can be reviewed here.

This is slightly less unanimous than the level of support Trump’s airstrikes on Syrian air bases received from the media last year, when only one out of 47 editorial boards failed to back the escalation (FAIR.org4/11/17).

On the issue of launching airstrikes against the Assad government, robust debate is nonexistent. Major publications take the bulk of the premises for war for granted—namely the US’s legal and moral right to wage it—and simply parse over the details (FAIR.org4/12/18). The Washington Post editorial board (4/9/18), unsatisfied with what they view as token airstrikes, calls for Trump to not just launch “a few cruise missiles,” but for a “concerted strategy” of open-ended “US military initiatives.” This, of course, includes additional permanent military bases scattered throughout Syria.

Military strikes on Syria is good business for Weapons Manufacturers

66 Tomahawk missiles were used and 19 JASSM-ER. The Tomahawk missile are manufactured by the Raytheon Company and the JASSM-ER weapons are made by Lockheed Martin. The Ratheyon Corporation has contributed over $24 million to politicians since 1990, with a slight edge to Republicans. 

Lockheed Martin has contributed over $37 million since 1990, with Republicans receiving nearly twice as much as the Democrats. However, it is clear that both of these weapons manufacturers are committed to bipartisan support. 

As we stated at the beginning, the Trump administration’s missile attack against Syria is criminal, but we need to see it as a longstanding imperialist policy in the Middle East.

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