Another Chemical Attack in Syria, Another Mad Rush to Judgment in the West

Politics Features Syria
Share Tweet Submit Pin
Another Chemical Attack in Syria, Another Mad Rush to Judgment in the West

Dozens of Syrians, including a number of children, are dead after the insurgent-held province of Idlib was reportedly attacked with chemical weapons. As of now that is all we know. It goes without saying, however, that Western officials have blamed the Syrian government for the atrocity and are prescribing, whether explicitly or otherwise, military intervention as the solution.

Speaking to CNN, geriatric jingo John McCain called on Trump to illegally “arm the Free Syrian Army”—the diminished “moderate rebel” group that fights alongside al-Nusra and other jihadist units—in order to facilitate “the removal of Bashar al-Assad.”

“It is probably the case that Assad is testing President Trump and he’s testing our new Secretary of State Tillerson,” McCain said. “We’ll have an appropriate response now. Of course, what’s appropriate will be much debated, but we can’t just do nothing.”

He added: “We can’t let them cross this line without having consequences.”

This characterization of Syria’s president as a crazed provoker of the US military was also advanced by France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who told RTL radio: “It’s a test. That’s why France repeats the messages, notably to the Americans to clarify their position.”

It’s a recurring theme in Western politics: Our enemies are all insane and/or suicidal. It’s uncanny. Take for instance Russia’s alleged forthcoming invasion of the Baltics, or Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program (with which they intend to blow up the state of Israel), both of which circumstances would ignite World War III. Another example, of particular relevance in this context, is Assad’s alleged use of Sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013, an event that very nearly provoked a decisive military response from Barack Obama.

As McCain and his fellow war evangelists are fond of reminding us, Obama had previously defined a “red line” with respect to the Syrian conflict: If Assad used chemical weapons, the United States would take him out with unilateral airstrikes. According to the official version out of Washington (and here’s where things get a bit dubious), Assad decided it would be a good idea to brazenly violate this so-called red line, just to see if Obama really meant it. Hence, the chemical attack in Ghouta.

For a couple weeks it appeared that Obama would honor his martial commitment. He held a press conference in which he declared (sans evidence) that “the Assad regime was responsible” for the attack and threatened to launch “a targeted military strike” (just one) on the Syrian government. The neocons were salivating.

Then came the letdown. Instead of bombing Damascus, Obama negotiated with Moscow and agreed to foot the bill for the disposal of Syria’s chemical stockpiles, an agreeable solution to which Assad had been open for more than a year. Thus, war was for the time being avoided and, accordingly, Obama was raked over the coals for his cowardice.

He still is. As McCain said in response to this latest attack: “We’ve seen this movie before, when Barack Obama said they would have a red line and they crossed it and he did nothing.”

Our mouth-breathing president appears to be reading from the same script. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime,” Trump said in a statement, “are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”

Curiously, or perhaps not, few if any Western observers attempted to understand why Obama balked at enforcing his red line. It was merely taken for granted that his courage—or psychopathy—failed him when he needed it most. Is the explanation that simple? Or is perhaps even simpler?

In a marathon essay for The Atlantic, based on conversations he had with Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg described a scene (one day before the bombs were due to start falling on Damascus) in which then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “interrupted the president’s Daily Brief … to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a ‘slam dunk.’”

Translation: There was no actual proof that the Syrian government had carried out the attack. That’s why Obama backed off his red line: He wasn’t willing at that particular moment to go to war under a bullshit pretext. And while the media in the West steadfastly refuse to correct the record (they still unequivocally hold Assad responsible), the handful of skeptics who challenged the official government line—and who were dressed down as a result—have been largely vindicated.

As veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in his most recent book, The Killing of Osama bin Laden,

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defense laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal.

In an interview with Alternet last April, Hersh elaborated on the aftermath of the red line debacle, specifically the US government’s failure to scare up any evidence linking Assad to the sarin used in Ghouta. He said:

We had a ship, it was called the Cape Maid, it was parked out in the Med. The Syrians would let us destroy this stuff [the chemical weapons]… there was 1,308 tons that was shipped to the port … and we had, guess what, a forensic unit out there. Wouldn’t we like to really prove—here we have all his sarin and we had sarin from what happened in Ghouta, the UN had a team there and got samples—guess what?

It didn’t match. But we didn’t hear that. I now know it, I’m going to write a lot about it.

But who did it, if not the Syrian government? It’s pretty simple. The Latin phrase cui bono comes to mind. Which party would benefit from such a conspicuous atrocity? Not the Syrian government. Assad stood to gain absolutely nothing from “testing” Obama through the wanton use of chemical weapons. Quite apart from the lack of hard evidence, it simply doesn’t follow that Assad (who has shown no signs of psychosis in his numerous interviews) would deliberately walk over Obama’s red line, especially since he was winning the war.

That al-Nusra and other rebel factions have chemical weapons, and the will to use them, is well-known. It is equally well-known that, by the summer of 2013, they were on their heels and thus desperate to turn the tide of the war in their favor. So why not a false flag? It’s the only explanation that bears logical scrutiny.

Hersh contends that the sarin was smuggled into Syria via Turkey and delivered to al-Nusra militants who were then trained how to use it. “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line,” he quotes a former intelligence official as having told him. “Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey—that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support.” This would render irrelevant the popular argument that Syrian rebels don’t have the capacity to manufacture sarin, which may or may not be true.

Furthermore, UN investigator Carla Del Ponte stated in May 2013—three months before the gassing in Ghouta—that “there are strong, concrete suspicions” that rebels in Syria were messing around with sarin. “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she declared. So whether the terrorists were able to manufacture the stuff or not is unimportant; the point is that they had access to it.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that they still have access to it, and moreover that they’re still cynical enough to use it to gain a strategic advantage.

With regard to Tuesday’s attack in Idlib: Again, cui bono. Assad is in a remarkably strong position at the moment. Notwithstanding his brutality, in no conceivable way would he benefit from killing scores of civilians with sarin gas. In fact he stands to lose everything from such an attack, as the mainstream media in the West are now clearly demonstrating with their calls for an aggressive military response. Is it possible that Assad was responsible? Of course, but there’s good reason to be skeptical, and in any case I’m not prepared to blindly accept what ideological hacks like John McCain tell me.

On the other hand, elementary logic suggests that the extremists occupying Idlib have every reason to stage a government atrocity. Barring some extraordinary twist of fate, they’re going to lose the war. Why wouldn’t they pull out all the stops in a last ditch effort to galvanize the US into action on their behalf? It’s not as though they’re inhibited by scruples. They’re jihadists: Terrorizing and killing innocent people is their raison d’être. Nor are they given pause by the prospect of World War III, which a US intervention could very well touch off; on the contrary, they probably welcome it. Combine this with the fact that Washington, along with every other Western capital, mechanically blames the Syrian government whenever chemical weapons are used, and it becomes difficult not to suspect a false flag. Indeed, given their general lack of compunction, and assuming they have the means, al-Nusra and their allies would be crazy not to try it.

Time will tell what actually happened. Or not (the US government is rather good at burying unwanted information and distorting the truth). Either way, the terrible images out of Idlib now serve as a convenient distraction from the devastation being visited by the US military upon Mosul, which is now being utterly destroyed, along with a sizable portion of its civilian population. I wonder when will CNN show us those images? They’re available.