Are the neoconservative jingoists in Washington pushing for armed conflict with Russia?
Their charge that an April 4 chemical gas attack by air against civilians in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun was ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Moscow, is, very conveniently, giving them further ammunition to create war hysteria.
Two days later, the United States launched cruise missiles at the airfield from which the Syrian jets had flown to bomb the town. Predictably, Russia reacted harshly.
The American public has been coached ever since the 2016 presidential election to see Russia as, once again, a mortal enemy and “evil empire,” an existential threat to democracy world-wide, and a country that backs mass murderers.
There’s another reason for this war fever. The “deep state” nomenklatura, by amping up anti-Russian propaganda, will also neutralize Donald Trump, whom they regard as an illegitimate usurper.
They will either push the president to alter course, and give up his idea of rapprochement with Vladimir Putin, or — should he refuse — paint him as a Kremlin puppet and “traitor,” and begin proceedings to impeach him. Either way they win.
Along with the Obama-Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, many of the Republican war hawks, like Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, will also be braying for war.
Trump himself said that “my attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much” before launching the missiles.
Some voices are advocating the partition of Syria and, if necessary, the insertion of American troops as part of a protective force. Should Washington send troops to Syria, as no doubt the hawks will demand, a confrontation with Russian forces will be inevitable, even if it begins unintentionally, and it will quickly escalate.
The military and security establishment has already forced Trump to jettison advisor Steve Bannon, who has been removed from the National Security Council, just as they did earlier with Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor.
The removal of Bannon was undertaken by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who replaced Flynn as national security adviser. McMaster is now in charge of both the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.
The military prefers war with Russia, whereas Bannon and Flynn wanted to concentrate on the fight against Islamist terrorism.
Flynn has long argued that the war on terror must be expanded and intensified. McMaster emphatically rejects the notion of a clash of civilizations.
McMaster has been replacing Flynn’s people with former Obama officials.
Clearly, Trump is being boxed in. William Kristol, a Trump critic and hawkish conservative voice, said the Republican foreign policy community was generally pleased to see the changes at the White House. Graham and McCain were ecstatic when Trump attacked Syria. On the other hand, many of Trump’s right-wing supporters criticized him.
As the counter-revolution by the neoconservatives gathers steam, establishment papers like the New York Times and Washington Post, which have been pillorying Trump for months, are suddenly less harsh in their assessment of him.
So for those who hope to get rid of Trump because they consider him a “cowboy,” I can only say, be careful what you wish for.
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.