(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed) — If you’re feeling an unnerving sense of deja vu amid recent global developments, it’s because we have been here before — many times.
The United States and its allies have been accusing the Syrian government of committing chemical weapons attacks in Syria almost since the conflict began in 2011. In August 2012, then-President Barack Obama publicly warned the Assad government that the red line for his administration was “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” which would prompt a U.S. intervention. (Additionally, after Obama successfully had Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi assassinated in 2011, he also indicated to Assad that he would be next.)
Since Obama drew his red line, the official narrative went something along these lines: Assad decided to give Obama the international political middle finger and routinely massacred civilians with banned nerve agents such as sarin gas, even in the face of these warnings and hawkish calls for intervention. The latest alleged attack took place over this past weekend in a Damascus suburb in Eastern Ghouta known as Douma, just days after Trump called for the withdrawal of U.S. forced from Syria.
But before the powers-that-be drag us all into what could easily spiral into one of the greatest world conflicts of our time, perhaps we should double-check this narrative and examine the available evidence.
A Brief History of Lies
While there have been indications of repeated chemical gas attacks in Syria, the mainstream media has pounced on four major incidents in order to justify military action against the Syrian state.
The first alleged incident, or set of incidents, took place between March and April 2013. Shortly after they occurred, then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced the United Nations would conduct an investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons. While the U.S. continued to use these accusations to put pressure on the Syrian government and garner support for an international intervention, two things happened that quickly unraveled the narrative.
First, at the end of April 2013, the U.S. intelligence community sent a letter to Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich) and John McCain (R-Ariz) saying the Assad government “may” have used the nerve agent sarin on a “small scale” but that the U.S. needed more evidence to provide “some degree of certainty” for taking any action against the Syrian government as “intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient.”
Second — and most important — is that U.N. investigator Carla Del Ponte came out publicly in May 2013 to state that while she could not rule out the possibility that government forces may have used chemical weapons, the evidence actually suggested Syrian rebels had deployed sarin gas. The allegations of chemical weapons use swiftly disappeared from the mainstream narrative. For her part, Del Ponte later expressed that before resigning in September last year she had collected enough evidence to trial Assad for war crimes, as well as the use of sarin gas at some stage during the conflict, including in April last year. We will turn to this incident further below.
The second major attack took place in August 2013. This incident was given immense media coverage as the Obama administration made plans to prepare for an extensive strike plan to weaken the Syrian government. However, this was a shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to the incident considering the evidence regarding Assad’s culpability still had not been established.
In the London Review of Books (LRB), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh published his own investigation into the incident in which he concluded that the U.S. had deliberately attempted to frame the evidence in order to justify a strike on Assad without even considering that al-Nusra (then Syria’s official al-Qaeda branch) could also have been a prime suspect given its known access to nerve agents and its ability to use them. Hersh also noted that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) – now referred to as ISIS – also had the scientific knowledge required to produce sarin. ISIS has reportedly used chemical weapons at least 52 times in Iraq and Syria.
Further, both former U.N. weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and Theodore Postol, a former scientific adviser at the Department of Defense and current professor emeritus at MIT, also cast serious doubt on the incident, explaining that the rockets were much too short-range to have been fired from government-controlled areas. U.N. weapons inspector Ake Sellström came to a similar conclusion.
According to phone calls intercepted by German intelligence, Assad did not personally order the August chemical attack. He also blocked numerous requests from his military commanders to use chemical weapons against opposition forces in the months that preceded the incident.
In the years that followed, the United States’ focus turned instead to ISIS, which inevitably gave the U.S. military backdoor access to bomb Syrian territory without resorting to any form of democratic oversight. It wasn’t until Donald Trump was elected president that the U.S. decided to re-enact Obama’s longstanding hostility to what – on the face of it – appears to be unsubstantiated allegations of chemical weapon usage. Of course, we were also told that Assad had already destroyed his stockpile of chemical weapons, which was supposedly confirmed by the U.N. in 2014.
In April of last year, Donald Trump ordered a barrage of missiles at a Syrian government airbase in response to what was alleged to have been yet another chemical weapons attack. Trump ordered the response well before any investigation was even conducted; in fact, by bombing the airbase allegedly responsible for the incident, Trump was effectively bombing the evidence required for such an investigation.
This chemical weapons attack was disputed by notable experts, including former weapons inspector Scott Ritter and Theodore Postol, as well as Seymour Hersh, who, again, conducted an investigation of his own. Postol told the Anti-Media by email last year that after analyzing a New York Times report that sought to bolster the claims against Assad, Postol’s assessment was that “there is absolutely no evidence of bomb damage at any of the three alleged sites.”
Then, in February of this year, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis confirmed that the U.S. government had no evidence that the Syrian government used sarin gas on its own people.
The most recent chemical weapons attack is no different. Reuters already reported that U.S. government officials told the outlet the U.S. had “not yet conclusively determined whether the attack was carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government forces.”
Even the hawkish U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May actually told the U.S. that they would need more evidence before they considered joining in U.S.-led airstrikes on the Syrian government.
And yet, without this evidence, the U.S. government and its allies are already preparing for a military response. On both occasions under the Trump administration, the U.S. was actively discussing leaving Syria alone in the days leading up to the event only for Assad to respond in kind by gassing civilians. Are we to believe he really is a moron or that he really is that evil?
Even if Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons attacks, what next?
Unless we are missing something, the available evidence doesn’t even come close to proving the Assad government has used sarin gas in the major incidents referred to above. Remember, these incidents are the prime focus of the mainstream media and warmongering politicians who capitalize on these incidents to pursue a neoconservative agenda written in stone over a decade ago.
Clearly, there are indications that Assad’s forces may have used chemical weapons at some point in time — but why is it that the media and western governments only seem to advance the claims that have never been proven beyond any reasonable doubt? All four such over-hyped incidents have been seriously questioned either by the intelligence communities themselves or by experts in the area (and even by James Mattis).
However, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that Syrian government forces were responsible for the heinous attack. What then?
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in 2012 that in order to take out Syria’s air defenses successfully, the U.S. would require 70,000 personnel on the ground. Remember, this was before Russia had intervened in the conflict, meaning the U.S. would now need a larger commitment than to actually defeat the Syrian government in any meaningful way.
“Assad’s monstrous crimes are not in doubt, and I don’t doubt that he’s capable of this,” Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT told Anti-Media via email on Tuesday. “But I don’t know any more than that. Even if it turns out that Assad was responsible, it’s hard to think of a military response that is not likely to make a horrendous situation even worse – maybe far worse – in contrast to other major atrocities in the region that we can do a great deal about, by withdrawing our participation in them, as in Yemen.”
In other words, even if Assad is guilty of some of the worst crimes imaginable, the U.S. has no standing to criticize or do something about these actions, given its support for ongoing atrocities across the globe. Israel is currently sniping down unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip, including journalists. Saudi Arabia continues to obliterate Yemen. All of these incidents are carried out with the full support of the United States, which is actively bombing and causing widespread civilian suffering in at least seven countries across the region (including and especially in Syria).
As Chomsky explained to Anti-Media:
“To borrow my late friend and collaborator Ed Herman’s typically pithy terms, there are worthy victims (theirs) and unworthy victims (ours), nefarious bloodbaths (theirs) and benign and constructive bloodbaths (ours)… And the natural corollary is that those who prefer the path that elementary morality dictates tend to be ignored or vilified.”