What can I say? What can anyone say after Khan Sheikhoun? I’ve said it all, repeatedly. I warned, and warned, and warned—and almost no one paid any attention: Note this post, which serves as a kind of archeological layering of it all going back now more than four years. Sort of reminds me of the George Carlin routine where he plays a frantic dental patient with his mouth packed while the dentist prattles on about how much he supports Richard Nixon over the Watergate “fake news” (as it’s called now). Except that there’s nothing amusing about my case.
And now it’s worse. Before the autumn of 2015 it would have been a lot easier to do something about this, but with the Russians in a blocking position in the region, everything becomes harder and riskier. Whose fault is that? Let me not count the candidates.
But of course, now we have a new culprit: Donald J. Trump and his pathetic excuse for an Administration. So just days after a usually mum Administration declares that dealing with Assad is not a priority—even though everyone (with a brain) knows that, without dealing with Assad, ISIS won’t stay dead if we manage to kill it—Assad pulls out his secreted sarin to kill little children by the dozens and stimulate a mass refugee flow out of Idlib province, the place everyone (again, with a brain) knew would be next in Assad’s battle plan. It reminds one of Dean Acheson’s famous “line” that helped launch the Korea War in June 1950, but Trump could not have learned from that experience because he is doubtless unaware of it: You don’t, ever, tell the bad guys what you’re not going to defend or do.
And now we’ll have a predictable multiparty orgy of hypocrisy. The Democrats will blame Trump but most will fail to mention the Obama Administration’s—especially John Kerry’s—credulity over the OPCW proclamation that Syria was chemical weapons free. Some of them will claim—as did the completely clueless Jane Harman on television last night—that they never knew there was any question about the Syrian declaration having been untrue, which is, of course, their own damned fault. The Republicans will blame the Obama Administration, but at the time its Senate leadership said nothing about Obama and Kerry’s false claims.
The Trump Administration played arsonist at Khan Sheikhoun, and now pretends to want to play fireman. We’ll see what it comes up with: My guess is as near to nothing as possible. That or something overly risky. You just never know with this guy. But this is a crisis of sorts and how an Administration reacts to its first crisis is formative in many ways. We are thus at a hinge point.
Knowing a little of how the President thinks, I have one suggestion he’ll probably like. He can serve the Syrian regime, and their Russian and Iranian accomplices, a bill. It cost the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program about $101 million for the Cape Ray to treat Syria’s toxic sludge. So Jessica Lewis, Public Affairs at the DTRA (DTRA/SCC-WMD/SJFHQ-E) told me, and that’s where the budget line for our role as hazmat garbage collector came from. We should demand our money back. It was a really, really, really bad deal, after all.
Finally for now, it’s worth noting that the Syrian sarin atrocity is part of pattern. Trump’s body language alone, before he has actually done anything of significance, has already started fires and caused mayhem hither and yon. So Viktor Orbán decides to can the Central European University in Budapest after seeing that Trump and its sponsor, George Soros, don’t get along, and that Trump is anyway cut from Orban’s populist/authoritarian mold. So everyone is the Balkans and the Baltics is engaged in forms of anticipatory deference within and without in expectation of more Russian pressure and less U.S. pushback. U.S. allies everywhere are hedging bets: Saudi Arabia, for example, is trying to extract as much money, soldiers, and who-knows-what-else from Pakistan, in what is a very dangerous form of self-help. Somewhat less dramatic sorts of anticipation are rife all over the Far East and Western Europe, where by the way—another wave of Syrian refugees is now expected to arrive. It is amazing how much trouble a man with a fifth-grade vocabulary can cause without even trying.