The ‘virtue-bombing’ of Syria

There has been a lot of questioning of what looked like a largely symbolic missile strike on Syria. Donald Trump in particular, with the aid of the UK and France, made a big deal about ‘mission accomplished’, with limited damage of questionable targets and no idea what the flow on effects might be.

There are suspicions there may have been collusion with Russia, and one could wonder if Syria even volunteered some harmless uninhabited targets. If the US knew there were chemical weapon laboratories where they claim them to be why did they wait until chemicals had allegedly been used against civilians?

I think a high degree of scepticism is warranted with any claims from any side of this murky Middle East mess.

However Brendan O’Neill at spiked is in little doubt. He claims: THE WEST’S VIRTUE-BOMBING OF SYRIA IS A DISASTROUS MISTAKE

Our governments have made themselves the allies of ISIS.

We’ve had virtue-signalling – now we have virtue-bombing. A military strike designed not to defeat an enemy, or take territory, or achieve any kind of tangible political goal, but rather to make a showy statement about our presumed moral decency. A violent tweet. The military wing of gesture politics. The pursuit of PR by other means.

The American, British and French assault on targets in Damascus at the weekend is an example of virtue-bombing. spiked is not a pacifist publication, but it is very clear to us that this is an act of war unanchored from geopolitical reason and ungoverned by the very basics of political judgement.

This joint intervention will do nothing to help the people of Syria and in fact could make their terrible lot worse. As even some in the pro-bombing camp recognise, taking out a few alleged chemical-weapons facilities will not stem the bloodshed in a war in which the vast majority of people are killed by conventional means.

And as they occasionally confess, weakening one alleged part of the Assad regime’s military apparatus will do nothing to dent the Assad-Russia-Iran alliance to win back Syrian territory from the various opposition forces, some of whom are disturbingly backward movements given to beheading dissidents, obliterating women’s liberty, and enforcing 7th-century diktats.

In fact it could end up strengthening that alliance, through escalating the ante so that this alliance is now not only concerned with defending Assad’s authority over Syria, but also with defending its own global and domestic reputations against a new militaristic alliance of Western powers.

…the second thing it will do is boost the very species of Islamist extremism that has in recent years declared existential war upon the West and which in Europe has massacred almost 500 people in the past five years alone. Such groups, rife in the vortex that Syria has become, will benefit directly from the Western alliance’s actions.

This is perhaps the most shocking element of the strikes on Damascus: they make Western powers and their media cheerleaders objectively into the allies of some of the darkest, foulest movements at work in the world today.

From ISIS to the Army of Islam to al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), the movements lined up against Assad are far from the ‘rebels’ some Western media coverage would have us believe. They are ruthless religious extremists whose victory in Syria would make the Assad regime, with all its authoritarianism and anti-democracy, look like a pleasant memory in comparison.

These groups have enforced terrible rule in places like Raqqa, Ghouta and East Aleppo and have committed barbarous crimes against civilians, including, it is widely suspected, with their own use of chemical weapons. These outfits will welcome the Western alliance’s actions and will see the West’s heaped pressure on Assad as a green light to their own violent ideological push against the regime.

These air strikes are in essence a military wing of Islamist extremism, providing military cover and even moral rejuvenation to an anti-Assad movement that has virtually no positive qualities.

The many sided mess in Syria, along with the many country meddling, is likely to have been hardly affected by the missile strike. It might have served as a bit of a warning, but Trump has already said he wants the US out of Syria, so it could simply be seen as a hit and run.

It might have deterred the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons, but they have plenty of other weapons of mass misery to deploy, as has been happening over the nine year long civil war.

Trump (and probably also May and Macron) was playing more to his domestic audience. What better way to divert from his substantial problems at home than to display military might on the other side of the world.

Syria appears to have been used as a cynical PR tool by the US. It could well be nothing more than virtue signalling, with very high risks attached (like the possibility of a superpower war).

And if Trump was virtuously concerned about the alleged chemical attack and reacted according to moral imperative that is also a worry, given the number of things he seems to be annoyed about. At least Twitter is relatively harmless.

A lot of what is happening in Syria far from harmless, and largely ignored by Trump.

It does have an appearance of cherry picking virtue bombing, with some major PR bombing to go with it.

Back here in New Zealand we have it well covered. Prime Minister Jacinda utterly accepts whatever.

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19 Comments

  1. Gerrit

     /  April 18, 2018

    To add to the complexity, Kurdish design on self rule in the northern provinces off Syria and Iraq is under attack from the Syrian rebels, Syrian government, Iraq government and the Kurds arch enemy, Turkey.

    Kurds are backed by the USA.

    “Perhaps more importantly, they have land. Backed by the U.S. in the fight against IS, Kurdish forces control nearly 25 percent of Syria. They hold most of the northern border with Turkey and have expanded into non-Kurdish, Arab-dominated areas. The Americans have set up bases there to provide battlefield support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, as well as the training and advising of security forces and the new civilian administrations in liberated areas.

    The Kurds have also maintained close ties with Russia and are confident they can fend off Turkey, which is vehemently opposed to a Kurdish entity on its border.”

    https://www.voanews.com/a/syria-kurds-entrench-self-rule/4061323.html

    She is a complex situation.

    Reply
    • seer

       /  April 18, 2018

      There is a lot of bullshit out there about the Kurds – particularly the media friendly anarcho-LGBQT freedom fighters. One thing that is accurate is the s at the end of Kurds – how many 3 letter Kurd groups can you name?
      Some have astutely described a proposed Kurdistan as Israel 2.0.
      Kurds did the dirty work for the Turks in the Armenian genocide for their possessions and land.
      In 1960 there were less than 200,000 Kurds in Syria.
      A nomadic people, from Iran.

      Reply
      • Gerrit

         /  April 18, 2018

        So are the Kurds a complicating factor in the Syrian/Iraq region or not. My simple supposition is that they are.

        Your spouting output suggest you dont.

        However a bit of background reading on the situation TODAY is enlightening when the blinkers are removed.

        The Kurds remain a factor in the Middle East.

        Worth a read

        https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/kurds-iraq-syria/556052/

        Reply
        • seer

           /  April 18, 2018

          My ‘spouting output’ concerning the Kurds comes from a position of being somewhat dismissive of Kurds purported claims for sovereignty beyond what they legitimately have/had. And I emphasise again they are not a homogeneous group. They certainly are a complicating factor in the Middle East and particularly Turkey is most concerned about any Kurdish state aspirations.

          Endless numbers of words can be written speculating about their future and the Atlantic article is part of that. But the reality is the Kurds are small players and are just tools used by more powerful forces.

          Apparently the Kurds have a saying “We have no friends but the mountains”. And that will remain the case as long as they behave as opportunistic brigands. The “indigenous” Arab tribes in the SDF have little time for them and when the Syrian government prevails east of the Euphrates any gains the Kurds have made will evaporate.

          Reply
  2. Missy

     /  April 18, 2018

    “Trump (and probably also May and Macron) was playing more to his domestic audience.”

    Trump probably was playing to his domestic audience, or rather his voter base, not sure about May and Macron.

    Macron is facing devastating rolling strikes on the rail network over the next three months, so there could be an argument of trying to distract from domestic issues, as for May, I am not sure she was playing to the domestic audience (this has been very unpopular in the UK) or trying to distract from any domestic issues (it is a lull in the Brexit negotiations). In fact in the UK the only thing these strikes have distracted from are the ongoing issues within Labour, so I am not sure May would want to distract from them. Though you could go down the path one Twitter conspiracy theorist did, (though to be fair the tweet was deleted after a few hours and lots of ‘you are stupid’ replies), and suggest May did it to boost her – and by extension the Conservatives – popularity leading into the May 3 Local elections.

    Personally I don’t think either May or Macron are playing to a domestic audience or distracting from other issues, I think they both genuinely believe that they have done the right thing.

    One thing that has come up over the last few days is those that were against the proposed strikes in 2013 who are now saying they were wrong then and the US, UK and allies should have launched missile strikes on Assad after the chemical attack then.

    On a slightly different note, he is another idiot referring to it as a bombing, it wasn’t a bombing as no bombs were used, it was a missile strike. Hard to take anyone seriously when they can’t get the basics correct.

    Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 18, 2018

    I think Trump was genuinely outraged by the images of children suffering combined with indignation that chemicals were being used again despite his previous response drawing a line against them. Obviously there would have been consideration as to how it would play domestically and internationally in formulating the reaction.

    That they may have been ISIS children probably didn’t figure. Trump is an emotional man and trusts his emotions first, then considers rational arguments second. I think that is how his support base see him and relate to him. On the whole I don’t think that is a bad thing. It enables him to relate to people the elites don’t and can’t.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 18, 2018

      Trump is an egotistical narcissistic bully and a liar. He shits on the people who work for him and who vote for him once he’s got what he wants. That’s about it really.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  April 18, 2018

        Plus, on matters that don’t concern himself, he has the attention span of gnat and that may be being underestimating the average gnats’ attention span.

        Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  April 18, 2018

        Some truth to that too.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  April 18, 2018

          Have you seen what he’s just done to poor Nikki Hayley? 😕

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  April 18, 2018

            After all she’s done for him … 😥

            Reply
          • seer

             /  April 18, 2018

            “Have you seen what he’s just done to poor Nikki Hayley?”
            No. My imagination wonders what he has done to the ‘murikan Christian Sikh former waffle house waitress hot outfit wearer and US Ambassador to the UN.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  April 18, 2018

              It’s trending on World Watch

            • Gezza

               /  April 18, 2018

              Ok … it’s not, but the details are there … 😕

        • Gezza

           /  April 18, 2018

          Some truth to that too.

          And that’s only his good points … :/

          Reply
  4. seer

     /  April 18, 2018

    FUKUS’s Friday the 13th attack on Syria might have been virtue signally as apparently no one was killed and three buildings destined for demolition were destroyed and FUKUS’s arse nal was depleted by 100+ missiles. Furthermore Russia’s reputation as an ally and supplier of relatively cost effective weapons was enhanced.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 18, 2018

      Some of that stock of Tomahawks is probably getting pretty old and might have a use-by date.

      Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  April 18, 2018

      Russia’s supply of chlorine do you mean?

      Reply
  1. Trump pushing weapon sales to Middle East | Your NZ

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