Trump pushing weapon sales to Middle East

You would have to be cynical to think that this has anything to do with The ‘virtue-bombing’ of Syria.

 Arming the world: Inside Trump’s ‘Buy American’ drive to expand weapons exports

In a telephone call with the emir of Kuwait in January, U.S. President Donald Trump pressed the Gulf monarch to move forward on a $10 billion fighter jet deal that had been stalled for more than a year.

With this Oval Office intervention, the details of which have not been previously reported, Trump did something unusual for a U.S. president – he personally helped to close a major arms deal. In private phone calls and public appearances with world leaders, Trump has gone further than any of his predecessors to act as a salesman for the U.S. defense industry, analysts said.

Trump’s personal role underscores his determination to make the United States, already dominant in the global weapons trade, an even bigger arms merchant to the world, U.S. officials say, despite concerns from human rights and arms control advocates.

Those efforts will be bolstered by the full weight of the U.S. government when Trump’s administration rolls out a new “Buy American” initiative as soon as this week aimed at allowing more countries to buy more and even bigger weapons. It will loosen U.S. export rules on equipment ranging from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, the officials said.

Human rights and arms control advocates warn that the proliferation of a broader range of advanced weaponry to more foreign governments could increase the risk of arms being diverted into the wrong hands and fueling violence in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia.

There’s good bomb business in the Middle East in particular, even under the guise of virtue bombs.

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.

Ardern utterly equivocates on Syrian missile strike

Jacinda Ardern has been criticised for her weak language in response to the US, UK and French missile strike in Syria. Asked again about it on her visit to Germany she equivocated again.

Yesterday Ardern’s previous comments were covered in Political Roundup: NZ’s fraught balancing act on Syria bombing

New Zealand politicians and commentators are very divided on what the best course of action is. So far, the Government has tried to take a middle path, being highly diplomatic in its response to the US-UK-France bombing of Syria, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying that she “accepts” what has happened.

This very deliberate use of the word “accepts” is designed to be ambiguous. It can be taken as support for the bombings. On the other hand, Ardern has also couched her “acceptance” of the attacks within broader statements about the need for a UN-mandated approach to the civil war in Syria. Her comments fall well short of other countries who have more clearly sided with Trump, Macron and May.

Nonetheless, this middling approach has produced criticisms from both sides of politics. And as the conflict continues, these hard criticisms suggest that Ardern may be forced to “get off the fence”.

But Ardern stayed on the fence in Germany. NZH – Jacinda Ardern arrives for discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has emerged from talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, appearing to have strengthened her stance in support for the military action against the chemical attacks in Syria.

During a joint press conference afterwards, Merkel confirmed the pair did discuss Russia and recent chemical attacks, both in Salisbury and Syria.

“And I believe that on the whole, we are one in sharing the same position,” she said.

Questioned by German media, Ardern appeared to give a subtle elevation to her own comments that US-led airstrikes on suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria, were completely necessary.

It was an issue that “cannot be left unchallenged”.

“And so whilst we absolutely maintain the need to first and foremost seek resolution through the likes of the United Nations. When that is not possible, we utterly accept the use of alternative means to address what has to be challenged, and that is a blatant breach of international law,” said Ardern.

“Utterly accept”? This has become typical language from Ardern, using strong adjectives alongside weak words.

It was a slightly strengthened phrase on similar comments she had delivered in New Zealand, that appeared to give a more reluctant acceptance of the need for missile strikes.

‘Slightly strengthened’ words sitting on a fallible fence.

One could say Ardern has utterly prevaricated.

 

On Ardern’s fence sitting on Syrian attacks

Jacinda Ardern stood out from allies by not giving a strong endorsement of the US/UK/French missile attack on Syria. Neither did she take a stand against violence and war.

Her careful positioning on a wobbly fence may have disappointed both sides of a bitter war argument.

Chris Trotter points this out in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a bob each way on bombing Syria

The latest strike against Syria marks a further deterioration in the conduct of international affairs. Of more concern, however, is the quality of the response it elicited from Jacinda Ardern. The New Zealand Prime Minister’s remarks were not the sort to inspire either confidence or respect.

In matters of this kind, a prime minister has two viable choices. Either, she can line up behind New Zealand’s traditional allies and deliver a hearty endorsement of their actions. Or, she can take a stand on principle and distance her country from the justifications, decisions and actions of the nation’s involved.

What a leader should not do is attempt to have a bob each way. Why? Because, as the Ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, pointed out some 2500 years ago: “He who tries to please everybody, ends up pleasing nobody.”

Ardern may not have strongly annoyed anyone by her middling muddy response, but pleasing nobody could be a bigger problem on the left, where her support comes from.

Had Ardern denounced the vetoing, by the United States, of a Russian Federation proposal for an international inquiry into the alleged chemical warfare attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as the Russians’ tit-for-tat vetoing of a similar proposal put forward by the US, she would have elicited widespread support from UN member states.

That support would have grown if she had further declared her disappointment that military action had been initiated by the US, France and the United Kingdom (all permanent members of the Security Council) before inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been given a chance to examine the scene of the alleged attack, gather samples, and make their report.

Perhaps Ardern had other international considerations (Prime Ministers always do). She may wanted to appear to stay onside with France and the UK ahead of her European trip this week.

She could also have announced that, if the Eastern Ghouta incident was confirmed by the OPCW as a chemical attack, then New Zealand would be seeking a vote explicitly condemning its perpetrators at the UN General Assembly, as well as a re-confirmation of the UN ban against the deployment and use of chemical and biological weapons.

Such a course of action would have identified New Zealand as an outspoken defender of the UN Charter and encouraged other small states to take a stand against the precipitate and unsanctioned military actions of the United States and the two former imperial powers most responsible for the century of instability which has beset the nations of the Middle East –  France and Britain.

At a more pragmatic level, such a response would undoubtedly have strengthened New Zealand’s relationship with that other permanent member of the Security Council, the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese have consistently and vehemently opposed unsanctioned and unprovoked military attacks against the sovereign territory of fellow UN member states.

Such would have been the high road for New Zealand: coherent, consistent and principled.

Alas, it was not the road Ardern chose to take.

Instead, having lamented the Security Council’s veto-induced paralysis, the statement issued by New Zealand’s prime minister went on to say:

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.”

Using fewer than 30 words, Ardern telegraphed to the world that New Zealand’s fine words about diplomacy and multilateralism should be dismissed as mere rhetoric. In reality, her country is perfectly willing to set aside its commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts between nation states, and the rule of international law, if the United States, the United Kingdom and France ask them to.

Rather than take an unequivocal stand for peace, the UN Charter and the rule of international law, New Zealand’s prime minister has chosen to talk out of both sides of her mouth. An opportunity to assume moral leadership and demonstrate political courage has been heedlessly squandered.

That’s fairly harsh criticism from a fairly left leaning commentator – and it’s not the first time Ardern has been accused of talking out of both sides of her mouth.

This may blow over most voters unnoticed, but it also has risks for Ardern.

I wonder what Trotter and the left think of the trade deals Ardern is trying to progress in Europe and the UK.

Chemical weapons bad, barrel bombs, mass executions, starvation ok?

As horrible as chemical weapons are, it does seem a bit selective to condemn them while turning a blind eye to, or aiding and abetting,  atrocities by other means in Syria.

The US, UK and French missile strikes on Syria are largely symbolic, and mask a much wider problem.

Jonathan Schanzer (Fox News): Why targeting Syria’s chemical weapons is not enough to stop rising civilian death toll

By firing 105 missiles at Syrian chemical weapons targets before dawn Saturday, the U.S., Britain and France sent a clear message to dictator Bashar Assad: they will not tolerate his regime’s use of toxic gas and other weapons of mass destruction against his own citizens.

But it seems the tripartite alliance is prepared allow Assad to keep killing Syrians on massive scale using conventional weapons. The death toll in Syria after seven years of war is more than 500,000 – and rising. The fact that these deaths did not involve chemical weapons makes them no less tragic for their victims and surviving loved ones.

It’s hard to know exactly how many of the Syrian deaths have been caused by chemical weapons. But we know they represent a relatively small percentage. The Assad regime has killed far more Syrians through crude barrel bombs, mass executions, starvation and deprivation, and in other ways.

On top of this, there have also been conventional military strikes conducted with and without the help of Assad’s allies – Iran and Russia. Both those nations have devoted significant resources to the war.

So has the United Statee. And the United Kingdom. And other countries, including Australia.

So despite the new attack announced by President Trump, the Syrian-Iranian-Russian conventional war machine that is responsible for the overwhelming majority of the murders of innocent Syrians remains intact. And it is not being threatened by America and our allies.

Because they are aiding and abetting it all, as well as supplying many of the means of destruction.

The US imposed severe financial sanctions on North Korea for being a threat, but enable the atrocities in Syria to continue, albeit with a symbolic opposition of chemical weapons.

Of course, President Trump has conveyed his utter contempt for Assad and the forces backing him. He has called Assad an “animal,” and he has called out Iran and Russia as being “responsible” for backing him.

But President Trump remains ambivalent about crafting a foreign policy that would prevent those three nations from continuing their slaughter. Just last week, the president vowed to pull America’s estimated 2,000 troops out of Syria “very soon.” This announcement was certainly welcomed by Assad and his allies.

It is just a bloody (and bloodless via chemical weapons) mess, with blood on the hands of many nations.

What is needed now is a strategy that enables the United States and its allies to make it increasingly more difficult for Syria, Iran and Russia to operate on the battlefield.

Instead they chose action that has a serious risk of escalation.

‘Perfectly executed’, restrained Syria missile strike applauded and slammed

After days of rhetoric and threats the US, UK and France launched a strike against Syrian government targets yesterday. The talking game has resumed.

BBC – Syria air strikes: Trump hails ‘perfect’ mission

The US, UK and France attacked three government sites, targeting what they said were chemical weapons facilities.

More than 100 missiles struck in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma last week.

A Pentagon briefing on Saturday said the strikes had “set the Syrian chemical weapons programme back for years”.

Later there was a bitter exchange between the US and Russia at the United Nations.

The wave of strikes is the most significant attack against President Bashar al-Assad’s government by Western powers in seven years of Syria’s civil war.

Responding to the strikes, Mr Assad said in comments published by his office: “This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he condemned the Western strikes “in the most serious way”.

Russia, whose forces are bolstering Syria’s government, had threatened military retaliation if any Russian personnel had been hit.

Reuters – Most rockets in Western attacks on Syria were intercepted: Russia

Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday that the majority of missiles fired during the overnight attack on Syria by U.S., British and French forces were intercepted by Syrian government air defense systems, TASS news agency reported.

According to Interfax news agency, Russia’s defense ministry also said that Syria intercepted the U.S. and allied attacks using Soviet-produced hardware, including the Buk missile system.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has responded angrily to the strikes, while Syrian state media called them a “flagrant violation of international law.”

There was no agreement at the United Nations for the strike – because of course Russia vetoed, so it was unilateral military action.

We have hardly got the capability for being involved in a missile strike. Has new Zealand got any missiles?

Ghahraman has been attacked for ‘supporting a despot’ but she has a point. International law should be important, and while violence is sometimes necessary to  confront and end violent actions it is highly debatable whether the missile strike in Syria will do anything to end the seven year civil war there.

If history has taught us anything, it is that violence doesn’t and hasn’t ever stopped violence, in that region or elsewhere. So it matters, and is telling to me, that everyone involved is well aware that strike action is almost certainly not going to make victims safe, stop the use of chemical weapons, or end the war. The airstrikes must be seen for what they are: a continuation of a policy that protects American and western interests and a breach of international law.

While the question of lawfulness may seem pedantic in the face of chemical warfare, the opposite, an acceptance of a “might is right” ad hoc approach to something as grave as the integrity of international borders and the use of force, is worth guarding against with vigilance. Leaving the US to do what it wants creates a precedent that we have to live with in future, at the whim of the Trumps in this world, with little respect for the rules and airstrike capability to match. New Zealand, as a small country that relies on multilateralism and the rule of law, needs to stand up against ad hoc unlawful international violence.

It was very telling that in Trump’s statement on air strikes he did not claim the attack was consistent with the UN Charter or was a legal response to the use of chemical weapons. He simply said that the attacks were in the national security of the United States.

What he should have said was the attack served US economic interests.

I doubt that was behind Trump’s reasoning for the strike. He committed himself to a military strike via Twitter and would have risked looking week to Russia if he had not acted – not a good reason but likely to be why he acted.

The support of foreign wars by US arms manufacturers is a different (but important ) issue, but seems to think oil is the economic reason.

This war would not have been as bloody or long lived had it not been for the eager involvement of the US, Russia and their allies and for their unwillingness to pressure their regional allies, to divest from the cheap oil coming from either Iran or Saudi.

I think that the Greens would love for the price of oil to double to deter it’s use, but that would have a massive effect on the New Zealand economy.

Aotearoa is the land that gave my family and me safety and dignity when we arrived as refugees, because Kiwis stand for peace and for inclusion. What we should do is engage with the international community in ensuring the victims have access to aid, safe passage out of targeted areas, can settle as refugees without being accused of terrorism or banned from that safety by the likes of Trump. What New Zealand can do is never support any nation on the East/West divide who sponsors violence. We can, as we have always done, stand against violence, with ordinary people, sharing our values.

It is a fair point to a large extent. Getting involved in wars in the Middle East in particular seems like a fool’s errand (unless you make money off the supply of the means of destruction).

Zero war may sound like a great ideal it only works if all countries share the same commitment. If vile murderous crap happens in other countries should New Zealand tut tut and stay on the sidelines? This is a dilemma.

More specifically, if Syria kept deploying chemical weapons against their own people should New Zealand confine it’s reaction to talk at a largely impotent UN?

Politics is much more complex and difficult than some seem to think, especially international politics.

Washington Examiner – Analysis: Coalition strikes Syria, Russia blinks

Trump said last night that there will be more attacks if Assad continues to use banned weapons on the battlefield. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”

But at the Pentagon last night, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there are no further strikes planned at this time.  “That will depend on Mr. Assad, should he decide to use more chemical weapons in the future,” Mattis said. “But right now this is a one-time shot, and I believe it has sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this.”

Despite deploying its state-of-the-art S-400 air defense system to Syria, the U.S. did not detect any effort by Russia to shoot down allied planes or missiles.

Nevertheless, Russia claims to have shot down 71 of 103 Tomahawk missiles, but it also claims that airfields were bombed that the U.S. says were not targeted. It also vaguely warned of consequences.

“We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences,” said Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. “All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”

That doesn’t sound like Russia blinking. Trump took a week of rhetoric before ordering the strikes. Russia may or may not act on their threats of retaliation.

It’s too soon to tell whether this will escalate or not. The stakes are very high.

US launch missile attack on Syria

As threatened by Donald Trump earlier this week he has ordered a US missile strike against targets in Syria.

The UK and France  have also taken part in the attack.

Theresa May has announced the UK involvement.

It has been described as a one off limited attack, but there must be some risk of escalation.

Probably the key thing now will be Russia’s response, having warned against any punishment of Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Statement on Syria

Jacinda Ardern

RT HON JACINDA ARDERN

This morning the Government was advised that targeted military action would be taken in response to the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

“The Government has always favoured diplomatic efforts and a multilateral approach. The use of the veto powers at the Security Council prevented that course of action. We have always condemned the use of the veto, including by Russia in this case.

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.

“It is now important that these issues are returned to the United Nations multilateral processes including the Security Council,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Macron says France has proof of Syrian chemical attack

Syria and Russia have denied accusations there was a chemical attack on the town of Douma, but President Macron of France claims to have proof that chemical weapons were used.

BBC – Syria ‘chemical attack’: France’s President Macron ‘has proof’

France’s President Emmanuel Macron says he has “proof” that the Syrian government attacked the town of Douma with chemical weapons last weekend.

He said he would decide “in due course” whether to respond with air strikes.

Urine and blood samples from victims of the attack have tested positive for chlorine and a nerve agent, media reports quote US officials as saying.

Western states are thought to be preparing for missile strikes. Russia strongly opposes such action.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged against “any steps which could lead to an escalation of tensions”.

President Donald Trump keeps making steps that could easily lead to escalation. He tweeted on Wednesday that missiles were “coming:

But has since sent a more confusing tweet.

Trump seems obsessed with wanting recognition for being great and for thanks for what he claims to have done.

The guy acts like a moron – and given the stakes in the international games of words he plays, a dangerous moron.

Remarkable Trump threat against Russia – via Twitter

Donald Trump is well known for his controversial use of Twitter to communicate with the world, but this is one of his most remarkable – and worrying – tweets.

This has the potential to escalate into war between the superpowers, but the US has also been directly involved in the civil war in Syria, so has been effectively a partner with the Syrian regime.

This tweet appears to be in reaction to a Russian warning they had the technology to shoot down any missiles.

Reuters: Trump signals strikes against Syria, lays into Assad backer Russia

Trump was reacting to a warning from Russia that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria over the deadly assault on a rebel enclave near Damascus would be shot down and the launch sites targeted.

His comments raised fears of direct conflict over Syria for the first time between the two world powers backing opposing sides in the seven-year-old civil war, which has aggravated instability across the Middle East.

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump tweeted, referring to Moscow’s alliance with Assad.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said: “Smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not towards the lawful government”.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said any U.S. missile salvo could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the reported gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma, for which Damascus and Moscow have denied any responsibility.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, striking a cautious tone hours after Trump’s threat of missile strikes, said the United States was assessing intelligence about the suspected attack.

Asked if he had seen enough evidence to blame Assad, Mattis said: “We’re still working on this.”

He did not elaborate but added that the U.S. military stood ready to provide military options, if appropriate. It was unclear whether his remarks reflected any unease about Trump’s apparent move toward military action.

In Moscow, the head of a Russian parliamentary defence committee, Vladimir Shamanov, said Russia was in direct contact with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff about the situation.

After Trump’s tweet, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, said pro-government forces were emptying main airports and military air bases.

The US has already launched a previous (last year)  token missile strike against a Syrian airport, but with the Trump versus Russia and threats over the last few days this has the potential to blow up into something far more serious – and it could be made worse by Trump’s tweeting.

This follows on from recent claims by Trump that the US would be “coming out of Syria, like, very soon”.

Time: Why the Syrian Civil War Is Becoming Even More Complex

The situation in Syria only grows more complicated.

Donald Trump says he wants a U.S. troop drawdown; his advisors and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince (a U.S. ally) disagree. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani met last week in Ankara to plot a way forward—and all that was before the Assad regime launched a chemical attack in a rebel-occupied Damascus suburb over the weekend, killing at least 42 and drawing international cries of outrage, Trump’s among them.

The U.S. has about 2,000 troops deployed in Syria and has already spent nearly $30 billion waging war there—it’s requested an additional $13 billion for fiscal year 2018. The Pentagon wants to keep U.S. forces in Syria indefinitely (as did Rex Tillerson’sState Department), but Trump’s recent remarks at an infrastructure speech in Ohio that “we’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon” threw the U.S. security establishment for a loop. Meanwhile, Trump’s military advisors argue that pulling out of Syria now will only give ISIS the oxygen it needs to re-expand.

Last week, the White House walked back Trump’s pullout comment. But reports over the weekend that Assad deployed chemical attacks to break the rebels’ hold of Douma, a suburb of the country’s capital, drew Trump’s fury: “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump tweeted, before adding that Obama shoulders part of the blame for not living up to his own declared red lines in Syria. Trump is not wrong in that regard. The real question is what the U.S. does next.

And what Russia does next or in response to any US military action.

Middle East escalation – Syria, Russia, USA, Israel, Iran…

Different situations in the Middle East are escalating concurrently. The most prominent is the alleged chemical attack in Syria, and related allegations that the US were responsible for a missile attack (Israel has now been blamed).

BBC: Suspected Syria chemical attack kills scores

At least 70 people have died in a suspected chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, rescuers and medics say.

Volunteer rescue force the White Helmets tweeted graphic images showing several bodies in basements. It said the deaths were likely to rise.

There has been no independent verification of the reports.

Syria has called the allegations of a chemical attack a “fabrication” – as has its main ally, Russia.

The US state department said Russia – with its “unwavering support” for Syria’s government – “ultimately bears responsibility” for the alleged attacks.

BBC: Syria conflict: Russia says no evidence of Douma chemical attack

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said no evidence has been found of a chemical weapons attack in Syria’s formerly rebel-held town of Douma.

Mr Lavrov said Russian specialists and aid workers had visited the area, which rebel fighters have started leaving under a surrender deal.

 

The claim from Russia – which has intervened militarily in Syria in support of the government – came after videos shot by rescue workers on Saturday showed lifeless bodies of men, women and children with foam at their mouths.

The Syrian-American Medical Society said more than 500 people were brought to medical centres in Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region, near the capital Damascus, with symptoms “indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”, including breathing difficulties, bluish skin, mouth foaming, corneal burns and “the emission of chlorine-like odour”.

Yahoo: ‘I don’t rule anything out’: Mattis on taking action in Syria

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday pointed toward Russia’s role in a suspected poison gas attack on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma, and said he would not rule out a military response.

Russia was supposed to guarantee the disposal of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons in September 2013, but President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is suspected of conducting repeated gas attacks since then.

“The first thing we have to look at is why are chemical weapons still being used at all when Russia was the framework guarantor of removing all the chemical weapons,” Mattis said at the Pentagon in a meeting with his Qatari counterpart.

“Working with our allies and our partners from NATO to Qatar and elsewhere, we are going to address this issue … I don’t rule out anything right now.”

Syria has been accused multiple times of using toxic weapons including sarin gas in the country’s seven-year war, which has killed more than 350,000 people.

Backed by Moscow, Assad has waged a seven-week assault on Ghouta that has killed more than 1,700 civilians and left Islamist rebels cornered in their last holdout of Douma, Ghouta’s largest town.

NY Times: Trump to Decide Soon Whether to Retaliate for ‘Barbaric Act’ in Syria

President Trump on Monday denounced the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria over the weekend as a “barbaric act,” and said he will make a decision in the next 24 to 48 hours about whether to retaliate militarily as he did to a similar assault last year.

“We’re talking about humanity and it can’t be allowed to happen,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the start of a cabinet meeting at which he suggested that a response would be forthcoming soon. “We’ll be making that decision very quickly, probably by the end of today. We cannot allow atrocities like that.”

Calling the attack “heinous” and “atrocious,” the president suggested that Syria’s patrons in Russia and Iran may also be responsible, and seemed to imply that he would take action of some sort to punish them as well.

“If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out and we’ll know the answers quite soon,” he said. “So we’re looking at that very strongly and very seriously.”

Asked if President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, with whom Mr. Trump has sought to forge a friendship, bears responsibility, the president said: “He may and if he does it’s going to be very tough, very tough. Everybody’s going to pay a price. He will, everybody will.”

Big threats again from Trump, that are likely to escalate things further, especially if the US takes retaliatory action.

And Israel may also be involved. RCP:  Israel Blamed for Missile Strike in Syria; 14 Reported Dead

Russia and the Syrian military blamed Israel for a pre-dawn missile attack Monday on a major air base in central Syria, saying Israeli fighter jets launched the missiles from Lebanon’s air space. A war-monitoring group said the airstrikes killed 14 people, including Iranians active in Syria.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said two Israeli aircraft targeted the T4 air base in Homs province, firing eight missiles.

Israel’s foreign ministry had no comment when asked about the accusations.

Since 2012, Israel has struck inside Syria more than 100 times, mostly targeting suspected weapons’ convoys destined for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces.

Back in Israel: Israel Strikes Hamas Target in Gaza in Response to Border Infiltration Attempt

The IDF attacked a military compound belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip early Monday morning, the Israeli army reported.

The attack was carried out in response to the attempted infiltration by Hamas with an improvised explosive device on Sunday.

In a statement Monday morning, the IDF said that they view Hamas’ attempts to turn the border fence into a combat zone and destroy Israel’s security and defense infrastructures with “great severity.”

And Iran is also in the fray: Iran Threatens to Restart Nuke Enrichment Program in Matter of Days

Iranian leaders are threatening to restart the country’s contested nuclear enrichment program in just a matter of days as the Trump administration and European allies scramble to address a range of flaws in the landmark nuclear accord ahead of a May deadline that could see the United States walk away from the accord, according to regional reports and administration insiders.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization disclosed on Sunday that the Islamic Republic has maintained the ability to restart the full-scale enrichment of uranium—the key component in a nuclear weapon that was supposed to be removed from Iran as part of the nuclear agreement—in just four days.

The disclosure has roiled Trump administration insiders and nuclear experts who have been warning for months that Iran never fully disclosed the nature of its nuclear weapons work and progress as international leaders struggle to fix the deal by May, according to those who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the situation.

The UN is due to discuss the Syrian situation, but that is just reactive to am escalating situation and unlikely to do much – as usual. Both the US and Russia have veto rights at the UN which renders the international body fairly useless when both the major powers are at odds.