Unjust Killing is Murder: The Cruise Missile Attack On Syria and the Just War Doctrine

April 10, 2017

Barely 48 hours after the release of sarin gas in Idlib, Syria, the US military launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, substantially damaging the base, and killing both military personnel and civilians. From his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump declared, citing no evidence, that there “can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.” [1]

Just hours after the poison gas incident, again with absolutely zero proof, mainstream media outlets were already condemning Bashar al-Assad for the attack, becoming willing instruments in the propaganda offensive for war that had so humiliatingly flagged in 2013 in the wake of the almost certainly bogus claims of chemical weapons use by Assad in Ghouta. [2] 

What kind of major investigation should we suppose was undertaken in the course of those few hours? It must have been a rigorous and thorough one, since a cruise missile attack would result, and did result, in the loss of human life? Right?

At this point in the course of US imperialism’s foul and blood-soaked track record of lies and mass murder in the region—have we really forgotten “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 and the tragedy that followed?—it is depressing to see so much uncritical media support for the Trump Administration’s aggression.

To review the known facts: Assad had surrendered his chemical weapons stockpile in 2013, under international supervision, and in line with the terms brokered by Russia. With the aid of Russian and Shiite militias, he had driven ISIS and al-Qaeda from every major Syrian population center. By this point, the “rebel” jihadist forces held sway only in rural areas. Only a few days before the incident, representatives of European nations would meet to decide on their policy for the future of Syria. Rex Tillerson, former Exxon CEO, now secretary of state, had just said that it was up to the Syrians themselves to decide who their leaders would be, and that Assad’s rule would have to be accepted.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for Assad to have ordered this attack, let alone evidence that he did so. He would not have nearly achieved total victory over the “rebels” only to suddenly decide to gas children and other civilians, which he would know would provide the kind of pretext for a major attack for which his enemies have been hoping. Seventy civilians died in Idlib. In return, an airbase was destroyed. Does that seem like a calculation that would have been made by Assad, who has managed to hang on to power throughout six years of the proxy war, with both the superpower US and Europe against him?

In his remarks at Mar-a-Largo, the “commander in chief” pretended to be moved by the sarin victims, saying, “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” [3] This, while just over the border in Mosul, Iraq, US bombs have rained hell on women and children in the hundreds, not to mention the over 1 million killed since the onset of US aggression in 2003. Where is the thought for those children of God?

As usual, we the public debate such matters in terms framed for us by the military and foreign policy establishment—in other words, almost always on false premises.

“A Hitleresque tyrant has deliberately dropped chemical bombs on children and hospitals. If left unchecked, he will only commit worse atrocities. Think of the children!”

The fact is, the Syrian conflict, though complex, essentially boils down to a fight over control of energy resources and regional influence. As the Guardian reported in 2013:

“In 2009 . . . Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets—albeit crucially bypassing Russia. An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was ‘to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas.’


“Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012—just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo—and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines. 

“The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a ‘direct slap in the face’ to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that ‘whatever regime comes after’ Assad, it will be ‘completely’ in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will ‘not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports,’ according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action.” [4] 


And so we had the entrance into the conflict of the Saudi-, Qatari-, and Turkish-funded terrorist jihadi proxies, with the US concerned to maintain its hegemony over the region for economic reasons, and funding its own militias and other dubious characters. Diplomatic cables revealing US plans to destabilize Syria can be read here [5], and CIA plans to instigate the now infamous demonstrations are documented here [6].

As is almost certainly the case, the chemical attack was not carried out by the government of Syria. The “rebels” and their allies have every reason to have done it, and Assad had none. The incident, in any case, is being used as a pretext to further the aims of US imperialism, not to relieve human suffering. There is no case to be made on the basis of Just War Doctrine. [7] [8]  Although I have said that it is unlikely in the extreme that Assad carried out the attack, and that is was likely carried out by forces opposed to him, no serious investigation has been done. So that means we cannot assign culpability, and, therefore, the first criterion for Just War Doctrine, “the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain,” has not been satisfied. Strictly speaking, we do not know who the aggressor was. As I said, it is likely that forces opposed to Assad carried it out (and then any retaliation must be directed at them). Moreover, there is the second criterion: “all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.” Can anyone seriously maintain that this was done in the 48 hours between incident and response?

This latest act of US military aggression is therefore a violation of the Fifth Commandment—an act of murder. And those in the Church closest to the situation, the Syrian Catholic Bishops, have indeed condemned the bombing in clear and decisive terms, pointing out as I did above that no investigation has been done, that Assad had no reason to carry out such an attack, and that Syrian Christians will pay the price. [9] 

If you live in a foreign country that is a target of US imperialism, and if US officials and their media lackeys begin making impassioned pleas about “human rights abuses” and “think of the children!” it is time to gather your loved ones and head for the hills, because you can be certain that horror and death are on the way.

Doran Hunter