The Supreme War Crime: Unprovoked Attack of a Sovereign State


Most people will know that the gas attack in Syria that led the Trump administration to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from US Navy warships in the Mediterranean, has a precedent: the August 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus. The Donald himself, under tremendous pressure from Day 1 of his presidency to execute the programme that the neocon mainstream had trusted Hillary with, referred to his bold act as a sign he would do better than his predecessor, Barack Obama. But if in Syria it will change little, in the relations with Russia, it will change a lot. 


Targeting a Syrian military airfield (pictured) that Assad's forces share with Russian special forces and helicopters, is precisely what Obama was at least wise enough to avoid: a direct clash with the one nuclear world power that can strike back at the US should a conflict run out of hand.

Of course there is a second aspect to the two gas attacks. The probability that it was indeed the Syrian regime that was the perpetrator, is extremely low, in fact, nil.

As to the 2013 attack, this was a provocation by Turkey, a supporter of the jihadist uprising against Assad. It was exposed by the journalist, Seymour Hersh. At the time, the neocon mainstream in the US was so strong that Hersh had to publish his findings in the London Review of Books. Today, few disagree with Hersh's conclusion that after Obama had declared that the use of gas would be a red line triggering US intervention, Syrian rebels and their Turkish and Saudi supporters fell over each other to activate the trigger.

Putin at the time helped Obama out of the conundrum by proposing that Syria hand over its chemical arsenal to the UN for destruction. That is just what happened, and on 4 January 2016 the institution in charge of chemical weapons control, the OPCW, declared that the destruction (contracted out to the French transnational chemical corporation, Veolia) had been completed at the company's Texas facility. The OPCW promised that from then on it would keep a close eye on whether Syria would stick to its side of the bargain, but also would monitor the possible presence of chemical weapons in the hands of other parties to the conflict.

At the time the Russian president declared that it would have been completely absurd for the Assad regime, which was then on the offensive, to spoil its own chances by triggering an American intervention for no military gain.

This time that aspect is even more pronounced.

Clearly, the United States from the Iraq invasion in 2003 has seen its influence in the Middle East evaporate. By destroying Saddam Hussein's regime and the Iraqi state, it has plunged the country into a never-ending chaos, from which the Shia majority has emerged as the most powerful party, greatly boosting Iranian influence. Two million Iraqi refugees exacerbated existing problems in neighbouring Syria, where the crisis in the countryside as a consequence of the drought ruining crops and pushing more people into the cities already caused an emergency. The inept, overly violent response of the Assad regime to discontent spilling over from the 'Arab spring' in North Africa, then led to the civil war. The revolt against Assad was in turn hijacked by homegrown and foreign jihadists.

Russia's intervention to save the Syrian state (not necessarily Assad and his circle, who through their rapacious privatisation policies had angered the impoverished population) then turned the tide militarily. The gas attack of a week ago, which the Trump administration decided warranted the Tomahawk barrage (a costly failure, because only 23 of the 59 missiles hit target, where the others landed is still unknown), is even more absurd than the August 2013 attack, had it been the work of the Syrian army. Because after the expulsion of the remaining jihadist remnants from eastern Aleppo (including the 'humanitarian' branch of al-Qaeda, the 'White Helmets'), the Assad regime has secured the socially and economically most important parts of the country again. Locking up the remaining rebels in Idlib province effectively made them hostages of the Syrian army, which has become an effective fighting force again, although Assad has been forced to merge his police into the army to compensate for the manpower shortage. And then, t would he regime that is winning and has been officially disarmed as far as its aging chemical arsenal goes, trigger a US intervention by a sarin attack?

Within the first 100 days of his presidency, the embattled Trump has committed the gravest war crime of all, an unprovoked attack on the sovereign country that Syria is, in spite of everything—just to save himself from the enduring siege on his presidency (on account of his 'being soft' on Russia). It is a worrying sign that the EU countries have immediately expressed support of this grave breach of international law.

Slowly but surely the drift towards a general war is gathering pace, with Iran and Russia in the West's firing line. Will we still be able to stem the tide?

Kees van der Pijl

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