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Trump Shouldn't Take Intelligence on Syria at Face Value

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

PARIS -- It was just two weeks ago that America's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power was no longer a U.S. priority. Syrian peace talks had recently taken place in Kazakhstan, spearheaded by Russia, which had even presented a first draft for a new Syrian constitution as a starting point for solving the ongoing conflict. All that was left was for the Russians and the new Donald Trump administration to join forces to wipe out the Islamic State.


But then, last week, Trump was apparently shown images of what appeared to be child victims of a chemical attack in Syria, and his non-interventionist campaign promises suddenly went out the window. He ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles from U.S. warships, striking a Syrian airbase and destroying some Syrian fighters -- the same fighters used to drop bombs on Islamic State terrorists.

Casualties from the airstrike were minimal, but those 59 Tomahawks are going to have to be replenished, which is already a bonus for the U.S. war economy. War drum aficionado John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had long seemed frustrated by Trump's apparent disinclination toward American fireworks shows, but McCain was suddenly commending Trump for letting 'er rip, calling the raid an "excellent first step." (Seemingly always hungry for a scrap with Russia, McCain also used the airstrike as an opportunity to accuse the Russians of being complicit in the chemical attack.)

Trump's domestic foes had desperately been trying to delegitimize his presidential authority by searching for evidence of collusion between his campaign team and Russia. Now, many of those foes are suddenly cheering him.

You'd think that before ordering the launch of any missiles, Trump would have said to himself: "Wait a minute, could it be that the same people trying to trick the American public into believing that I'm a Russian Manchurian candidate are trying to trick me into a knee-jerk reaction in Syria?"


According to the New York Times, in the hours following the chemical attack in Syria, "intelligence and military officials continue(d) to investigate the attack, giving them confidence that Mr. Assad is responsible."

But how do we know that the source of the information isn't corrupt?

Does Trump know, for example, that the sources for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons report published in 2015 on alleged chemical incidents in Syria acknowledged that all of their witnesses were pre-selected by a Brussels-based foundation called the Chemical Violations Documentation Center of Syria, which lists George Soros' Open Society Foundations as its sponsor? The same deep-pocketed forces that Trump and Putin have accused of fomenting anti-democratic political action against them might now be doing the same to Assad.

Another of the CVDCS's sponsors is the Asfari Foundation, whose board of trustees includes Ayman Asfari, a prominent Syrian-born executive of the British petroleum giant Petrofac. Asfari is described by the U.K. newspaper The Independent as "an outspoken critic of President Assad," and he is a prominent donor to the British Conservative Party. Knowing that significant money was donated to the Conservative Party by an Assad critic, is Trump going to take party leader Theresa May's encouragement to ditch Assad at face value?


Moreover, is Trump aware that the U.S. government, through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding, has had a mission in place since 2013 (and not set to expire until 2020) worth many millions of dollars for private contractors to "implement a regional program to manage a quick-response mechanism supporting activities that pursue a transition to a democratic and stable Syria"? Would a "quick response mechanism" include manipulating credulous decision makers and public opinion into supporting a missile attack to hasten a transition from the Assad government to one that better serves the interests of those who have long wanted Assad gone? Just asking.

This is the lucrative business of humanitarianism, mistress of the military-industrial complex. This mistress can't be kept in the manner to which it's accustomed if Trump can't be convinced to keep the party going and the cash flowing.

Fortunately for Trump, all is not yet lost. The airstrike didn't even disable the Syrian base. According to the New York Times, "Trump was looking for something aggressive but 'proportionate' that would be sufficient to send a signal -- but not so large as to risk escalating the conflict."

At least Trump had the sense not to take things any further -- and nor should he ever unless he is able to independently verify the credibility of any information on alleged chemical attacks.


Trump is naive if he believes the same intelligence community that's been so eager to take him down has suddenly become trustworthy.


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