The Impending Clash Between the U.S. and Russia

by Mike Whitney, 7 April 2017, UNZ Review

President Donald Trump’s missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Western Syria was a poorly planned display of imperial muscle-flexing that had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. While the attack undoubtedly lifted the morale of the jihadists who have been rampaging across the country for the last six years, it had no military or strategic value at all. The damage to the airfield was very slight and there is no reason to believe it will impact the Syrian Army’s progress on the ground.
The attack did however kill four Syrian servicemen which means the US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government.
Is that the change that Trump wanted?
As of Friday, Russia has frozen all military cooperation with the United States. According to the New York Times:

In addition to suspending the pact to coordinate air operations over Syria, an accord that was meant to prevent accidental encounters between the two militaries, Russia also said it would bolster Syria’s air defense systems and reportedly planned to send a frigate into the Mediterranean Sea to visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus….
Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the cruise missile strikes on Friday represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext. “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.” (New York Times)

The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business. That, of course, is the President’s prerogative, but it would be foolish not to think there will be consequences.Russia’s Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov issued a statement saying:

All the accusations against Damascus that it violated the Chemical Weapons Convention of 2013 given by the USA as reasons for the strike are groundless. The Russian Defence Ministry has repeatedly explained that the Syrian troops had not used chemical weapons….
It is to be stressed that in the years 2013-2016 the Syrian government undertook all measures to eliminate chemical weapons, its delivery systems, production facilities. All chemical weapons stocks have been eliminated. The components for their production have been transported from the Syrian Arab Republic to the enterprises of the United States, Finland, Great Britain, and Germany where they have been destroyed.”

This is a hotly contested issue and one that requires greater clarification. The rational approach would be for the UN to send a team of chemical weapons and forensic experts to the site of the bombing to try to figure out what really happened. Trump decided he couldn’t be bothered with such trivialities as a formal investigation. He was more interested in projecting the image of a strong and decisive leader which is why he decided to shoot first and ask questions later. His action was applauded by leaders around the world including Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Recep Erdogan of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel none of who believe that the United States should have to get the nod from the UN Security Council before bombing a sovereign country.
I don’t know who is responsible for the chemical attack at Khan Shaikhoun, but there is an interesting interview on Thursday’s Scott Horton show that suggests that things may not be what they seem. In a 14 minute interview, former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, explains what’s happening behind the scenes in the Middle East where “military and intelligence personnel,” “intimately familiar” with the intelligence, say that the narrative that Assad or Russia did it is a “sham.”
I have transcribed a 5 minute segment of the interview here– not because it provides conclusive evidence one way or the other— but because curious readers will find it intriguing. (Any mistakes in the transcript are mine.)
Philip Giraldi – I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known — but maybe didn’t–and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.
Scott Horton – Tell me everything you can about your sources or how you are learning about this?
Philip Giraldi– Okay. These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.
Scott Horton– So current CIA officers are thinking about going public right now?
Philip Giraldi– They are, because they’re that concerned about the way this thing is moving. They are military and intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty and they are seeing the intelligence the US government has in its hands about what happened in Syria, and the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons… There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons–a bomb– and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the terrorist group affiliated with al Qaida.
Scott Horton– You say this thing is moving really fast. How fast is this thing moving?
Philip Giraldi– It’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern among the people who are active duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday and so was our ambassador to the UN. about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous “red lines” and they are essentially fearful that this is going to escalate . Now bear in mind, Assad had no motive for doing this. If anything, he had a negative motive. The Trump said there was no longer any reason to remove him from office, well, this was a big win for him. To turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later, does not fit ant reasonable scenario, although I’ve seen some floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous.” (The Scott Horton Show)
I think you’ll find that listening to the whole show is worth the time.

Giraldi’s observations are persuasive but not conclusive. There needs to be an investigation, that much is certain. (The show was taped before the missile attack, which does show that Giraldi was right about “how fast” things were moving.)
Media analysts appear to be surprised that Russia hasn’t responded militarily to Thursday’s attack. Some even see it as a sign of weakness. But Moscow’s approach to Washington’s impulsiveness has been fairly consistent for the last decade or so. With as little fanfare as possible, Moscow goes about its business and works discreetly to protect its interests. Unlike Trump, Putin is not a man who likes to attract a lot of attention to himself. He likes to operate off the radar. Even so, Russia has a coherent policy in Syria (fighting terrorism and preserving the sovereign government) and it’s not going to veer from that policy. Most Americans don’t seem to understand that. Russia’s not going to budge, which is why the Kremlin cut off cooperation with Washington, shored up its missile defenses in Syria, and moved a frigate to the Mediterranean. Moscow does not want a broader conflict, but it will be prepared if one breaks out.
The Russians are concerned about Trump’s sudden escalation, but they’re not surprised. They have spotted a pattern in US war-making and they’re able to comment on it quite calmly despite its terrible implications. Here’ more from the Russian Minister of Defense:

The US administrations have changed but the methods for unleashing wars have remained the same since bombardments of Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya. Allegations, falsifications, grandstand playing with photos and test-tubes with pseudo results in international organizations became the reason for initiating aggression instead of an objective investigation.”

Lie, bomb, kill, repeat.  Konashenkov doesn’t sound surprised at all, does he? It’s a pattern, a deadly, frightening pattern.  The only thing that changes is the names of the victims.
And here’s another thing readers might find interesting: The Russians have an impressive grasp of Washington’s global strategy, in fact, their analysis is vastly superior to anything you’ll read in either the western journals or the establishment media. Here’s a short clip from a recent speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

The concept of managed chaos appeared long ago as a method of strengthening US influence. Its basic premise is that managed chaos projects should be launched away from the United States in regions that are crucial for global economic and financial development. The Middle East has always been in the focus of politicians and foreign policy engineers in Washington. Practice has shown that this concept is dangerous and destructive, in particular for the countries where the experiment was launched, namely Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan…In Iraq, Syria and Libya, this chaos was created intentionally.
Responsible politicians have come to see that the managed chaos theory is destroying life in many regions. Some parties can benefit in the short term from fluctuations on the raw materials markets provoked by the revolutions orchestrated by external forces, but this theory ultimately backfires at its engineers and executors in the form of massive migration inflows, which terrorists use to enter these countries. We can see this in Europe. Terrorist attacks have been staged even in the United States. The Atlantic Ocean has not protected it from the terrorist threat. This is the boomerang effect.” (Lavrov)

“Managed chaos”.  Brilliant.  That’s Washington’s foreign policy in a nutshell.  That’s why there’s been no effort to create strong, stable, secular governments that can provide security for their people in any of the countries the US has destroyed in the last 16 years, because this long string of failed states that now stretches from North Africa, through the Middle East and into Central Asia (The ‘arc of instability’) create a permanent justification for US military intervention as well as strategic access to vital resources. So why waste money and time on nation building when nation building runs counter to Washington’s strategic objectives? Instead, decimate the nation state wherever you go, and leave the people to scratch out a miserable hardscrabble existence for themselves while fending off the relentless violence and persecution of tribal elders or local warlords.
Is that a fair assessment of US foreign policy?

Indeed, it is. And the Russian leadership understands the far-reaching implications of that policy. They know that Washington’s ambitions could result in a war between the two nuclear-armed adversaries. They fully understand that.
Even so, they’re not going to budge. They’re not going to let Syria become another Iraq. They’re not going to let that happen.
So, it’s all coming to a head. The unstoppable force is fast approaching the immovable object. There’s going to be a collision.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at [email protected].


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Apr 14, 2017 6:02 PM

The ‘warning’ video with Stephen Cohen from CNN seems to have vanished, or been removed, from Utube. Interesting.

Apr 12, 2017 7:51 AM

I think it’s also interesting to compare and contrast Cohen’s dire warnings here about where we seem to be heading and his steadfast questioning of the official western story about the Syrian ‘gas attack’, yet another sign of Assad’s and Putin’s contempt for human life… with recent statements by another very influential American academic, Chomksy, who condemns both the Russians and Syrians out of hand adding to the hysteria surrounding events, instead of trying analyse them. Here Chomsky appears to totally drop his ideas about the western media ‘manufacturing consent’, in this case for military aggression and he doesn’t even raise the possibility that this could be an incident manufactured by the rebels with the help of the American war party, that wants conflict with Russia. Chomksy’s stance seems very odd to me. But perhaps because he’s a kind of ‘anarchist’ and ‘socialist’ he’s letting his antipathy towards strong states like Russia and Syria run away with him? He also has a kind of utopian and romantic attitude towards the ‘people’ and their ability to self-organize. It’s like he’s continually re-running the sectarian arguments that tainted the Spanish Civil War and wants to dogmatically force that ‘model’ down over contemporary conflicts.

Apr 11, 2017 9:41 PM

Here’s a short and rather frightening interview with Stephen Cohen who really, really, worried that we’re going to war with Russia, soon. The two lovely young hosts on CNN seem really shocked by his analysis, as we all should be. The terrible idea that Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow may be the last chance to avoid war, is a terrifying thought. If the Washington war party get their way and force Trump into it can it be contained inside Syria, or does it spread? The Regime in Ukraine, which receives so much support from the US, will probably launch their own attack at this time and ‘drag’ the US into that conflict too. We’re living in incredibly dangerous times, yet, looking at our media, one wouldn’t know it. As the only real opposition to war with Russia comes from the organized, nationalist right; as the mainstream left is incredibly anti-Russian, the chances of avoiding conflict are fading day by day.

Apr 11, 2017 8:05 AM

“US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government”
When has there been an international coalition fighting terrorism?, one only has to look at terrorist gains in Syria to conclude the efforts of such a coalition. Haven’t the US administrations activities always been seen as a hostile threat, when did the Syrian government invite the US or indeed other members of this coalition to train mercenaries, send arms, troops and bomb their country?
The author writes with surprise concerning an understanding of US policy, a cursory look at Soviet history shows how odd such a view is.
It appears the author views the issue from a US administrations perspective. Whatever one regime believes doesn’t give it the right to impose those beliefs upon another.

Apr 11, 2017 7:14 AM

I don’t understand why off grain are trying to orchestrate World War III. It’s not about the USA vs Russia or any other country vs Russia. Stop stoking up trouble to exploit the news it generates. You’re playing a dangerous game with people’s lives.

Apr 11, 2017 7:16 AM
Reply to  aaronmicalowe

the US just went to the brink of conflict with Russia. Not our words, but the Russian Prime Minister. You may find the idea frightening and prefer to avoid it, but that does not stop it being true. If the US doesn’t step back from this policy then they continue to exist on that brink and war may come at any moment.
It’s those who cheer on this insane warmongering while refusing to see where it might lead who are going to help kick off WW3, not those of us trying to make them see sense.

Apr 11, 2017 7:18 AM
Reply to  aaronmicalowe

Hmm, my autocorrect is determined to call this outlet off grain….

Apr 11, 2017 3:30 AM

Just and FYI to Off-Gaurdian administrators: Mike Whitney (the author of this piece) writes for Counterpunch (http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/07/the-impending-clash-between-the-u-s-and-russia/), not Unz Review which picked the article up from there. It is is a website of collected articles run by Ron Unz, an American Republican and far-right sympathizer, who includes a few left-wing pieces in his Review to liven things up. It’s an interesting site for anyone who wants to broaden their perspectives but for this piece you might want to credit Counterpunch for the reason mentioned above.

Dead World Walking.
Dead World Walking.
Apr 11, 2017 2:42 AM

‘Is that the change Trump wanted?’
Trump’s ‘wants’ are secondary, puerile and utterly selfish.
He has been brought to heel by the ruling psychopaths.
We are facing oblivion.

Apr 10, 2017 10:56 PM

I see now that I have to divert into special investigation of the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons per the 2013 agreement brokered by Putin. I keep reading different accounts of that. Just what I need.

Doug Colwell
Doug Colwell
Apr 11, 2017 5:38 AM
Reply to  Arrby

May I recommend “Sentence First-Verdict Afterwards” by David Habakkuk at Sic Semper Tyrannis? I think he presents a very cogent review of the background to this event.

Apr 11, 2017 1:33 PM
Reply to  Doug Colwell

I’ll have a look. Thanks.

Apr 10, 2017 10:53 PM

“The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business.” Mike, It might be difficult, for whatever reason, for journos to state it simply, but Trump has indicated, first with his list (favoring the most serious Muslim-dominant countries doing terrorism) of supposedly terrorist-exporting countries and then with his failure to push back against the DS’s engineered ouster of less anti Putin Michael Flynn, that he’s handed control (for sure over foreign policy as it intersects with neocons’ geopolitical desires) to the DS. Presidents are already just tools of the powerful special (mafia) capitalist interests. Trump, who said things, on the hustings, that suggested he might be his own man, leading to so much speculation about possible changes for the better, has shown that he’s extraordinarily mush. He jumps as high as he can before his masters tell him to. The Deep State, in fact, attacked Syria and indirectly Russia. Trump has chosen to wear the crown and front for the DS, per the unspoken (I think) agreement. That’s all.
Expecting that dumb pile of mush to oppose powerful special interests, aka the Deep State, is unrealistic.

Apr 10, 2017 9:18 PM

The Guardian has definitely begun a process of ‘culling’ the comments section, simply because too many people disagree with what they write and often know more about particular subjects, are too critical and can back their criticism up. The Guardian never expected this. It was meant to be a ‘glee club’ and praise the Guardian, not take it to task. Since the new editor, Viner, took over things have gotten much worse and censorship of the comments has reach Stalinist levels.
We seem to be sliding inexorably towards a military confrontation with Russia in Syria. Russia in in the way for our plans for Syria. We’re moving towards issuing what amounts to an ultimatum to Russia to get out of Syria and stop supporting the Assad regime… or face the consequences, even worse relations with the West. But can they get any worse? One more staged atrocity created by ISIS and blamed on the Russians this time, could see us attacking Russian forces directly to teach them a powerful moral lesson, that no one, not even Putin can get away with crimes against humanity and escape the consequences and punishment by the world’s self-appointed sheriff and his willing pose of loyal vassal states.
The Russian force in Syria isn’t geared for a war with NATO and would find itself in an extremely dangerous position and vulnerable. It’s tempting to imagine that attacking Russia in Syria would smash Putin’s foreign policy and undermine his prestige and popularity at home to such a degree that he might even be toppled from power by a ‘democratic uprising.’ The momentum seems to be all one way at the moment, towards a clash with Russia. The western public has been groomed for it for years. There is no opposition to speak of at the moment, so things look bad. Powerful forces in the United States need and want war with Russia to divert attention away from the empire’s own weaknesses. Only Russia doesn’t want or need a war with the West and that makes things both unbalanced and dangerous.

Apr 11, 2017 3:41 AM
Reply to  michaelk

Yes, that about sums it up. These are dark times indeed. Trump also ignored the overtures made to him by Assad and Putin who both indicated a willingness to work together to reach a solution. My reading of Trump is that his only true loyalty is to himself and his bank balance. When it became clear the deep state was not going to stop until he acquiesced or he was deposed he did what they wanted him to do.

Apr 11, 2017 7:44 AM
Reply to  michaelk

”Russia of course, doesn’t need or want a war with the west” Maybe not, but it doesn’t really have any other alternative. Any retreat from Syria means that the Anglo-zionist empire becomes emboldened and then moves to the next phase – a direct military confrontation with Russia (and possibly China). The west cannot afford a direct land war with Russia, or anyone else for that matter, so should Syria fall NATO’s proxy jihadist army will be unleashed in Chechnya and Dagestan. And ISIS will be in Damascus eyeing the soft underbelly of southern Europe. This is a huge and dangrous gamble for the west. There is no guarantee that it can win; Russia’s military capacity is formidable and it is not a country which will surrender easily, it never has.
The west can back down, Russia can’t, it is as simple as this. But bear in mind also that the Anglo-zionist empire is beginning to over-reach itself, on paper it seems invincible but the west is a declining, corrupt and decadent ex-civilization, its people are soft and spoilt; does it have the will or capacity to win a war of these proportions?
If there is a war – so be it. The Anglo-zionist empire is the most evil force the world has ever seen, it has to be faced down or destroyed one way or the other. Humanity and nature will take time, perhaps generations to recover. Let the neo-cons sit in their little rat-holes and rot.

Apr 11, 2017 1:38 PM
Reply to  michaelk

The darkness deepens daily. Our Canadian state broadcaster has been on board the project to rehabilitate nazism and promote US foreign policy for a long time. I haven’t tried to comment there in a long time. Just recently I tried to comment about Syria. That was a fun experience. Not. – http://bit.ly/2oTn70P

Apr 10, 2017 6:33 PM

“Managed chaos” sounds so benign, yet that term conceals within it, death, destruction, murder, mayhem, assassination, starvation, homelessness, brutality, hopelessness and misery beyond description all thanks to the US!

Christian Walker
Christian Walker
Apr 10, 2017 6:13 PM

Interesting site! Nice layout too. With reference to the Guardian comments sections: is it my imagination or did they mostly disappear during the Snowden hoo-hah? I’m pretty sure they used to have comment sections below a higher proportion of stories than they have these days.

Apr 11, 2017 3:49 AM

Your observation is correct. The Guardian has drastically curtailed CiF because the plebs aren’t toeing the editorial line and that just won’t do. The Guardian’s downward spiral really accelerated after the Snowden/GCHQ debacle and Viner replaced Rusbridger as chief editor. Today’s Grauniad would never give a whistleblower like Snowden a platform.

Michael Leigh
Michael Leigh
Apr 12, 2017 12:19 PM

Of course the GUARDIAN has changed, CHRISTINEWALKER ; it had to after the publication after the WIKILEAKS and the SNOWDON researched leaks on the illegalities of our ” ruling classes ‘.
This new source of background explanation is the source of widening the publics perception as to the ‘ Establishments ‘ false propaganda by the so-called ‘ mass media ‘ which in effect, from the taxpayer-financed BBC, etc downwards are now loosing not only circulation but more importantly credibility !
The more thoughtful members of the inner depths of the HM SIS ( Military Intelligence 5 ) were shocked by the Viner editorial injunction ironically imposed by the CIA related spooks ( by the senior and the related Military Intelligence 6 ) to reduce the reprinting of anti-editorial GUARDIAN commentary’s.
Indeed it is likely that Viner K has been promised a glittering of honours and financial attractive career’s, by the ruling establishment via it’s Business/Social/Political supporters.
And, it was only by secretly recording the daily total of anti-establishment views in the media ( including the most remote websites) that MI5 were able to estimate the temper of public attitudes to political changes. in their weekly reporting on the existence of a wider dissent in our society to our highest levels of the Crown and Government.