The latest escalation of the Syrian crisis started with the false-flag poison gas attack in Douma on April 7.  It was followed a week later by the bombing of three alleged chemical-weapons facilities by the United States, Britain, and France.  The operation had two objectives.

The first was the Permanent State interventionists’ intent to reassert control over President Donald Trump’s Syria policy.  On April 4, three days before the Douma “atrocity,” Trump instructed his military commanders to wrap up the American military operation in Syria quickly so that he could bring troops home within a few months.  Even that was a retreat from his previously stated intention to “bring our troops back home” immediately.  “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.  Let the other people take care of it now,” he said on March 29.  “We got to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”

This statement—prudent and inspired by candidate Trump’s “America First” approach—caused consternation inside the Beltway.  Asked for a comment, the Pentagon responded ambiguously that the President

does not intend to telegraph US plans and intentions, and the administration’s policies will not be driven by arbitrary timelines. . . . We will, however, continue to evaluate our posture with respect to conditions on the ground.

Those “conditions” were quick to change.  The Douma attack was duly arranged—courtesy of Western proxies on the ground such as the ubiquitous “white helmets”—to make the President change his mind.  It worked.  “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,”  Trump tweeted on April 8, threatening military action: “Big price to pay.”  The interventionist media were enthusiastic.  “As Trump Seeks Way Out of Syria, New Attack Pulls Him Back In” was the New York Times headline on the same day: “The reported chemical attack on Douma . . . seems to have squeezed Mr. Trump between conflicting impulses, and raised the political and military stakes in Syria.”

The scenario was a carbon copy of the August 2013 “chemical attack” in Ghouta, except that, in that case, President Obama wisely stepped back from the brink.  In Ghouta’s aftermath the Syrian government destroyed its chemical weapons under Russian supervision.  That it has none left is attested by the fact that, when American, British, and French cruise missiles hit three alleged storage facilities and laboratories on April 14, there were no toxic fumes, no traces of noxious substances anywhere in the area.

The first objective of the Syrian operation was achieved immediately.  One day after the attack, Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, declared that the goal of a continued U.S. presence in Syria was to quell Iranian influence in the country.  Other officials returned to the old theme of a lasting and solid peace, effectively reviving the “Bashar Must Go” rhetoric.  The change of tack was sealed on April 24: At a White House news conference, with French President Emmanuel Macron at his side, Trump said that before any U.S. withdrawal from Syria, “we want to leave a strong and lasting footprint.”  This means that American troops now have an open-ended assignment, with unlimited potential for mission creep and escalation.

The second objective was to confront Russia, to test the level of Russian readiness to avoid escalation, and to present Putin’s eventual prudence as weakness, which invites further Western challenges.  This has also been achieved.  Russia’s earlier warnings that a false-flag operation had been in the making, issued three weeks before Douma, were not followed by any proactive measures to preempt one.  No fresh naval units were sent to the naval base at Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, no additional aircraft landed at the air base at Hmeymim, no S-300 air defense batteries (promised years ago, but not delivered at Washington’s request) were dispatched to reinforce Bashar’s Soviet-era systems.

When the Western attack came, the Russians stayed totally passive.  Their own S-400 batteries at Tartus and Hmeymim were not activated.  The rumor that an arrangement between Moscow and Washington had been made in advance—we’ll keep our air strikes brief and limited, you stay aloof—may well be true, but if so it is damaging to Putin’s credibility.  It would mean that he accepted the fait accompli of an attack on his ally and protégé, based on a transparent false-flag provocation by the attacker’s jihadist proxies who had been battling that ally for the past seven years.  It is unimaginable that Russia (or anyone else) would attack a country in which the United States has bases (Bahrain, say) with Trump meekly condemning it as an “act of aggression,” calling for a futile U.N. Security Council meeting, and warning that yet another attack would “cause chaos”—as the Russian president has done.

The Russian line is that Putin has displayed statesmanlike responsibility by avoiding escalation.  The neocon-neolib Duopoly’s assessment is very different, and dangerous: that Putin has blinked, that he is a paper tiger with no cojones, and that it is now time to take advantage of his weakness by chasing the Russians out of Syria, reopening the Ukrainian front, changing the regime in Armenia, and sabotaging the FIFA World Cup.

Sooner or later, the Russians will respond to provocations.  The bar will be higher, their maneuvering space reduced, and the resulting potential for lethal escalation will be greater than if a proportionate response had come earlier on.  By displaying firmness in responding to all future Deep State machinations, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin would reassert his credibility and make the nuclear holocaust less likely.  In acting more like Churchill than Chamberlain, he would also be serving the American interest.