years of brutal war have left Syria in ruins Syrians will continue to pay the price for military escalation Photo: Christiaan Triebert / Wikimedia

The reaction from many liberals to Trump’s attack on Syria has exposed their faux opposition to him, writes John Rees

Donald Trump’s cruise missile attack certainly hit its intended target: his domestic critics. Syrians are paying, and will continue to pay, the price. 

After years of 140 character warnings against involvement in Syria, Trump’s latest in a series of screeching U-turns needs some explanation. The decision marks another abandonment of the insurgent Trump persona and his rapid alignment with the US foreign policy establishment.

US policy in Syria always favoured regime change in Syria. But in the post Iraq miasma it could not action this plan with a full scale ‘shock and awe’ military operation. The absolutely justified desire of the Syrian people to get rid of the Assad regime in 2011 gave the US and its Turkish and Gulf allies the possibility of suborning the opposition and achieving regime change by other means.

Sadly, the Free Syrian Army was willing to play this role. From its early picture opportunities alongside Hillary Clinton through to its operations against the Kurds as part of the recent Turkish offensive, and its current demand that Trump increase the bombing of Syria, it has always looked to the US for salvation. Frequent disappointment has never led to any reassessment of this policy by the FSA.

But the proxy war strategy has also failed the US and its regional allies. The Assad regime was backed by Russia. This was always going to be the case. The US has a string of middle east allies: Israel, the Gulf States, Jordan, and Morocco. And, of course, NATO ally Turkey. The Russians have one ally in the region, Syria, and they were always going to defend it no matter what the cost to the Syrian people.

The long and bloody stalemate, and the creation of the so-called Islamic State, has been the result of this balance of terror.

More recently, and especially since the fall of Aleppo, it looked as if the US was going to be effectively locked out of any settlement in Syria and the US ambassador to the UN had even gone so far as to admit that the removal of Assad was no longer a priority for the US. 

All this was not to the liking of the US foreign policy elite. Hillary Clinton has been their standard bearer through two Obama administrations and ran for the Presidency on the ticket of ramping up the military operation in Syria.

Trump is in the deepest possible hole over his supposedly pro-Russian sympathies. Three ongoing investigations into Mike Flynn, his first rapid resignee National Security Advisor, is only the tip of this iceberg.

What better way then to silence the Clintonite opposition, and rise above accusations of being pro-Putin, than to strike at Assad? The horrific chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun gave Trump an opportunity too good to miss.

In this register the missile strike was highly successful. It evaporated the liberal opposition to Trump in a trice. As the UK’s internal bulletin of the ruling elite, The Financial Times, reported both Democrat and Republicans are more than happy with the new Trump. They feel they have regained control of the White House. 

In the UK even the liberal bell-weather that is The Guardian, only days ago in full throat against Trump, has welcomed the strike. Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, has done so. So has Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. 

It is another spectacular proof of where the new fault line in politics lies. The rise of the populist right has disorganised the liberal centre of politics, the neoliberal, neo-conservative centre that dominated the last quarter century of establishment politics. The Clintons, Blairs and their lineal descendants dislike the right, but not nearly as much as they dislike the radical left of, for instance, Sanders, Corbyn, and Mélenchon. 

As soon as they feel that the establishment has control of the radical right, or can come to some arrangement with it, ‘the resistance’ is abandoned in seconds. 

This is only true to form. It was the crisis of the liberal centre, its wars and economic failures, its accommodations to racism and its relentless austerity, that produced the populist right in the first place.

Now the exposure of their anti-Trump stance as mere mock-opposition will embolden the right. Trump has tasted blood and has enjoyed a brief respite from a relentlessly negative press. Of course he will want to repeat the experience. Syrians and others, not least poor and working class people in the West, will pay the price unless the resistance is strengthened, not abandoned.

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.

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