“The attack on Syria indicates that the Trump administration is now fully under the control of the neoconservative-controlled foreign policy establishment, and that any inclination the Trump administration may have ever had toward altering US foreign policy has been abandoned…,” Keith Preston, the chief editor and director of attackthesystem.com, told Tasnim in an interview.
The following is the full text of the interview.
Tasnim: Multiple places in Syria came under attack by US, British and French military forces after US President Donald Trump ordered a military strike against the war-torn country. What’s your take on the attack?
Preston: The attack on Syria indicates that the Trump administration is now fully under the control of the neoconservative-controlled foreign policy establishment, and that any inclination the Trump administration may have ever had toward altering US foreign policy has been abandoned. The airstrikes against Syria are being touted as a punitive measure against the Assad government in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack that occurred in Ghouta. However, no credible evidence has been found linking the Assad regime to the attack, and the evidence is stronger that a Daesh-linked rebel group in the region was responsible for the attack. It was only one year ago that the Assad government was falsely accused of a chemical weapons attack, and (it) was followed by airstrikes on Syria by the United States. Similar dubious allegations concerning chemical weapons were made against Syria in 2013 as well.
The incident in Ghouta is being used as a pretext for attacking Syria. However, a longstanding objective of the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia has been to replace the Assad government in Syria with a regime that will be subservient to the America-Israeli-Saudi axis. President Trump’s recently-appointed national security advisor, John Bolton, has been an advocate of creating a Saudi-like Salafist regime in Syria, for example. Bolton’s recent appointment indicates that the neoconservatives now have the upper hand on Trump’s foreign policy team. Since the attack on Syria on Saturday, Daesh has launched an offensive in southern Damascus. The actions against Syria by the US, Britain and France are already having the effect of emboldening Salafist forces in Syria. The Assad government, in collaboration with Russia, had achieved very significant victories in the war with the Salafist insurgents, and reclaimed much of the insurgent-held territory. The attacks on Syria are emboldening the insurgents who feel that the Western powers will provide air cover for them.
Tasnim: “It is Congress, not the president, which has the constitutional responsibility for making war. The international community must uphold the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, but it is unclear how Trump’s illegal and unauthorized strikes on Syria achieve that goal,” Bernie Sanders Retweeted the New York Times. What is your perspective on this?
Preston: Bernie Sanders is correct from a technical, legal and constitutional perspective. But the United States has long since abandoned any pretense of waging war along constitutional lines. The United States Congress has not issued a declaration of war since World War Two, and the countless numbers of US military actions that have taken place since the beginning of the postwar era have been under the direction of the presidential branch of government, not the Congress. Not only has it not been established that Syria was actually involved in the use of chemical weapons, but the idea that the attacks on Syria by the Western powers are merely intended as retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons is false. The chemical weapons claims are merely a smokescreen that is being used as a pretext for attacking Syria as part of the wider geopolitical agenda of the US-NATO-Israeli-Saudi axis in the Middle East. At present, both Israel and Saudi Arabia are engaged in war crimes and massive human rights violations in Palestine and Yemen, respectively, including the use of phosphorus gases. The attacks on Syria have absolutely nothing to do with controlling the use of chemical weapons, or opposing regimes that engage in atrocities. The objective is to undermine and destabilize the government of Syria so that it will eventually fall and be replaced by a regime that is subservient to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Tasnim: How do you see the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in the attack?
Preston: Since coming to power, Mohammad bin Salman has worked to strengthen Saudi ties to the West such as instituting surface level domestic reforms in Saudi Arabia, while escalating the Saudi war effort in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia’s own Eastern Province. The Salafist rebels that are engaged in terrorism throughout the region receive tremendous support from Saudi Arabia as a means of attempting to destabilize or attack Saudi rivals such as Iran and Syria. If the Western powers continue their actions against Syria, Saudi Arabia will continue to encourage the Salafist insurgent forces to escalate their insurgent efforts under the cover of Western air power. Saudi Arabia and Israel would be the primary beneficiaries of the collapse of the Assad government, and will certainly encourage any actions against Syria, whether by the West or by the Salafists.
Tasnim: Certainly, the attack was a flagrant violation of international law. How much respect do you think Trump and his allies have for the international law?
Preston: The Trump administration is controlled by the neoconservatives who have zero respect for international law. The neoconservative position is and always has been that international law is a hindrance to the advancement of US foreign policy objectives and should simply be ignored. The two dominant factions in the US foreign policy establishment are the liberal internationalists and the neoconservatives. The liberal internationalists, which are embedded in the Democratic Party, favor the use of international institutions such as the United Nations as a means of providing an aura of legitimacy for US imperialism, and the use of international law as a means of establishing a smokescreen through which the US can maintain unipolar hegemony by means of its control over international institutions. However, the neoconservatives, which are embedded in the Republican Party and the Trump administration, do not bother with such pretenses.
Tasnim: In a tweet after the attack, President Trump said, “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” What was the mission?
Preston: Apparently, the “mission” that was being pursued in Syria was simply to create a symbolic display of “retaliation” that ultimately has no military purpose. The strikes against Syria do not yet appear to have reached any significant target. Instead, the airstrikes were largely done for cosmetic reasons in order to enhance a rhetorical point. Because many of the incoming rockets were intercepted by the Syrian air force, there may (be) some embarrassment on the part of the US administration as well. It appears that the function of the strikes has largely been to enhance the rhetorical position of the administration.