Shayrat airfield











The stunning revelation that chemical weapons were used, yet again, in Syria has turned our nation’s  foreign policy upside down. Videos of children suffering from this attack are difficult to watch and viscerally real to the core : which begs the question, why anyone in any sort of situation would ever use such weapons and for what, if any, gain?

It is a line no one can cross and come back. We had no choice but to respond, and we did.

Few events that can trigger as potent a world reaction as the sight of children suffering. As Trump says, “It crosses a line”.

Yet as we accept the situation, increasingly and urgently important it is to maintain some focus as to who was behind this and why.  And then to target those who perpetrated it, in a way precisely that sends a message — not to them, for they are finished — but to the rest of the world that this must never, ever be done again. Period.

War is of a nasty complexity, politics perhaps even nastier. Nevertheless, behind every atrocity lurks an agenda, however misguided. Yes, Syria’s leader Assad is labeled as doing this terrible thing. That much, our nation’s leadership has said. Yet the only reason that Assad still exists is the support he gets from Putin’s Russian forces. That would be troubling enough, but this war isn’t so simple : we would like to see Assad removed : but his army has battled ISIS, and to remove him would remove a significant force fighting our primary foe in the entire Middle East.

Given Russia’s involvement in our recent election, the Russia factor in Syria got worse.

Assad in 2013 had already used chemical weapons against his own people, acts that President Obama had to respond to : he declared it a crossing of the line. Military action was ready; however, Obama chose, at the last minute, a diplomatic maneuver by which Russia agreed to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, neutralizing their use – and preserving Assad’s regime.

Obama seemed satisfied; but the gambit proved effective. Obama could have done both — persuade Russia to take out the weapons AND then, himself, take out Assad. He chose not;, and things are where they are now.

So, why did Assad do this ?

I’ll discuss this issue later. First, let’s talk a parallel problem we currently face : North Korea. Their testing of ICBM’s has been much noticed; equally noticed was the curious murder of Kim Jong’s estranged and exiled brother in a Malaysia airport – by, of all things, a chemical weapon. Which one ? Sarin. A deadly gas which only few nations possess, the US being one, Russia another. The question became : who did this and for what purpose? Some said it was Kim Jong himself. Yet, much mystery surrounds that ongoing investigation.

You may also recall an incident from last year in which a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border crossed into Turkish airspace and was shot down by Turkey. Instead of challenging Turkey, Putin did something very different : he blamed the USA even though there was no evidence of our involvement at all. He then put together a NATO meeting with Turkey and others to develop strategy against their common enemy, ISIS, and he deliberately disinvited the US. What does any of this mean? It means Putin was willing to get his own fighter killed in order to draw Turkey into his sphere and driving a wedge into the US/Turkey relationship.

Putin has been credited for the chess mastery of this move, and the US criticized for having been played with little ability to counter.

What can the US do against any of this? Putin seems every day bolder to push US leadership in demonstrating his autonomy and international power. His corruption of our recent election is only one play in his game. So, what is the US thinking? The Syria fighting has seemed to move Assad’s way, as Russian military assistance enabled the Syrian Army to re-take Aleppo — and to corner rebel factions that we were supporting. Russia supported Assad, while we supported the rebels, put us face to face with Russia’s aims. Russian influence within the new US administration complicated matters, not to mention making the resolution an urgent matter of national security.

Assad appeared to have re-asserted his regime, announced his success, and celebrated it. Yet yesterday he felt the need to employ a chemical attack on the Syrian people. With Sarin, no less.

The same poison used to murder Kim Jong’s brother. And the same Assad that had used before and was supposed to have been removed by Russia.

The world buys that Assad did this, because he’s done it before. There had to be a response by the US. But what response ? Could Russia be inducing the US to act ? If so, to what purpose ? Has Putin played a part in the North Korean problem by having a hand in Kim Jong’s brother’s murder? The idea that Russia might poison people isn’t unheard of- in fact it’s heard of. Often.

Perhaps Putin is pushing Trump to lift sanctions, but given Russia’s successful money laundering network, in which Trump has been implicated for at least a decade, it’s doubtful Russia cares about the sanctions. Yet, their economy isn’t good, which means the people of Russia aren’t good, and Putin may feel this a major weakness. Our foreign policy may seek to turn his own people against him ; easier said than done.

All that being said, perhaps Russia did not do this sarin attack. We have no clear idea why Assad would do it, but we need to accept he may have. And there is one other possibility.

Who else could engineer something that immediately draws American attention and determination to avenge ? The world is now unified against Assad. Putin takes a big risk by continuing to support him; indeed, as a leader with world power goals, he needs to distance himself from Assad’s heinous regime lest he be implicated in the murderer of children (he already is that, having supported those who shot down a commercial plane over Ukraine that was carrying 260 people, including children.)

This is what makes this situation so grave. The lines between good and evil, who’s flying close to the line and who’s crossing over it. Is there even a line at all ? The Trump administration has already made it clear that truth is negotiable, that there are facts and there are alternative facts. Our world is upside down. Who is in charge? The guy who still talks about how many electoral votes he got, and tweets at 4 in the morning? Where are the adults? What lines are being crossed? Better yet, what is the line that can not be crossed?

The American people draw the line at innocent children.

It’s been said that Putin is playing three-dimensional chess and the US is playing checkers; this may be true. But it may not be. The history of the United States includes actions to further our own agenda that have ,at best, blurred lines and at worst crossed them deliberately. This must be considered.

A line has been crossed. But to be clear, it wasn’t in Syria yesterday by Assad. It was crossed last November. And ever since, we’ve been trying to re-draw it somehow, and it’s not entirely clear how that’s gonna happen.

—- Christopher Mugglebee / The Mugglebee Files at Here and Sphere

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