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When the news of Donald Trump’s Tomahawk missile strike on Syria first hit the mainstream media, I had imagined the worst. This looked like the start of a potentially dangerous confrontation between Russia and the USA in Syria. The full details that followed the initial news reports indicate that the missile strike was largely a show with relatively little effect on the airbase that was targeted.
It would be reasonable to expect that when attacking an airbase, the two primary targets that should be hit are aircraft and runways. This strike had no impact on runways or operational aircraft and the airbase was able to fly missions the day following the attack. It was also revealed that Russian forces were given advance notice of the missile strike and one can presume they passed on that warning to its Syrian ally. While the seriousness of striking a sovereign nation should not be understated, one wonders what was the purpose of the attack, if it produces virtually no operational impairment of the airbase it targeted?
The rationale for this strike was the apparent chemical weapons attack a few days earlier that was attributed to Assad, the leader of Syria. One wonders how after all the horrors visited on Syrian civilians, this attack was the one that triggered a US missile strike. It looks like a convenient excuse for a show of strength from a leader (Donald Trump) whose popularity is in the tank. Given that this missile strike is a 180 degree turn from the previously stated policy of non-intervention in Syria, what is the policy now? Is there any real policy shift, or is this all about sound and fury, signifying nothing? This air strike seems to be primarily about reacting to the news media coverage of the chemical weapons event, rather than an action that is part of a cohesive policy and strategy in relation to the Syrian leadership.
It is hard to underestimate the contribution of the mainstream media in the lead up to the missile attack (reaction to the chemical attack) and the almost obscene adoration that the media engaged in over the missile strike itself. Clearly the mainstream media adores missiles and had some media pundits extolling “the beauty of our weapons”. That is beyond irresponsible. It is pure public relations and the corporate media served their masters well on this love-in for war.
The political establishment on both sides of the aisle were also united in their praise of this strike, as if it had represented some expression of compassion for the victims of the chemical attack that lead to it. Airstrikes that have been going on for years in that region have resulted in thousands of civilian casualties with little condemnation from mainstream media or politicians. Why react now?
So the bottom line is: this was a show strike, a reality tv play if you will. However, even shows have consequences. Will this action have longer term consequences, or will it be washed away with little effect as soon as it falls out of the headlines?
The concerning thing is that since we are framing this as a show and it has raised the popularity of President Trump and united both sides of the Congress, will reality tv President Trump be tempted to do more of the same? Will those who were embarrassed by the show ,Russia for example, ultimately react more stridently? Will other actors, such as North Korea, see themselves as the next target? The only thing that seems clear, is that there is no clarity here from the Trump administration, since there is no obvious policy and strategy going forward. Hold onto your hats, we could be in for a rough ride.