As Iraqi regular and irregular forces gathered on the edges of Mosul in spring 2016, flanked by Kurds and assisted quietly by Special Forces from several Western countries, Donald Trump was furious. He thought that the Pentagon was giving the game away.
“Why can’t they do it quietly?” he raged. “Why can’t they do the attack, make it a sneak attack, and after the attack is made, inform the American public?”
Trump’s fury was understandable. As a Vietnam draft-dodger, he has zero experience of military tactics, strategy or service. He did not understand that Daesh already knew they were going to be attacked. He did not understand that they had nowhere else to go but Mosul.
At a press conference held alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan after the Eastern Ghouta chemical weapons attack almost exactly a year ago, Trump said, “I watched past administrations say we will attack at such and such a day at such and such an hour… I’m not saying I’m doing anything one way or the other.”
The US President was lying though. The Pentagon later confirmed that they had tipped off the Russians about the retaliatory air strike on Al-Shayrat airbase near Homs before it happened. The impact of that strike, as demonstrated by the use of chemical weapons twelve months later, was clearly minimal. Trump’s warning to his true friends in Moscow had paid off.
A similar scenario could be observed over the past ten days. Early last week, Trump said he would be making a decision about new air strikes within forty-eight hours. That set out a helpful time frame to which Russian and Syrian war planners could work.
By Wednesday, Trump was warning that missiles would be “coming, nice, new and smart” but, of course, the missiles were still not flying, giving the Syrians and Russians yet more time to prepare. By Thursday, he was still nonchalantly fooling around with the American people: “Never said an attack on Syria would take place. Could be soon or not very soon at all!”
Syrian aircraft had, in fact, already been moved onto Russian bases, where they calculated their chances of being hit were slimmer. Troops had been pulled back. The defences at key facilities were beefed-up. The chemical weapons facility which was eventually hit by most of the Tomahawk missiles last weekend was by then devoid of staff; human expertise is a key component in the manufacture of chemical weapons, to be protected come what may. Trump’s warnings had given plenty of time to move the most expensive and hard-to-replace equipment elsewhere. Nobody seriously thinks that another chemical weapon attack in the future is no longer a possibility. A Pentagon spokesperson said later that elements of the chemical weapons programme still remain and could well be used again; they almost certainly will.
It is clear, therefore, that Trump will strike his Middle Eastern enemies without warning — those such as Daesh, for example — but will warn his real friends – the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad – in advance.
It is to the great shame of British Prime Minister Theresa May that she agreed to take part in this charade. She ordered air strikes against Syria, knowing full well that the person she was following into action, Donald Trump, was treacherously warning the intended targets in advance.
Desperate to not allow French President Emmanuel Macron to become America’s new darling in Europe, she jostled herself into position in the war-planning discussions. With the charisma and presence of a mouse, she will have done Britain proud, no doubt.
Hats off to those who bravely followed her orders and flew on the deadly sorties. Unfortunately, their mission was compromised from the beginning. Much like US President Donald Trump.
Don’t be fooled; he still loves Putin and Assad.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.