Trump and the White Helmets
Churchill once described the Soviet Union as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". The same could be said of Syria at the moment. Ascertaining what is actually going on there is very difficult and dogged with disinformation from several sources. A major reason for that is the sheer danger of being there at all. So the Western media seem to have no-one on the ground there at all. They are not going to risk the precious Leftist skins of their journalists just for the sake of the truth. They rely on feeds from Syria which are all likely to be compromised.
And that is where the White Helmets come in. They masquerade as peace and humanitarian workers and have been adopted by the West. It appears however that they are all old El Qaeda supporters. Since nobody else was claiming to be peace workers, the Western authorities have done a Nelson and turned a blind eye to the dubious origins of the White Helmets. With Osama bin Laden dead and ISIS stealing their thunder, El Qaeda is a shadow of its former self but it has not gone away. And it is the White Helmets who are the sources principally relied on by the Western media for their news feeds out of Syria.
So it is entirely likely that Russia is right in claiming that the chemical weapon attacks in Syria were in fact a put-up job by the White Helmets. Who was in a position to question what the White Helmets said? There seems little doubt that two chemical attacks did happen. Nobody is questioning that. The big issue is "Who dun it?". Who was responsible for it?
You can work out the answer to that by looking at what nearly happened if Mr Trump had fallen for it. The White Helmets very nearly started a war between the USA and Russia! What rejoicing throughout Syria that would have generated! So I think all logic is on the side of the Russian account.
And Trump was initially taken in. But wise counsel obviously got to him and pointed out the difficulty of pinning responsibility for the deaths on anyone. Trump then did a big backtrack and said that an American strike would happen "maybe never". That was his response to the difficulty of assigning blame. He was prepared to do nothing in the circumstances.
Then President Macron of France waded into the issue and strongly suggested that France would strike at Syria. Macron claimed to have complete proof that Assad was responsible. On what grounds? Much flimsier grounds than he claimed. I have read Macron's dossier and it is all "highly probable" claims -- guesswork in other words.
But Trump liked the idea of a joint French/British/American strike on Syria. American relations with Britain and France have been under strain ever since Trump got into office and this was a great opportunity to restore co-operation and friendship. It was too good to miss
But what about the target? Targeting any of the Russian/Syrian facilities in Syria would be just what El Qaeda wanted -- so the targets had to be non-military. So alleged centers of chemical weapon production and design were the perfect target. They would be good targets even if no gas attacks had occurred. Chemical weapons are just always BAD! No excuses needed for attacking them.
That Russia was not directly involved with those targets was shown by the fact that all of the cruise missiles appear to have gotten through and no planes were lost. Cruise missiles are SLOW -- about the same speed as a Boeing airliner -- and the feared Russian S-400 anti-aircraft battery could have slaughtered them. Obvious conclusion: The S-400 was not deployed to protect those targets. The S-400 appears to have been deployed to protect only the joint Russian/Syrian airbase near Latakia.
So the Syrian and Russian armed forces are intact and able to operate as before despite all the huffing and puffing about how evil they are. Neither Mr Assad nor Mr Putin are likely to be too put out.
Conclusion: The raid got big kudos for Trump from almost everybody -- at minimal cost and at only symbolic damage to Russia. Mr Trump is a statesman for the ages. He navigated a brilliant path though a very dangerous challenge.