Trumps threat is unlike anything from a US president in modern history triggered, most likely, by edited or mistranslated remarks
Donald Trump’s Wednesday’s morning Twitter storm warning Russia to “get ready” for US weapons fired at Syria was a frighteningly clear illustration of how wars can start by miscalculation.
While the trigger phases in the president’s mind are unknowable, it seems likely from past experience that he had assured something on the morning news- most probably a version of statements by a Russian diplomat in Lebanon that may have been edited or mistranslated to make them sound worse than they were.
According to a report in Arabic translated into English, the envoy- Alexander Zasypkin- was warns that Russia would shoot down any incoming US missiles and assault the vessel, submarines or airliners they were fired from.
That went further than the official Russian red line, laid down by the chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, in March, that Russia would use its air defences and other weapons to respond to a threat to Russian servicemen in the region.
Whatever Zasypkin did or did not say, it unleashed a direct menace against Russia unlike anything seen from a US president in modern history, the Cuban missile crisis included. It was more like a piece of dialogue from Dr Strangelove.
” Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and’ smart !'” was the line from Trump’s thumb at 7am.
The weapons have not been fired so far, and the president sent out a slightly more conciliatory tweet an hour subsequently. But his initial gut level reply will have had its impact as it was heard down the US chain of command, rippling out to US allies and enemies.
It will make it harder to climb down and determine if a way can be found out of the present crisis.
Even before Trump arrived in the Oval Office and began aiming his incendiary tweets at the rest of the world, the horrors of the Syrian war were destined to turn into a global crisis, stoked by the intervention of outside powers: Russia and Iran by seeking a bad policy- defending Bashar al-Assad to the demise- and the US by seeking no policy.
” The Russians have been trying to force us to accept a peace on their words for some time now, and we have not been sufficiently organised to come up with a counter-strategy ,” said Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Eurasia.” We have failed to connect our anti-Isis operations to a strategy for the civil war and a road to a tenable peace .”
” The Russians want a peace deal. They want out of there ,” told Farkas , now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. But she added:” Putin is not impervious to mistakes. He has made a mistake in Syria by excavating in his heels on the question of Assad .”
The failing of the UN security council to serve as a vehicle for compromise has been due in part to Moscow’s policy of blanket denial when it comes to the Assad regime’s involvement in war crimes, most importantly the use of chemical weapons. The western powers have been infuriated to see that line crossed, and now feel they cannot stand by and watch it get erased wholly.
Maxim Suchkov, a Russian political analyst, said Putin’s motives in Syria are complicated by his overall goals in reasserting Moscow’s goals on the world stage, constructing him ready to repeatedly raise the stakes.
” I believe health risks are high and serious ,” Suchkov told.” For Russia the conflict around Syria has long been about bigger things, principally the new world order, the rules-settling, changing what Moscow has seen as detrimental US policies .”
Both sides, then, watch a potential existential threat in the Syrian conflict. For the west, it is the normalisation of the use of weapons of weapons of mass destruction. For Russia- or at least Putin- it as an all-or-nothing battle over Russian resurgence as a nation. With such stakes, the costs of miscalculation are correspondingly high.
” Without clear aims and a strategy for Syria, striking its airbases and other military facilities is pointless and risks intensifying to direct conflict with Russia ,” said Bruce Blair, a former nuclear weapon launch officer and now a scholar at Princeton University.” The backdrop to this showdown is two nuclear states with thousands of nuclear-armed rockets on launch-ready alerting. Communications between the US and Russian militaries are essential right now to avoid direct conflicts between our forces and avoid this crisis from spinning out of control .”
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