So they went ahead and did it. The UK government was caught red-handed accusing Russia of poisoning Sergei Skripal without having evidence. Donald Trump is in the process of being impeached by investigators who already know what he did, and are simply seeking the confirmation from more angles than he can run away from.
But both governments ignored all that, and bombed Syria on the basis of yet more non-evidence. It’s an old advertising trick: say something often enough, you will convince yourself it’s true and hope everyone else will agree with you because it is you that’s saying it.
Theresa May knows she has no grounds for joining in this action. That is why she did it without consulting her own cabinet, which she is clearly scared of as she did not allow them to debate what they wanted from Brexit until almost a year after the referendum, for fear of the answer.
She also went ahead without consulting parliament, knowing it would ask for things like reasons and evidence. It would also ask why the UK didn’t make public how much Sarin gas-producing material it was selling to Syria at times it was still accusing Assad of conducting chemical attacks
Donald Trump also knows he has no grounds for taking this action. We have all seen the images of White Helmets treating the supposed victims of previous chemical attacks without protective gear, and heard the often-repeated US failure to explain where the gas came from and how it knows Assad conducted the attack. We have also seen how not one group in Syria itself is playing the US game: all are uniting to defend their country, regardless of what they think of Assad, as they see that Western ambitions for Syria have nothing to do with him
Without actual evidence that Assad is committing these gas attacks, what is the West doing in Syria? Who is it protecting from whom? If it wanted to bring democracy and human rights to Syria, as the locals would like, it would say so. Instead it justifies its presence by claiming that gas attacks which could originate from either side are only coming from one side, and sends the bombers in before evidence can be gathered one way or the other.
The West is once again projecting its own weakness in Syria, rather than the strength it should logically have, based on its military expertise, wealth and influence. It has bombed Syria to prevent any questioning of its claims, questioning it should welcome if they can be proven.
Since Iraq, Westerners have questioned their governments all the more. These bombings are part of a race to the bottom, in which either the present situation is reversed and Assad is defeated, or the populist movements which have declared war on the entire Western political class finally triumph, and it is Western boundaries, not Syria’s, which this war redraws.
Somewhile with worms he warreth
The US should be expert at air strikes by now. It has supposedly been conducting them for years as part of its war against ISIS, only to find out late in the game they have no effect on this unstoppable force comprised of rejects from other armies.
In fact the first time progress was made against ISIS was when the Russians decimated its forces at Raqqa by conducting one airstrike – just one. Since then the Iraqi and Syrian armies have finished the job by almost clearing the unstoppable force out of their territories, despite being far inferior in personnel, training, equipment and intelligence to Uncle Sam.
This does not suggest that US air strikes are capable of achieving much nowadays. When the US lost in Vietnam it was still pilloried for killing thousands of locals through its bombing campaigns and its widespread use of, erm, chemical weapons, 245-T and Agent Orange. The college students who once chanted “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” would now be chanting “DJT, DJT, how many duds can you fire at me?”
But Bashar al-Assad, who has not only survived a civil war explicitly, designed to remove him but is winning that war, is supposed to be concerned by one US air strike! If he really doesn’t care about his suffering people, why should he be bothered by the death and destruction this particular attack might cause?
Bang, bang, nobody’s dead
There are conflicting accounts of how effective this air strike was. But whichever version is accurate, assuming any of them are, it does not take long to realise that the mainstream media is not interested in reality. The show continues, and already some are claiming that the allies, France, UK and the US have to go in again to finish the job.
The bombing is a media stunt, so of course the mainstream media will play along with it. Reputations can be made in front of millions of TV viewers, headline writers can immortalise themselves, and there will be more bookings available, at higher prices, to take part in stunts like the Boston Marathon bombing.
We are told that some missiles hit a warehouse of chemical weapons. This is obviously impossible, as this would have created an instant disaster of Chernobyl proportions. The explosive force would have been the perfect mixer for a deadly cocktail of chemical ingredients, which are otherwise harmless unless mixed together.
Official spokespersons and retired military generals have been reading out prepared statements on how all the missiles hit their targets and their mission was accomplished. The same statements were made in Iraq, but the programme they had destroyed was later confirmed not to exist. You can’t accomplish a find and destroy mission if what you are trying to destroy isn’t there, but apparently the generals behind these suddenly successful air strikes are unaware of this fact.
It was confirmed years ago that the first alleged chemical attack in Syria was staged by US contractors, and carried out by US and Saudi funded terrorists. Precisely because of this, the US continues to insist that only Assad could be conducting these attacks. Whenever such statements are made, the internet is awash with contrary evidence. It is no coincidence that many sites containing such evidence have been recently blocked.
Nor does this contrary evidence come from predictably anti-US sources. Even the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is deployed in the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the [allegations] of chemical weapons use in Douma, says that the Syrian chemical weapons programme was dismantled long ago.
The OPCW oversees the global endeavour to permanently and verifiably eliminate chemical weapons. It works in close collaboration with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security. It maintains that since the Chemical Weapons Convention, which 192 states are a party to, came into force in 1997 it has been the most successful of all disarmament treaties, and has eliminated an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. The vast majority, over 96 per cent, of all chemical weapon stockpiles declared by possessor states have been destroyed under OPCW verification.
The OPCW’s mandate in this conflict is “to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic”. So where are they? It says it cannot and will not release information about an ongoing investigation. If the facts were there, the investigation would no longer be ongoing.
Even the US’s own protection agency can’t find the Syrian chemical weapons programme. Nor is it saying that the 10% of chemical weapons it has not destroyed includes a percentage in Syria. That agency has confirmed, however, that these weapons do still exist in the US.
Bechtel National, contractor of the Tbilisi biolab which also manufactures such weapons, controls a large stockpile of nerve agents in central Kentucky, which have not been destroyed yet due to technical issues. The US itself says that Syria doesn’t have chemical weapons, but it does. It isn’t very far from Tbilisi to Syria by plane, and we know US military planes make such journeys.
The whole thing seems rather bizarre: having practically won the war, Assad decides to use chemical weapons when he knows this will give justification to his enemies. If he is guilty, they can bomb him to their hearts’ content, feeling themselves fully justified. If they have any evidence at all to back up their actions, they will quote it ad infinitum until everyone knows it backwards and does not question what their governments are doing.
Both sides committed war crimes during World War Two. The Axis powers were once forced to admit them, but eventually did so voluntarily in an attempt to cleanse themselves of past political errors. The Allies took a lot longer to face what they had done because they felt they were justified by the result. As the Allies had won, they must have been incapable of doing wrong, as the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been told ever since. The West still thinks that way today, and that is the justification being used for these bombings.
Assad knows this, so is he going to give the West any excuse to turn its impending defeat in Syria into an ongoing moral crusade? The moral basis of the initial Western intervention will be undermined by losing. Assad has no reason to rain on his own parade, and that of all other nations struggling under Western displeasure, which may have equally hated him before but will now examine his model.
We have been here before
The Western presentation of these air strikes is very reminiscent of Colin Powell’s 2003 WMD speech to the United Nations, in which he laid out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq.
Powell stood before the UN Security Council and stated the following: “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” When asked if he thought that Iraq had reconstituted its WMD programme, he said: “There is no doubt in my mind”.
Powell later admitted this speech was “a blot” on his record. But the speeches made about these airstrikes by US officials have been copied from his almost word for word.
If the US says these things often enough, that might magically make them true. But these words are still more likely to harm those who say them than Bashar al-Assad, and actions based on them will do this even more.
So are Trump and Theresa just wanting a way out? Neither has a future, and both must know it at some level of their being. Wouldn’t you want to go down with all guns blazing, like Robert Redford and Paul Newman did in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, rather than crippled by hostile fire and shooting your friend and then yourself to end your suffering, as apparently really happened to those other notorious outlaws?
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.