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Friday, April 7, 2017

On Syria: The Morning After

Mixed thoughts, conflicting views on the military action against Syria. That means this post will likely ramble on a bit more incoherently than is even my wont.

I wrote just yesterday that, "Clearly events are pushing Washington to do 'something' about Syria and Assad." A few hours after that post went up, we saw that "something." It was, as I had speculated we might in that same post, "a hail of death and destruction on his air force."

From initial reports (here, for example) it seems that the cruise missile strike on Shayrat air base, a facility used jointly by Syria and Russia, proved effective; the 59 sea-launched Tomahawks hit their designated targets in a remarkable demonstration of US military prowess, technology, and firepower. Let's put it this way: nobody else could have done it--not Europe, not Russia, not China, not Israel. I also must express admiration for Trump's decision-making style. He listened to his people, digested the info provided, quickly decided to hit Syria, and then turned to deal with the visiting Chinese President (more on that). That is a marked difference from the dithering and endless specifying of the recently closed and tiresome eight-year play Obama Agonistes. Trump makes decisions, and moves on. That is a plus for the Presidency of the United States, the country, and the beleaguered community once known as the West. You can like him or not, you can agree with him or not, but the man is a leader.

Was the attack on Syria, merely symbolic as some (here and here, for example) have claimed? Really? I want to find the brave soul who says that while having nearly 60,000 pounds of precisely targeted high explosives rain down on him. I am no military guru and don't play one on the web, but I think this strike was more than symbolic. It, presumably, was also much more robust than what hapless Secretary John "Xmas in Cambodia" Kerry had in mind when he  talked about giving Assad one week to turn over his gas stores and then threatening him with an "unbelievably small" attack, which, in fact, never materialized. Kerry later claimed a deal to have Russia remove Syria's gas stores--same sort of deal to prevent Iran's nukes . . . The Trump attack might--we have to wait for the formal damage assessment--have put a serious crimp in Assad's offensive ability and willingness. It might also prompt the Russians to keep him on a shorter leash (more on that).

Was the attack on Syria the opening salvo in yet another war? I have written repeatedly that in the Middle East we have to get out of the "regime change" business. We have right now, as far as I know, no replacement for Assad, and do not have a clear understanding of what much of his opposition consists. I think, I hope, I trust that President Trump knows that. To remove Assad and have him replaced, for example, by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or some other apocalyptic lunatic would hardly comprise progress. I don't think we are seeing the start of a new war; I doubt that President Trump would commit to a full-blown offensive against Assad when the end-game remains so murky, fraught with peril, and, frankly, so marginal to core US interests. I have stated repeatedly that the Israelis who presumably would have the most interest in killing off Assad and his evil clan, have not, despite having the ability to do so. They know how power vacuums get filled in the region. One job for President Trump will be to resist calls for "regime change" from the likes of Senator McCain, Hillary Clinton, and others who seem incapable of learning what that actually means.

How will our opponents view this? Russia is clearly unhappy. I expect that the quickness and ferocity of the US response might have caught the Russians by surprise. They might well see the arrival of Trump on the scene as a sign that their free ride in the region is over. They will come to miss the days of Obama and Kerry.

Putin, however, is not a mad man or a crazy "all on black" gambler. His government issued the expected condemnations, but the response, actually, has been rather subdued. Whatever the Russians say, they must appreciate that our military gave theirs a short-lead heads-up so that they could move assets out of the target area. As far as I know, Secretary Tillerson is still on for his visit to Moscow next week. The world has not come to an end. Russia probably will now try to exercise a bit more control on Assad in exchange for propping him up. I suspect that the price for Russian support just went up. We'll see if Assad and Russia learn to tread more carefully in the future. If they don't? We will have to decide just how important Syria is to us.

China, North Korea, and Iran must not be happy campers this morning. I wonder how pleased the Chinese president is to have been in Florida with President Trump when the US attacked Syria. There must be a mix of chagrin and admiration for Trump. The lessons for Iran and North Korea could not be clearer. Trump apparently will act without a lot of warning. Fat Boy Kim must be eating a lot of Ben & Jerry's as comfort food right now. The Mad Mullahs are probably gathered and wondering what has happened to the cushy deal they previously had with the USA.

Now to some basics. I have written before wondering why it is that death by gas strikes us as more horrific than, say, death by napalm or by a .223 round. As I noted in the just linked piece which I wrote almost four years ago,
Despite the temptation, the US did not use gas against well-entrenched Japanese troops in the Pacific, even when gas likely could have saved many American lives. FDR did not want to be known as the President who used gas--he, of course, was developing an atomic bomb . . .
We wouldn't use gas against Japan but used two atomic bombs to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention burning nearly all of their other cities to the ground, and flushing their troops out of caves with flame throwers--all justifiable, by the way.

Would we have bombed Assad, if he had merely used conventional explosives delivered by either artillery or aircraft to kill 80 civilians? Are those killed by gas more dead than those killed by explosives? Last July, vacationers in the beautiful French city of Nice were attacked by a jumped up jihadi driving a large truck; he killed over 80 persons. I saw no visible French retaliation against the Muslim world or truck makers.

OK, I don't want to push this too far, but let me just conclude with a question: Is Assad, despicable as he is, and his alleged use of gas a threat to the United States? We, as noted above, will all have to decide, I guess.

35 comments:

  1. We do have troops inside Syria so yes, we are at risk.

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    1. They're not fighting Assad, however.

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    2. Not yet anyway.

      Delete
  2. What a breath of fresh air compared to the Obama administration and both of his Secretaries of State!

    Your cautions are well stated, DipII, and I share your concerns regarding people who want to turn the middle east into a glass parking lot. Washington has no shortage of hawks, counterbalanced by those who are convinced we can teach the Arabs Jeffersonian democracy. So far, we have been more effective at killing them. Which pales, of course, compared to the number of Arabs killed by other Arabs -- Muslims killed by Muslims. There was a time when I thought we could change their ways. I no longer believe that. And the proverbial bucket of sunshine won't reform them all either. Time, I guess, to leave them to their own devices. And to keep dropping the price of petroleum.

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  3. I still think that we should back away from this conflict. If Iranians, Hizbollahi, and Syrian government forces on the one hand and SUnni jihadis on the other are cheerfully bleeding each other white in Syria, let them. The O (so glad to see him go) got elected because the American electorate was tired of a long, no-end-in-sight conflict. One of his mistakes was to let us get sucked back into these Mideast ratholes. Further, I cannot see why in the name of Sam Hill we should allow the CIA to get us into bed with the wonderful folks who brought us 9/11 (along with Shrillary Shroooo apparently letting herself get suckered by Recep Erdogan re Syria).

    Sure, poison gas is horrible. But Nasser dropped it on Yemeni royalists back in the 1960's; the Communist Vietnamese and Pathet Lao dropped it on the Hmong in 1979; Sodom Insane used it on the Kurds long before Halabja. But can the USA afford to further bankrupt itself by dubious military ventures? Might it not be time to frankly recognize that history did not end, and that our world is in fact a very nasty place where very nasty people will do very nasty things, and all the better when they do it to other very nasty people rather than to us?

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  4. trump has a an arab&jooo army buildg. adsad must go as to their desires. so even a false flag sarin strike will do to ushr him gone. then...mideast peace. saudi,egyptian,jordan,isreal,palestine,us

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  5. Trumps Official photo for government offices is done in landscape format (sideways).
    They needed the room to fit his balls.

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  6. I'm not sure dabbling helps us... I'm hesitant on regime change as well.
    It's not that I don't think it can be done, it's that I don't think America has the stomach to commit what it would take. And without that, we get another Iraq... four years of increasing losses, a year of stabilization, a domestic election, and an incoming lefty who throws it all away to "teach america a lesson about using force".
    Lesson is received... cannot count on a future president to preserve america's best interests.

    There's no really feasible solution to the area between the mediterranean and the central asian republics...

    - reader #1482

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    1. The big problem with the US and regime change in the Middle-East, is how the US handicaps everyone when 'helping' the new owners set up government. State's lawyers are proud (I know this because I was in a room with one who said it) of the fact that they included Sharia law in the same constitution as one that says the country will be run under democratic principles. The argument is that all the fancy words up fron protects everyone from the Sharia Law bits.

      The Afghan and Iraqi constitutions both say all the right democratic sounding words up front, but then have a line in them saying Sharia is preeminent.

      Davod

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  7. Life was so much simpler when the NYT and WaPo told us what to think. Now there are so many cross currents, real data and disinformation due to the internet that we are being forced to think things through for ourselves ... not something that most people want to do.

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  8. I think this is an instance where time will tell really applies.

    I have never thought removing Assad was a good idea. Looks to me like mid-east moslems only thrive under authoritarian rule, be it military, royal, or religious. I THOUGHT President Trump was on the same page with me. He may still be, as I view the strike as political theater. Not many casualties and not that much damage (only 1/5 of the planes there I have heard).

    It will take a few weeks to really decide what this strike really meant.

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  9. I cling to the fact that Tillerson still will meet Lavrov next week. I cling to the fact that Putin is not impulsive and unpredictable, but a strategist. I hope they will find a way out of this crisis, otherwise we are doomed. I don´t want Assad removed, that´s for the Syrians to do. And I don´t believe for a second that the Syrian regime is involved in this dubious gas-attack, there is no logic at all in it. It should have been investigated by a neutral part, impossible now. I don´t even find Assad "despicable", I have read some interviews with him and he seems like an intelligent, analytical politician. There are other really despicable leaders , for example in the decadent Saudi kingdom. I haven´t read about any Western politician upset about what´s going on in Yemen. And religious freedom, churches in Saudi, that is unheard of.
    SwL

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    1. " I don´t even find Assad "despicable..."

      There's your problem.

      Barry

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  10. "It will take a few weeks to really decide what this strike really meant."

    I fear it means that Trump has caved in the the American Establishment. Such a pity, but there you are. You might as well have elected that demented old boy McCain, or the warmongering, racketeering, and treacherous Hellary.

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    1. I fear you have elected Ivanka and Jared, that is almost as bad as Hilliary.

      ANON 9:50, good comments, I too fail to see how Assad is despicable, when compared to those who behead and throw people of tall buildings.

      The west have again fallen for an Alun Kurdi-type con game.

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  11. I really appreciate (both senses of the word) what you've written here. It's fair and truly balanced. As someone who was used as an instrument of diplomacy by other means, I have mixed feelings on this. It was obvious for example , that Obama enabled Daesh's growth in the hopes if destabilizing and possibly overthrowing Assad ( yes, Obama was that ideologically driven to the point of stultifying stupidly). I'm more concerned, now more than ever about the end game in Syria. We have 2 regional powers who clearly want much more, Iran and Turkey; the Kurds will not be put back into a bottle, unless we abandon them again; and a faded empire that really doesn't understand it isn't an empire anymore (Russia). Islamic extremism, whether it's Iranian, Wahhabism, Suffism, or pick any other sect, just distracts from the huge power play going on. I hope that this administration is playing a smarter and longer term game than the recently departed buffoons were.

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    1. Heck, Lunarman you set the bar pretty low. Can't see how Trump could be playing a stupider or shorter term FP game than the previous administration.

      VESENG

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  12. The abhorrence of CW is possibly more visceral than it may seem on the surface. As you said dead is dead; however, I think that humans have a subconscious belief that a kinetic threat, be it a large predator, 7.62, moving truck or even a nuclear device can be dodged, shielded against or ran away from. Not so with something colorless, odorless, silent and can kill or maim on contact and is not aimed but released. In Western society it is perceived as the loathsome weapon of a sneak. In the book “Lonesome Dove” Larry McMurtry did his homework and placed Jake Spoon outside all bounds of mercy by having him participate in a man burning. I had some friends when the mini-series came out that didn’t understand why that made a difference, but on the Texas frontier man burning or house burning was about the most evil thing that could be done, far worse that horse theft or murder, and placed the perpetrator essentially in the same category as a rabid dog, elevating their termination with extreme prejudice to a matter of civic duty. There was no possible excuse or justification. I think, to most westerners, the concept is much the same. With kinetic munitions something can be said about poor aiming, collateral damage, or just bad luck when non-combatant, especially children, casualties occur. CW sends the message, “We don’t care. Kill them all and let God sort it out.” To say dead is dead takes the conversation too far into strictly utilitarian territory and that was very much the forte of the Obama administration, after all if socialism is anything it is utilitarian. I think Trump is a very average American male of the Post-WWII generation (as far as his sense of right and wrong is concerned) and that this gas attack, of which there is no reasonable evidence that any agency other than the Assad regime was responsible for, outraged his sense of morality and honor. If that is the case then his restraint is doubly commendable.

    On a different tack – This is the first absolute ‘spit in the eye’ act of disrespect since Trump’s inauguration. I say disrespect because just last week the WH had signaled that they were not interested in removing Assad as policy (and they still have not made that call). However, this CW attack took the lie that Assad/Putin/Obama colluded to foist on the world, and attempted to rub America’s nose in it. Trump acted swiftly, decisively and discretely. This will be a plus down the road if the admin does not go mealy-mouthed about it. Deal with the situation and move on is always the best discipline. While there is much debate here about if something is or is not in America’s interest the plain fact is deterrence only works if it is demonstrated as real. Broken Windows policing works on not just sidewalks but the world stage as well. Some time somewhere some one has to say, “This cannot be allowed.” Otherwise, sooner rather than later bad actors will act as if anything is allowed.

    And this brings me to thoughts about Assad. I don’t know him and have read very little about him personally; but, I have read quite a bit about Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Qaddafi, Idi Amin, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama (as much that is available and verifiable) and all of them invariably are described as kind, considerate, gracious, gregarious, pleasant people to be around by a wide variety of interlocutors. These sorts of impressions are obviously worthless as indicators of what someone is morally capable of. I therefore fall back on wisdom much older than the NYRB, “By their acts you will know them.”

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    1. "And this brings me to thoughts about Assad. I don’t know him and have read very little about him ..."

      This, from waaay back June 14, 2000.

      http://collectiondevelopment.library.cornell.edu/mideast/bashar.htm

      Of course that was before the On & On.

      JK

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  13. You want the world to believe your president is half crazy. Of course you don't want him to actually be crazy! Emotional, capricious, capable of anything. In a word Trump. I'm guessing that some buttholes are very tight in Pongyang these days. Tillerson looks as if he is up for mayhem. It's great to be an american.

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  14. I hope there is a strategic purpose behind this attack as I don't think, by itself, it would be useful. Maybe while Xe was there, Trump said, "this is what will happen if you don't do something about Nork."
    Interestingly, I wonder if Israel slip streamed in behind Trump to do some banging on Hezbollah.

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  15. In cricket parlance, Trump played this "with a straight bat", which has many, fundamentally same, meanings. When in doubt, play it direct, play it safe. No nonsense, no gesticulating, no wild guesses. Play it as you see it.

    Remember, there can be no objective response with an ideological anchor.

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  16. Good writeup Dip.

    There are many advantages to taking action such as this, and few disadvantages, IMO.

    The President now speaks softly and carry's a big stick.

    That "big stick" is uniquely an American one, one that no other country wields. In spite of all the Syrian russkie engineered defense mechanisms, they were powerless to stop a single American missile fired at a Syrian air base.

    Assad and the rest of the world takes notice: Anytime, anywhere, we can find you and destroy you. And you will not know when it is coming.

    Barry

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    Replies
    1. But we will give you five minutes to flee for your lives.

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    2. This time, next time?
      :)

      Delete
  17. IMO, you just said it all. Globally, message received.

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  18. Donald J. Trump seems to be turning into John Sidney McTrump.

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  19. Did you see Enrique Krauze wants open Mex-to-US border (one way only) as restitution for the Treaty of Hidalgo?
    I'm not joking -
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/06/opinion/will-mexico-get-half-of-its-territory-back.html?smid=tw-share

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  20. What happens now with all the left narrative about Trump being Putin's puppet?

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  21. I've come to consider that, perhaps, the bombing of the Syrian air base, timed as it was, was also a message to Xi Jinping to refrain from pushing too hard on either the South China Sea or Taiwan, and that perhaps he'd better deliver a message to his pudgy Pyongyang Pal.

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  22. ..."let me just conclude with a question: Is Assad, despicable as he is, and his alleged use of gas a threat to the United States?" WLA

    In answer to your important question Mister Diplomad.
    "In October 2014, images from some 27,000 photographs of torture allegedly committed by the Assad government were smuggled out of the country by a Syrian Army defector and put on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum."[293][294]-wiki, watchchee! Abu Ghraib anyone?

    ..."the Assad government has been accused of cynically manipulating sectarian identity and anti-imperialism to continue its worst activities.[261] During a visit to the University of Damascus in November 2005, British politician George Galloway said of Assad, and of the country he leads: "For me he is the last Arab ruler, and Syria is the last Arab country. It is the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs,"[262] and a "breath of fresh air,"[263]

    More: "Assad has attracted support from the far-right both before and during the Syrian Civil War. David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, hosted a televised speech on Syrian national television in 2005.[238] Georgy Shchokin was invited to Syria in 2006 by the Syrian foreign minister and awarded a medal by the Ba'ath party, while Shchokin's institution the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management awarded Assad an honorary doctorate.[239] In 2014, the Simon Wiesenthal Center claimed that Bashar al-Assad had sheltered Alois Brunner in Syria. Brunner was Adolf Eichmann's assistant and was believed to have >>advised the Assad government on purging Syria's Jewish community.<<[240][241]

    The National Front in France has been a prominent supporter of Assad since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War,[242] as has the former leader of the Third Way.[238] In Italy, the parties New Front and CasaPound have both been supportive of Assad, with the New Front putting up pro-Assad posters and the party's leader praising Assad's commitment to the ideology of Arab nationalism in 2013,[243] while CasaPound has also issued statements of support for Assad.[244] Syrian Social Nationalist Party representative Ouday Ramadan has worked in Italy to organize support movements for Assad.[245] Other political parties expressing support for Assad include the National Democratic Party of Germany,[246] the National Revival of Poland,[238] the Freedom Party of Austria,[247] the Bulgarian Ataka party,[248] the Hungarian Jobbik party,[249] the Serbian Radical Party,[250] the Portuguese National Renovator Party,[251] as well as the Spanish Falange Española de las JONS[252] and Authentic Falange parties.[253] The Greek neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn has spoken out in favour of Assad,[254] and the Strasserist group Black Lily has claimed to have sent mercenaries to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian army.[255]
    Nick Griffin, the former leader of the British National Party, was chosen by the Assad government to represent the UK as an ambassador and at government-held conferences; Griffin has been an official guest of the Syrian government three times since the beginning of the Civil War.[256] The European Solidarity Front for Syria, representing several far-right political groups from across Europe, has had their delegations received by the Syrian national parliament, with one delegation being met by Syrian Head of Parliament Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.[ . .

    If ever there was a justification for the sentence: "Kill them all - and let G-d sort them out", Assad's virulent brand of Aliwi Islamism and his personnel propaganda network of support World-wide may be it!?

    Surfs Up! Water Boarding anyone?
    "On Watch~~~
    "Let's Roll"

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  23. Lewis,

    We've been discussing these issues in the bar.
    http://bar.baen.com/index.php?t=msg&th=134185&start=0&
    I believe you have an account. If you don't, I suggest that you would be interested in making one; it lies within your area of interest.
    Here is a snippet of the discussion:
    Let's start at number one.

    There is a significant possibility that the chemical weapon was one of the choking agents, rather than a nerve agent - that would account for the 'foaming at the mouth,' along with the lack of tears, the absence of convulsions, defecation and urination, and the relatively limited lacrimation.
    Based on the lack of protection, combined with the lack of victims among the 'rescuers,' phosgene or acrolein are high on the list of possibilities.

    Number Two.

    White Helmets faking rescue
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZO000aPGdXE

    EXPOSED | SYRIAN BOY RESCUING GIRL 100% FAKE/SCRIPTED
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eFPmtiS7yk

    NGO's actually helping ISIS Fake news. Hmmmm.
    Jumping to Conclusions; Something is Not Adding Up in Idlib Chemical Weapons Attack
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/jumping-to-conclusions-something-is-not-adding-up-in-idlib-chemical-weapons-attack/5583500

    The most damning part in this, imo, is the jihadiscum "journalist" that tweeted about organizing coverage of the chemical attack before it happened.
    Also, ligature marks on the necks of some and blunt force trauma on the heads of others. Nor would it explain how some of those "gas victims" are recognized as persons kidnapped some months ago by ISIS. In other words some of these "chemical weapons" victims were choked and beaten to death. Also, some of these "victims" had been kidnapped by ISIS a while beforehand.

    Number Three

    Trump had SIGINT (signals intelligence) of the loading and launch of these chemical weapons. There's actual record of the flight that dropped bombs on that target. Which is why that particular airfield was targeted for the missile saturation.

    Does the MEDIA inform people of any of these FACTS? No.

    Conclusion? The jihadiscum are very good at playing our MSM like punked fiddles. Either that or?.. Come to your own conclusions.

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  24. The attack was symbolic because it was an attack on an airfield that re-opened the next day. You don't get much more symbolic than that.

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  25. LA, Very good summary, balanced and rational, elements absent from most of the media.
    My thesis is that Assad did this not just to test Trump, but as a way of driving Putin closer to him. We assume that Assad is not replaceable, but both Russia and Iran want Syrian real estate and there is always an ambitions person around willing to step in with for the right price.
    Don't ignore the perceptions about DJT from the US and International media. Viewers of BBC or CNN could easily believe that Trump is weak, near impeachment, his admin paralyzed by infighting and finally secretly working with Russia.
    Testing him is seductive and appears lower risk to a governing class conditioned by eight years on inaction and withdraw by Obama, Clinton Kerry and the Marxist/Leninist
    Democrat party.
    Trump acted as a business person, he listened to his experts, made the decision and moved on. I think very strongly this response was not about Syria at all, but a response to a provocation that Trump had to act on becasue he had no choice but to show the world's bad actors and globalists that he was not Obama.
    Very, very pleased, and not at all surprised. Trump's biggest issue is that he has been made into a caricature by the left and #nevertrump crowds who are so emotional they have lost the ability to judge rationaly, to their great detriment.

    ReplyDelete