Why Was There an Attack on Syria

It seems there were only 4 casualties in the US attack on Syria, and they are all military. This means that the attack was meant to be purely symbolic. The only thing that a symbolic attack can achieve is signal that this administration wants to continue the policy of the previous one, which can be resumed as “We’ll participate just enough to ensure that the conflict simmers forever.” 

What Obama did was maintain several foci of conflicts around the world that were simmering yet never boiling towards a conclusion. There is a whole philosophy around this centered on the idea that a large-scale military conflict can be avoided if global steam is released through the smallish conflicts in places that nobody of any import cares about. This has very clearly been the philosophy that guided the US foreign policy under Obama. Now we are seeing that Trump hasn’t come with a new philosophy, not that anybody expected him to find advisers brilliant enough to do that. 

As we discussed on this blog many times, the global capitalist economy is undergoing a profound change that is introducing a new form of statehood. Historically, such transformations are accompanied by a massive, long and painful war that devastates the participants. The “letting off steam” approach is an attempt to obviate this prospect that was designed back in the 1990s by White House experts and hasn’t been replaced by anything else since then. 

6 thoughts on “Why Was There an Attack on Syria”

  1. Symbolic, probably. Inept, definitely.
    One report indicated that Trump warned Putin so as to avoid Russian casualties. My guess is that Putin warned Syria, hence the very low casualty count. This also seems to suggest that cruise missiles aren’t all they’re said to be in terms of effectiveness. By the way, those 59 missiles were $94 million tax payer dollars.


    1. Of course, both Russians and Syrians were warned. Putin is not in the least angry about any of this, as his reaction shows.

      The goal wasn’t to kill anybody. It was to make a gesture.


  2. Huh, I had never heard of this “letting off steam” theory for global conflicts. Now I’m super curious! Can you recommend something for me to read on it? Has it actually been articulated by government officials (or former officials, or their advisors), or is this theory something that outsiders have come up with to explain large nation’s actions? I guess what I really want to know is who’s steam is being let off? Like do the people of larger countries like the US get anxious when their way of life is changing, and minor wars let them maintain some belief in the nation which makes them feel more balanced? Makes sense from a psychological perspective, but I am not sure how that propagates up to the actions of political leaders… Anyway, sorry to bombard you with questions! But suggested readings would be greatly appreciated!


  3. “The “letting off steam” approach is an attempt to obviate this prospect that was designed back in the 1990s by White House experts”

    One problem with this is that it assumes that wrecking these countries in the pursuit of their own peace won’t backfire in unexpected ways and that the fires can in fact be controlled. I’m extraordinarily sceptical toward both ideas….


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