© Jim Lo Scalzo / Associated France Presse
The wicked witch of the west made an appearance at the Women of the World Summit in New York, calling on the forces of darkness to descend upon Syria in a blood sacrifice that would tame the gods' thirst for blood. Well, not quite, but pretty much. It was Hillary Clinton, and she had this to say:
"That air force is the cause of most of the civilian deaths, as we have seen over the years and as we saw again in the last few days," Clinton said. "I really believe that we should have — and still should — take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them," she added, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and aligning herself with the likes of Iraq War architect Bill Kristol and neoconservatives such as Republican Senator John McCain.

Well, it appears that Trump has obliged. The likes of Clinton, McCain, and every other bloodthirsty maniac in the Washington war lobby are no doubt pleased. First things first, what is being reported?

The U.S. military has launched 50+ cruise missiles at the Ash Sha'irat airbase in Homs, destroying aircraft and infrastructure, including the runway, control tower, hangars and ammo areas. But no worry, "no people were targeted", the official sharing the news told NBC. If that's truly the case, we'll know soon enough. They also say the Russians were warned ahead of the strike and no Russian assets were targeted, which may explain why it doesn't appear that any anti-missile defense systems were activated. (The missiles were fired from the Med between 8 and 9 pm ET.) Trump confirmed he ordered the attack and reaffirmed his belief that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack in Idlib.

This is the first direct US military action against the Syrian government and military since the start of the dirty war on Syria. Before now, the U.S. has only employed terrorists to do the killing for them (or bombed Syrian force "by accident"). Needless to say, it's an act of war, should the Syrian government choose to respond as such. The CNN article adds:
Trump met with his national security team before his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago Thursday, where he made the decision to pull the trigger on the biggest military action of his presidency, an administration official says.

He sat through dinner with the President Xi as action was under way.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has been updating Trump about the missile strikes in Syria following his dinner with Xi, according to a US official.

Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump's national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster were with Trump at Mar-a-Lago at the time. Vice President Mike Pence remained in Washington, where he returned to the White House after dinner.

Trump's order to strike the Syrian government targets came a day after he said the chemical attacks -- whose grisly effects were broadcast worldwide where videos captured in the immediate aftermath -- "crossed a lot of lines for me" and said he felt a "responsibility" to respond.
Jihadi terrorists like Ahrar al-Sham are celebrating, saying, "The armed opposition welcomes any U.S. intervention through surgical strikes that would deter the Assad regime capabilities to kill civilians and shorten the suffering of our people."

Russia's deputy UN envoy had warned prior to the strike: "We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise," relating said consequences to current conditions in Iraq and Libya.

How to interpret the strike? Option one: Trump is an idiot, has no spine, caved in to the warmongers and fell for one of the most obvious provocations imaginable. (Even Scott Adams saw through it.) In which case, good job, Trump. The maniacs in the war club are sure to give you all the kudos you need.

Option two: Trump is playing a global game of Wrestlemania. As Adams wrote in the article just linked to:
The reason the Assad government would bomb its own people with a nerve agent right now is obvious. Syrian President Assad - who has been fighting for his life for several years, and is only lately feeling safer - suddenly decided to commit suicide-by-Trump. Because the best way to make that happen is to commit a war crime against your own people in exactly the way that would force President Trump to respond or else suffer humiliation at the hands of the mainstream media.

And how about those pictures coming in about the tragedy. Lots of visual imagery. Dead babies. It is almost as if someone designed this "tragedy" to be camera-ready for President Trump's consumption. It pushed every one of his buttons. Hard. And right when things in Syria were heading in a positive direction.
  • Interesting timing.
  • Super-powerful visual persuasion designed for Trump in particular.
  • Suspiciously well-documented event for a place with no real press.
  • No motive for Assad to use gas to kill a few dozen people at the cost of his entire regime. It wouldn't be a popular move with Putin either.
  • The type of attack no U.S. president can ignore and come away intact.
  • A setup that looks suspiciously similar to the false WMD stories that sparked the Iraq war.
I'm going to call bullshit on the gas attack. It's too "on-the-nose," as Hollywood script-writers sometimes say, meaning a little too perfect to be natural. This has the look of a manufactured event.

My guess is that President Trump knows this smells fishy, but he has to talk tough anyway. However, keep in mind that he has made a brand out of not discussing military options. He likes to keep people guessing. He reminded us of that again yesterday, in case we forgot.

So how does a Master Persuader respond to a fake war crime?

He does it with a fake response, if he's smart.
Admittedly, 50+ cruise missiles is more of a "fake response" than Adams predicted. But even then, keep in mind that the Russians apparently knew it was coming and did nothing to stop it. In fact, more sources are coming forward confirming this aspect of the narrative:


Plus, the U.S. military had the magnanimity not to "target people". And Syrian sources suggest that might have actually been the case:



In other words, Trump needed to respond, lest he look like a weakling or a Russian stooge. Even the president is hostage to the MSM propaganda machine when it's running at full steam. In which case, your available responses are fairly limited. Either play the game, or go home. If you play the game, either push over and become a shill (like Obama and practically every president before him), or do it in such a way that you con your enemies into thinking they're winning.

If the Russians were told, then the Russians surely told the Syrians, who hopefully had time to clear the base of any personnel. In Wrestlemania terms: "This is the part where I punch you." Followed by: "How dare you punch me! That is a blatant act of aggression!" (Syrian TV has reported the attacks, calling them an act of "aggression".)

So which is it? Trump of the apocalypse? Or a piece of the spectacle of geopolitical theater? Events over the coming days and weeks should make that clearer. If Trump doubles down on this insanity, he's a lost cause. If he doesn't, well, just as in option one, the maniacs in the war club are sure to give him all the kudos he needs. In fact, that's already happening:
U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement that the U.S. has "sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin's Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs."

"Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action," they said in a joint statement Thursday night. "For that, he deserves the support of the American people."
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also issued a brief statement Thursday night supporting the strikes.

"I support the President's decision to take military action in Syria," he said. "My hope is that this action will help deter future atrocities by the Assad regime."
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said in a statement in support of the airstrike, but he stressed that "any longer-term or larger military operation in Syria by the Trump Administration will need to be done in consultation with the Congress."
McCain is calling for retroactive approval from Congress. And Scott Adams has chimed in:



But either way, this attack comes without Congressional approval and without any actual investigation to determine blame. That's the kind of justice the Bolsheviks would be proud of, not to mention ISIS. And tellingly, that's the kind of justice Clinton, McCain, Kristol, Rubio, etc. are slavering for. From that perspective, Trump really should have listened to sane people. Like these:
The chemical attack has raised many eyebrows, however, as it came just days after the Trump administration stated that Syrians should decide who is running their country.

"It makes no sense, even if you were totally separate from this and take no sides of this and you were just an analyst, it doesn't make sense for Assad under these conditions to all of the sudden use poison gasses. I think it's zero chance that he would have done this deliberately," former Texas congressman Ron Paul said on Wednesday.

Kentucky Representative Thomas Massie has also been outspoken about how the attack would not serve Assad's interests.

"Let me ask you this: Who benefits? Who benefits, if chemical weapons were used and America weighs in on the side of the rebels, or wades into a war against Assad?" Massie said in an interview on CNN. "How does Assad benefit from that?"

Many of Trump's most prominent supporters on social media have also been urging the president to ignore calls for intervention.
But then, sanity is in short supply in Washington. And as always, the game goes on.

For all previous coverage of the Idlib attack, see: Idlib "chemical weapons attack" reality: Syria bombed REBEL chemical weapons storehouse, Russia says military support will continue, vetoes U.S./UK/France UN resolution

UPDATES:

Here's Trump's speech:


The Syrian state news agency says that the strike "resulted in casualties". According to US Department of Defense Spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis, "US military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield," Davis stated on Thursday. "As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict."

Video footage of the strike has turned up on Twitter:


So, Trump has pleased the crazies. But can he keep them happy? Congressman Adam Schiff says:
The United States does not currently intend to launch more missile strikes in Syria after the late Thursday strike at a military airfield near Homs, Congressman Adam Schiff said in an interview.

"It is at the present not the intention to have more than this single strike," Schiff told MSNBC on Thursday.

Schiff added that it remains up to US President Donald Trump to choose the right strategy against the Syrian government.
The U.S. military has released video of the launch:


From the "should've thought of that" department:



Al-Masdar has an update on the situation at the airbase:
What we know so far:
  • U.S. missiles struck Shayrat's airfields, aircraft hangar, and fuel tankers
  • Destroyed fuel tankers caused several explosions and a large fire that has not been put out yet
  • At least 15 fighter jets have been damaged or destroyed
  • One fighter pilot was killed - several others wounded
  • Russians were present at the airbase when it was attacked
April 7 Updates

Sputnik reported that all military personnel and equipment had been evacuated prior to the attack, according to ABC, citing eyewitnesses. This would support the reports that the US warned Russia, who warned the Syrians in turn. A staffer at the base told Sputnik "all aircraft" at the base were damaged, so "you can say it is completely destroyed." But a Sputnik correspondent later reported that 5 fighters on the runway hadn't been damaged, as well as several hangars with equipment and the runway. The Homs governor then called the damage "insignificant", saying there were some material losses, "but our spirit is not broken". The Russian MOD then reported that six planes were destroyed.


An employee at the base told Sputnik that the damage wasn't as bad as previously thought: "Turns out everything is maybe not as bad as it seemed in the beginning, because at first there was fire and smoke, and we still are unable to get everywhere, because there can be unexploded projectiles," the employee said. Another Syrian military source told RusVesna that the base was practically a scrap yard for old, decommissioned equipment. The six planes destroyed were there for repairs. The total damage? About 3-5 million USD worth of equipment. Cost of the strikes for the US? About $90 million. (More images of the relatively minor damage here.) The Russian MOD described the attacks' efficiency as "quite poor".

The US DOD says that there are unlikely to be civilian casualties from the strikes. The military deliberately chose 4:40 in the morning on a Friday (holiday in Syria) for the attack, banking on the likelihood that the chances civilians would be in the vicinity of the targets being "highly unlikely". Spokesperson Eric Pahon then added: "We maintain a broad range of military options."

After these initial reports, however, the Homs governor announced that according to "preliminary data", 5 people were killed in the attack and 7 injured. (Though as with the attack on the SAA in Deir Ezzor, Syrian authorities have yet to release names or photos the casualties.) The Russian MOD now says that four Syrian servicemen were killed, six injured, and two are missing. The Syrians say ten servicemen were killed. A source then told Sputnik that 4 children living near airbase were killed in the attack. So far the ICRC has no data on civilian deaths.

The Russian Embassy in Syria initially said it was looking into whether any Russians were among the casualties. The Russian reconciliation center also said it had no data as of yet on Russian casualties. But Lavrov then confirmed there were "most likely" no Russian casualties.

Russia is demanding an urgent UN Security Council meeting, calling the attack "an act of aggression on the part of the US against a UN state. Victor Ozerov, chairman of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Defense and Security, continued: "After this incident the already clouded relations with the US will somewhat worsen," adding that the missile attack will likely be "a very bad example for the armed opposition in Syria, which could put under question the agreements reached with the opposition, including in Geneva." Russia also convened an emergency session of the ISSG group in light of the attack.

Interestingly, Ozerov added that military cooperation between Russia and the US could be at risk, because the US had failed to communicate properly, contradicting earlier reports that the US had warned the Russians. Now, Tillerson has changed the narrative too, saying that "No contacts were made with Moscow, with President Putin." Notice what he didn't say: if contacts were made on a lower level, e.g. military-to-military. According to the Pentagon, the Russians were given a "deconfliction" notice.

In addition to the jihadis and the neocons, Netanyahu came out in support of the attack, hoping that the attack would send a message to Damascus, Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere. Israeli president Rivlin called it "an example to the entire free world". The Syrian National (jihadi) Council wants more strikes, naturally. The governor of Homs pointed out the obvious: this airbase played a key role in Syria's fight against ISIS. So we can add ISIS to the list of crazies happy with the strike. Peskov says the attack was launched "de facto in the interests of Daesh, al-Nusra Front and other terrorists. So far, it can be said unequivocally that these strikes did harm to the fight against terrorism." (An anonymous source told Sputnik that ISIS launched an attack in the vicinity at the same time as the missile launch.) Ankara too "welcomed" the attack, calling it a "positive step".

Turkey is also calling for a safe zone to be set up, urgently: "The international community has to act in concert". Jens Stoltenberg said it was Damascus' fault that the U.S. bombed it. (Yeah, he's an idiot too.) Hollande called for international support, "within the framework of the UN, if possible." Ha! The UK government "fully supports" the illegal strike.

Among those not happy, and retaining their sanity among the hype: Greece says they strongly oppose any military intervention in Syria. Le Pen is one of the sole voices of reason, saying: "Is it too much to ask to wait for the results of an independent international investigation before making a strike like this? What I would like is that we do not find the same scenario that we saw in Iraq, in Libya, which in reality are processes leading to chaos, and that ended up nurturing islamic fundamentalism." More responses from French politicians here. Even Nigel Farage criticized the strike (same with UKIP leader Nuttall, who called the decision "rash" and said he'd "hoped for better" from Trump):
"I am very surprised by this. I think a lot of Trump voters will be waking up this morning and scratching their heads and saying, 'where will it all end?'" he said.

"As a firm Trump supporter, I say, yes, the pictures were horrible, but I'm surprised. Whatever Assad's sins, he is secular."
More British responses here. (Add Japan, Saudi Arabia and the EU to the list of supporters of the illegal attack.)

Russia, of course, points out that the attack is a flagrant violation of international law conducted under a false pretext. Assad's advisor Bouthaina Shaaban told RT that the attack benefits ISIS:
"The United States felt that they have to save the terrorists and lift their morale. And the proof for that is that Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the ones who supported this attack, and they are the very countries who had been facilitating the coming of terrorists and arming them against the Syrian people and against our country," Shaaban said.


The attack on the airbase is a "violation of international law and it is a violation of our sovereignty," Shaaban told RT, saying she believes that it will ultimately backfire, as it exposes the relationship between the West and terrorism.

"It will only make us and our allies more determined to defeat terrorism. And it also speaks volumes about the stance of the West towards terrorism. If they are truly, in their coalition, against terrorism they should help the party who are fighting terrorism, who are the Syrian Arab Army, and Russia, and Iran," Shaaban said.

"If they are fighting terrorism why don't they respond to President Putin's suggestion to make a coalition, an international coalition against terrorism?.. They killed hundreds of our soldiers in Deir-Ez-Zor and they it took weeks to acknowledge that they were killed through their airstrike. There are so many contradictions in Western discourse towards Syria. ... The reality in Syria is absolutely different from what American, French and British government try to portray to Western audiences."
The Russians have now responded by suspending their memorandum of understanding with the US on air safety over operations in Syria:
"This decision is completely logical... The suspension of the memorandum will now allow [Russia] to timely respond to various threats, including those to our airfields and units there," [deputy chairman of the Russian lower house of parliament's defense committee] Shvytkin said.

According to the lawmaker, Russia could not do anything to prevent the latest attack as it was acting in compliance with the memorandum.
Konashenkov reminded everyone that Russia's S-400 and S-300 systems are up and running, 24/7, providing "solid protection to the Russian bases from the air." He added:
"It is evident that the US cruise missile strikes against a Syrian airbase have been prepared long before today's events. A large system of measures of reconnaissance, planning, preparation of flight tasks and bringing the missiles to launch readiness needs to be carried out to prepare such an attack," ministry's spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.

According to Konashenkov, the Idlib chemical attack "served only as a formal pretext, while the demonstration of military force took place exclusively due to internal political reasons. "
...
"We assess such actions of the US side as a gross violations of the memorandum on incident prevention and ensuring security in operations in the Syrian airspace signed in 2015. The Russian Defense Ministry is suspending cooperation with the Pentagon within the framework of this memorandum," Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
...
"The administrations of the United States are changing, but the methods of unleashing wars have remained the same since Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya. And again, the pretext of aggression is not an objective investigation, but allegations, fact manipulation, showing photos and pseudo-vials at international organizations," Konashenkov said.
Interestingly, according to the Russian MOD, only 23 of the 59 missiles actually hit their target:
"On April 7, at the time between 3:42 and 3:56 a.m. Moscow time [00:42-00:56 GMT] a massive missile attack by 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles was carried out from two destroyers of the US Navy [Ross and Porter], from the Mediterranean Sea, near the island of Crete, targeting Syrian airfield Ash Sha'irat [Homs Province]. According to the Russian data recording technology, only 23 cruise missiles reached the Syrian airbase. It is not clear where the other 36 cruise missiles landed," Konashenkov said at a briefing.
Hmmm, so where'd those other missiles land? Duds? "Secondary targets"? If the latter, which targets? Maybe an ISIS base or two? If they were Syrian army targets, surely we would have heard about them by now.

RFE/RL's coverage of Russian politicians' response is unintentionally hilarious:
Other prominent voices in Russia's political establishment hinted at a kind of deep-state conspiracy to force Trump to back regime change in Syria one week after Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said that "our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out."

"You got the impression that neither people in the Pentagon nor in the intelligence services agreed with this message, and Trump was immediately placed against the wall of 'irrefutable evidence,'" Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, wrote on Facebook in a reference to Powell's 2003 speech in the UN.

Sergei Markov, a prominent Kremlin-connected political analyst known for positing conspiracy theories, said that this week's deadly chemical attack was "most likely" organized by "American agents," the Al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as the Al-Nusra Front, and the search-and-rescue group known as the White Helmets.

This alleged conspiracy was a trap set by Trump's "domestic enemies," Markov claimed in a short blog post. He provided no evidence for the claim.
...
Following the April 7 missile strikes on the Syrian base, the editor in chief of Russia's state-controlled international network RT tweeted that "for the first time in six months, the American media is writing positively about Trump."
Former National Security Adviser Richard Clarke's analysis is interesting:
"This attack on one air base seems more symbolic," Clarke said. "I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest. It was a targeted attack not designed to overwhelm the Syrian military ... I think the president was trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor."
And as RFE/RL reports, Analysts Say U.S. Strikes In Syria Unlikely To Be Precursor To Deeper Involvement.

If Trump intended this as a bit of meat thrown to the wolves, it may not be that easy. As Peter Lavelle writes, "Trump has narrowed his options - to relent now will be seen as a sign of weakness, something he can ill afford."

April 7 Updates - Part 2

Seemingly by coincidence, the Russian Black Sea Fleet's frigate Admiral Grigorovich, armed with Kalibr cruise missiles, is set to enter the Med today and make a stop at the Tartus base in Syria. It's being called a "routine voyage", and no word on how long the Russians plan on keeping it off the coast of Syria.

Russian lawmakers have called on international organizations like the OSCE to condemn the U.S.'s unilateral and illegal attack. It looks like Lavrov reined in his Turkish counterpart Cavusoglu over the phone, getting him to agree on calling for an unbiased investigation into the chemical weapons attack. Russia's UN rep says the US is afraid of a real investigation. He's right. They are, because the Syrian government didn't do it.


Putin's remarks via Peskov:
"President [Vladimir] Putin regards the US attacks on Syria as an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that," Peskov told reporters.

"Putin also sees the attacks on Syria by the US as an attempt to divert the international community's attention from the numerous casualties among civilians in Iraq."

"The fact of the destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles has been recorded and confirmed by the OPCW, a specialized UN unit," Peskov told reporters. "At the same time, in Putin's opinion, total disregard for the use of chemical weapons by terrorists only drastically aggravates the situation," Peskov said.
Here's Konashenkov's briefing, quoted from in the last update (transcript):


The US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is planning to introduce new sanctions against Syria. The ICRC says the war has turned into an "international conflict."

Drone footage of the attack's aftermath:


Forty Syrian officers and generals are currently assessing the damage at the base. They say one hangar was destroyed and eight others damaged. Most of the damage was to ammo and fuel.

April 7 Updates Part 3

Brian Williams of MSNBC is rightfully being lampooned for following bit of don't-even-know-what-to-call it:



John McCain is so happy he can hardly contain himself:


"This is the beginning!" Well, we can hope you're wrong, Johnny. As The Duran puts it, "One thing is for sure - if John McCain is happy, the world better brace itself, for misery and death in the name of freedom are about to be unleashed."

Maria Zakharova's statement:


And the Bolivian UN ambassador's epic performance at the UNSC:


Russian PM Medvedev slammed Trump on Facebook:
"Soon after his victory, I noted that everything would depend on how soon Trump's election promises would be broken by the existing power machine. It took only two and a half months," Medvedev wrote.

"Nobody is overestimating the value of pre-election promises but there must be limits of decency. Beyond that is absolute mistrust. Which is really sad for our now completely ruined relations. Which is good news for terrorists," the prime minister concluded.
The governor of Homs says 14 people are now confirmed as killed in the attack, including 9 civilians (local villagers), and 13 injured, including women and children. One of the missiles apparently missed its target and hit a nearby village, Al-Hamrat. Another 7 civilians were injured in Al-Manzul, 4 km away from the base.

RFE/RL reports on Russians asking an important question: Where the hell were the S-400s? Apparently the S-400s were too far from the base, and aren't that effective against cruise missiles that fly so low to the ground. That doesn't explain why it wasn't even used (it can reportedly counter cruise missiles). Whether the Americans deliberately evaded the systems' range, or the Russians chose not to engage due to the memorandum on air safety, one thing's for sure: now that the memorandum has been ripped up, Trump probably won't get another chance to send another "message".