Small World: Syria, a short geopolitical quiz

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Q: Is there a connection between President Trump’s personal troubles and the air strike on Syria?

A: Officially, only on page one of the New York Times (unless proven otherwise before the News goes to print). Leading the left hand column is an article about the president’s personal lawyer entitled, “Lawyer’s File A Bigger Threat Than Mueller.” It describes an FBI raid on the lawyer’s home, hotel, and office. Apparently he may have something to hide that may be criminal and possibly lead to — gasp! — impeachment proceedings.

On the right hand side of page one are two articles headlined “Trump Launches Strikes on Syrian Targets.” The lead sentence of one article announces, “The United States and European allies launched air strikes on Friday night against Syrian research, storage, and military targets as President Trump sought to punish President al-Assad for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus…

Q: So? What’s your point?

A: The key word in the two articles describing the military attack (not the police raid) is “suspected.” Washington asserts al-Assad is guilty of killing his own people with nerve gas — but the U.S. isn’t completely sure of its facts. It only thinks that is the case. The Russians deny there was such an attack by the Damascus regime. For some on our side that is proof enough of Syrian guilt.

Q: Let’s assume that al-Assad is guilty as charged by Washington. Why would he launch such an attack?

A: He wouldn’t. He is winning the civil war against him led by dissidents (secular and Islamic terrorists, he calls them) aided by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf friends. Al-Assad knows from experience last year what might happen to him — rockets in the night — if he launched chemical weapons. Why risk it when Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are leading him to victory?

Q: Why would Mr. Trump lead an attack on Syria when he has just declared he wanted to pull U.S. forces out of that country?

A: Keep foremost in mind that Mr. Trump is a domestic affairs president. He’s not a Nixon thinking creatively on the world stage. He’s not a Carter going after an intractable problem to bring peace and harmony. He’s a man who will “make America Great Again,” meaning he wants to make Trump great. He subsists on a diet of loyalty, praise from his friends, and confusion for his enemies who are defined as those beings who do not flatter and fawn.

It is an old trick of men in power to maintain themselves on top by diverting the public attention to overseas adventures when there is trouble at home. Think of Nixon and Vietnam, Reagan and Grenada.

Q: Poor Syria! Superb cuisine. Great potential for tourism. Clever people — but divided into ethnic, religious, and tribal groups distrustful of each other, like Iraq. Much of what was built by a dictator has been destroyed. Who will pay for reconstruction? Will we cough up the funds or will the Saudis or other ruin-makers?

A: Are you kidding? Second lesson of Geopolitics 101: Do good works only when there is a greater benefit for the doer. Think of the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, rebuilding Western Europe in good part to block the U.S.S.R. Think of South Korea reconstructed in order to stand up to China and North Korea. How much American treasure have we poured into the Middle East? Are we going to add more trillions merely to achieve sainthood?

Q: So how will it all end in the Middle East?

A: End? Why end? Afghanistan, a hopeless case, has been on our “to do” list for 17 years. Iraq still has potential to keep us involved. And keep the Kurds in mind. They have the possibility of stirring up the Turks. Yet another tar baby to keep us stuck in the region rather than in the U.S.A. where leadership and resources are sadly lacking.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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