I do not know if the United States will launch its military response to the recent attack on the U.S base in Jordan on Ground Hog’s Day, but the target selection is a real world imitation of Bill Murray’s iconic movie, Ground Hog’s Day. First watch the trailer (so that we’re on the same page) and then I will explain why.
To understand what Biden is going to go we need only go back and remind ourselves of what Barack Obama tried to do in 2013 and Donald Trump did in Syria in 2017. Do you remember the fake “sarin” gas attacks allegedly carried out by Syria in 2013 and 2017. Both incidents were staged by Western intelligence operatives working with Syrian opposition groups in order to create a pre-text for attacking Syria’s military.
In both cases, President Obama and President Trump were persuaded to carry out military strikes on Syrian military targets as retaliation for this “egregious” use of a chemical weapon on defenseless civilians. Obama tried to get Congressional approval for a strike but failed to do so and backed down. Sy Hersh provided all the gory details of Barack Obama’s failed bit of kabuki theater in this London Review of Books article, The Red Line and the Rat Line. Senator Lindsey Graham went on the record to describe what Obama intended to do but did not:
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who saw Obama’s plans at the time, told me that Obama’s plan was to strike six different Assad military installations, whereas Trump’s only involved one. But Graham noted that Obama changed his mind at the last minute and ended up not striking Syria at all.
“This is better than doing nothing. This is a step in the right direction,” Graham said. “Does it change their behavior? We don’t know yet if this attack will work or not.”
President Trump, however, did launch a limited strike in Syria. I know from a friend who was involved with the debate in the war room at the time that DOD, CIA and State put enormous pressure on Trump to launch. He ultimately gave the green light for a cruise missile strike on one base.
Here is the part of the story most people do not know. The Air Force General who was part of US CENTCOM and operating from a base at Al Udeid, called up the Russians from the Combined Air Operations Center (aka CAOC) and alerted the Russians to our impending attack. The Russians in turn told the Syrians, who then moved essential equipment and personnel out of harms way. The strikes were carried out. Republicans and some Democrats cheered the action as a sign of U.S. resolve. But it was a charade. The Syrians did not suffer significant casualties because they were forewarned.
Joe Biden is pulling a page from Donald Trump and has authorized a strike that is going to be touted as massive retaliation. Except the targets of those attacks already know it is going to happen and are taking evasive steps. Biden is doing this for sheer political benefit to try to calm the chorus of members of Congress and the neo-con class demanding action while presenting himself to the American public as a man of action. At the same time it looks like Biden and his team wisely decided to avoid actually killing Iranians or their proxies. As I have written previously, a serious attack on Iranian interests will provoke significant retaliation from Iran and face the United States with the dilemma of launching a new war in the Middle East during an election year.
I suspect that the U.S. General at the CAOC will be making some phone calls to Russian counterparts to ensure that there is no chance of any confrontation between Russian and U.S. air assets. Hence, deja vu all over again aka Ground Hog Day. Just like the U.S. and U.K. bombings in Yemen, this is sound and fury signifying nothing. It is not going to improve the sagging strategic fortunes of the United States in the Middle East.
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