After slapping Donald Trump around for several months to make him surrender his hopes for a more cooperative relationship with Russia, the neocons and their liberal-interventionist allies are now telling the battered President what he must do next: escalate war in the Middle East and ratchet up tensions with nuclear-armed Russia.
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona. March 19, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)
Star neocon Robert Kagan spelled out Trump’s future assignments in a column on Sunday in The Washington Post, starting out by patting the chastened President on the head for his decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at an airstrip in Syria supposedly in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack blamed on the Syrian government (although no serious investigation was even conducted).
Trump earned widespread plaudits for his decisive action and his heart-on-the-sleeve humanitarianism as his voice filled with emotion citing the chemical-weapons deaths on April 4 of “small children and even beautiful little babies.” The U.S. media then helpfully played down reports from Syria that Trump’s April 6 retaliatory missile strike had killed about 15 people, including nine civilians, four of whom were children.
However, for Kagan, the missile strike was only a good start. An advocate for “regime change” in Syria and a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century which pushed for the Iraq War, Kagan praised Trump “for doing what the Obama administration refused to do,” i.e. involve the U.S. military directly in attacks on the Syrian government.
“But,” Kagan added, “Thursday’s action needs to be just the opening salvo in a broader campaign not only to protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the Bashar al-Assad regime but also to reverse the downward spiral of U.S. power and influence in the Middle East and throughout the world. A single missile strike unfortunately cannot undo the damage done by the Obama administration’s policies over the past six years.”
Kagan continued: “Trump was not wrong to blame the dire situation in Syria on President Barack Obama. The world would be a different place today if Obama had carried out his threat to attack Syria when Assad crossed the famous ‘red line’ in the summer of 2013. The bad agreement that then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry struck with Russia not only failed to get rid of Syria’s stock of chemical weapons and allowed the Assad regime to drop barrel bombs and employ widespread torture against civilian men, women and children. It also invited a full-scale Russian intervention in the fall of 2015, which saved the Assad regime from possible collapse.”
A Seasoned Propagandist
Kagan, who cut his teeth in the Reagan administration running a State Department propaganda shop on Central America, has never been particularly interested in nuance or truth, so he wouldn’t care that Obama pulled back from attacking Syria in summer 2013, in part, because his intelligence advisers told him they lacked proof that Assad was responsible for a mysterious sarin attack. (Since then, the evidence has indicated that the attack was likely a provocation by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate with help from Turkish intelligence.)
Prominent neocon intellectual Robert Kagan. (Photo credit: Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl)
But groupthinks die hard – and pretty much every Important Person in Official Washington just knows that Assad did carry out that sarin attack, just like they all knew that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was hiding WMDs in 2003. So, it follows in a kind of twisted logical way that they would build off the fake history regarding the 2013 Syria-sarin case and apply it to the new groupthink that Assad has carried out this latest attack, too. Serious fact-finding investigations are not needed; everyone just “knows.”
But Kagan is already looking ahead. Having pocketed Trump’s capitulation last week on Syria, Kagan has shifted his sights onto the much juicier targets of Russia and Iran.
“Russia has … greatly expanded its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean,” Kagan wrote. “Obama and Kerry spent four years panting after this partnership, but Russia has been a partner the way the mafia is when it presses in on your sporting goods business. Thanks to Obama’s policies, Russia has increasingly supplanted the United States as a major power broker in the region. Even U.S. allies such as Turkey, Egypt and Israel look increasingly to Moscow as a significant regional player.
“Obama’s policies also made possible an unprecedented expansion of Iran’s power and influence. … If you add the devastating impact of massive Syrian refugee flows on European democracies, Obama’s policies have not only allowed the deaths of almost a half-million Syrians but also have significantly weakened America’s global position and the health and coherence of the West.”
Yes, all that was Obama’s fault for not invading Syria with a couple of hundred thousand U.S. troops because that’s what would have been required to achieve Kagan’s “regime change” goal in Syria. And there’s no reason to think that the Syrian invasion would have been any less bloody than the bloody Kagan-advocated invasion of Iraq. But Kagan and the neocons never take responsibility for their various bloodbaths. It’s always someone else’s fault.
President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
And now Kagan is telling Trump that there is still much he must do to earn his way back into the good graces of the neocons.
Kagan continued, “Trump, of course, greatly exacerbated these problems during his campaign, with all the strong rhetoric aimed at allies. Now he has taken an important first step in repairing the damage, but this will not be the end of the story. America’s adversaries are not going to be convinced by one missile strike that the United States is back in the business of projecting power to defend its interests and the world order. …
“The testing of Trump’s resolve actually begins now. If the United States backs down in the face of these challenges, the missile strike, though a worthy action in itself, may end up reinforcing the world’s impression that the United States does not have the stomach for confrontation.”
And confrontation is surely what Kagan has in mind, adding:
“Instead of being a one-time event, the missile strike needs to be the opening move in a comprehensive political, diplomatic and military strategy to rebalance the situation in Syria in America’s favor. That means reviving some of those proposals that Obama rejected over the past four years: a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians, the grounding of the Syrian air force, and the effective arming and training of the moderate opposition, all aimed at an eventual political settlement that can bring the Syrian civil war, and therefore the Assad regime, to an end.
“The United States’ commitment to such a course will have to be clear enough to deter the Russians from attempting to disrupt it. This in turn will require moving sufficient military assets to the region so that neither Russia nor Iran will be tempted to escalate the conflict to a crisis, and to be sure that American forces will be ready if they do. …
“Let’s hope that the Trump administration is prepared for the next move. If it is, then there is a real chance of reversing the course of global retreat that Obama began. A strong U.S. response in Syria would make it clear to the likes of Putin, Xi Jinping, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Kim Jong Un that the days of American passivity are over.”
On His Knees
To put this message in the crude terms that President Trump might understand, now that the neocons have forced him to his knees, they are demanding that he open his mouth. They will not be satisfied with anything short of a massive U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and a full-scale confrontation with Russia (and perhaps China).
Former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 7, 2014. (U.S. State Department photo)
This sort of belligerence is what the neocons and liberal hawks had expected from Hillary Clinton, whom Kagan had endorsed. Some sources claim that a President Hillary Clinton planned to appoint Kagan’s neocon wife, Victoria Nuland, as Secretary of State.
As Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs under Obama, Nuland oversaw the U.S.-backed putsch that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, replacing him with a fiercely anti-Russian regime, the move that touched off civil war in Ukraine and sparked the New Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. [For more on Kagan clan, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Family Business of Perpetual War.”]
Clinton’s defeat was a stunning setback but the neocons never give up. They are both well-organized and well-funded, dominating Official Washington’s think tanks and media outlets, sharing some power with their junior partners, the liberal interventionists, who differ mostly in the rationales cited for invading other countries. (The neocons mostly talk about global power and democracy promotion, while the liberal hawks emphasize “human rights.”)
In dealing with the narcissistic and insecure Trump, the neocons and liberal hawks conducted what amounted to a clever psychological operation. They rallied mainstream media personalities and Democrats horrified at Trump’s victory. In particular, Democrats and their angry base were looking for any reason to hold out hope for Trump’s impeachment. Hyping alleged Russian “meddling” in the election became the argument of choice.
Night after night, MSNBC and other networks competed in their Russia-bashing to boost ratings among Trump-hating Democrats. Meanwhile, Democratic politicians, such as Rep. Adam Schiff of California, saw the Russia-gate hearings as a ticket to national glory. And professional Democratic strategists could evade their responsibility for running a dismal presidential campaign by shifting the blame to the Russians.
However, besides creating a convenient excuse for Clinton’s defeat, the anti-Russian hysteria blocked Trump and his team from any move that they might try to make regarding avoidance of a costly and dangerous New Cold War. The Russia-hating frenzy reached such extremes that it paralyzed the formulation of any coherent Trump foreign policy.
Now, with the neocons regaining influence on the National Security Council via NSC adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus, the neocon holding action against the New Détente has shifted into an offensive to expand the hot war in Syria and intensify the Cold War with Russia. As Kagan recognized, Trump’s hasty decision to fire off missiles was a key turning point in the reassertion of neocon/liberal-hawk dominance over U.S. foreign policy.
It’s also suddenly clear how thoroughly liberal Democrats were taken for a ride on the war train by getting them to blame Russia for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The liberals (and even many progressives) hated Trump so much that they let themselves be used in the service of neocon/liberal-hawk endless war policies. Now, it may be too late to turn the train around.