Our Long War

Chuck Spinney explains why both parties love the Syria poison gas story

Summary: Trump has received much applause for bombing Syria. Republicans, Democrats, journalists, and geopolitical gurus all cheered. Here insightful defense analyst Chuck Spinney asks inconvenient questions about the lack of evidence and illogic of the “Assad did it” story. This is a follow-up to Before believing the new Syria sarin attack story, ask if the 2013 story was true.

Syria chemical weapons

The Malleable Bi-Partisan Utility of Poison Gas

By Franklin “Chuck” Spinney. From his website, The Blaster. 12 April 2017.
Posted with his generous permission.

If there was a centerpiece to Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign for President of the United States, it was her struggle to convince the American people that Donald Trump was congenitally incapable of reacting rationally when surprised by a dangerous international crisis. She struggled futilely to contrast her experience and gravitas to Trump’s reckless impulsiveness.

In a rational world, the recent Trumpian brain fart of firing  59 cruise missiles (worth about $90 million) at a nearly empty — and forewarned —  Syrian airfield should be a candidate case study to test Clinton’s psychological theory. But it won’t be. Mr. Trump merely did what Ms. Clinton called on him to do a few hours prior to the attack; see this video. Moreover, the political response to Trump’s attack has been one of widespread bipartisan support, with particular enthusiasm among senior Democrats. For example, see …

Trump’s cruise missile attack was launched in reaction to the unproved (at least the American public has not been presented with the proof of) allegation that President Assad of Syria dropped poison gas bombs on his own people in Idlib province. This link will take you to an official statement of the assertions that now pass for evidence supporting the allegation.  Note the absence of photographic evidence of the mass casualties would attend any attack by weapons-grade sarin gas in a populated area.

Ministry of Propaganda

So, Trump’s allegation is a hypothesis taking the form of a narrative.  Bear in mind “a narrative” is simply a story consisting of real or imaginary connected events.  In this case, there are at least two alternative hypotheses, each made plausible in part by the limited nature of this particular gas horror.

  • One alternative hypothesis is that the chemical release was a false flag operation concocted by jihadi rebels to trick the US and its allies to more actively join their war for regime change in Syria.
  • Another alternative hypothesis is that Assad’s Air Force unwittingly bombed a Jihadi ammo dump containing chemical weapons. The rebels have long been suspected of having access to a primitive chemical weapons capability that would be more consistent with the nature of civilian deaths than would be the case if Assad used of weapons-grade sarin gas as suggested by Hillary Clinton and the White House.

The simple fact is that the American people have not been presented with a “slam dunk” proof of which, if any, of these hypotheses is closest to being the truth.  For now, the proof is “trust us.” There is, however, a reason to be suspicious of the government’s claims: Ted Postal, MIT Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy just released a scathing critique of the White House “narrative.”  Moreover, American politicians have a long and sordid history of manipulating public perceptions and constructing “narratives” with regard to the use of poison gas to kill large numbers of defenseless civilians in the Middle East.

The below article by my good friend Andrew Cockburn offers an important reminder in this regard.   Andrew’s subject — poison gas, war in the Middle East, and the malleable bipartisan utility it has offered to cynical US politicians — is a dispassionate warning that is particularly timely, given the hysterical nature of contemporary political debate in the United States.  It is leanly written but chock a block with information about real — not imaginary — events.  It is worth careful study.

Andrew Cockburn

An Inconvenient Truth

By Andrew Cockburn at The Nation, 23 August 2007.

In 1988 US officials helped disguise Saddam’s chemical attack on Halabja. But when it came time to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they acted outraged.

Like Guernica or My Lai, Halabja (in Kurdish, “the wrong place”) suffered an experience of mass murder intense enough to transform the town’s very name into a historical event. That event occurred on the afternoon of March 16, 1988–a cold but pleasant day, with occasional showers, notes Joost Hiltermann in A Poisonous Affair, his comprehensive and powerful delineation not only of what happened that day but of all those who helped bring it about. The day before, Kurdish fighters, with Iranian encouragement and support, had occupied the town after driving out Iraqi government troops. Now the Iraqi air force had returned to deliver Saddam’s response. According to survivors, mustard and nerve gas bombs that rained down on the town and its outskirts … A report from Human Rights Watch described it.

“…dead bodies – human and animal – littered the streets, huddled in doorways, slumped over the steering wheels of their cars. Survivors stumbled around, laughing hysterically, before collapsing…. Those who had been directly exposed to the gas found that their symptoms worsened as the night wore on. Many children died along the way and were abandoned where they fell.”

…Back in March 1988, Powell was National Security Adviser to President Reagan. While images of the massacre shocked, albeit briefly, a Western public jaded by reports of slaughter in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, the Administration moved quickly to protect its ally Saddam Hussein. Within a week of the attack, US diplomats began publicizing the canard that the Halabjans had died from Iranian chemical weapons, thereafter eliciting a Security Council resolution with no specific condemnation of Iraq that urged both sides to refrain from use of chemical weapons.

This gambit was employed throughout the war, and Hiltermann, the Middle East deputy program director at the International Crisis Group, is particularly effective in exposing the utter falsity of the claim. Thus encouraged by the international silence, Saddam was free to expand his program of extermination against large swatches of the Kurdish population in Iraq.

——————- Read the full article here. ——————-

Chuck Spinney

About Chuck Spinney

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney retired from the Defense Department in 2003 after a military/civilian career spanning 33 years, 26 of them as a staff analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He is author of many articles about US military and geopolitical affairs. Read his bio here. He posts at his website, The Blaster. Here are other posts by Chuck Spinney at the FM website…

  1. Can Obama, or anyone else, outmaneuver the war advocates?
  2. Our broken OODA loop.
  3. The Ukraine crisis gives us a peak behind the curtain into the workings of our government.
  4. We choose to lose at 4GW.
  5. DoD is flush with cash, but running empty of ideas.
  6. We are sleepwalking into a new arms race.

Important evidence

(1) Transcript of the White House press briefing presenting evidence about the gas attack. Here is the “intelligence report” released by anonymous “Senior Administration Officials”(on plain paper, no letterhead, nothing about its source).

(2) There is a trenchant analysis at Moon of Alabama.

“Even a fast tracked, preliminary National Intelligence Assessment, for which all seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies must be heard, takes at least two to three weeks to create. A “long track” full assessment takes two month or more. These are official documents issued by the Director of National Intelligence. The summary assessment the White House releases has no such heritage. It is likely a well massaged fast write up of some flunky in the National Security Council.”

(3) Also see the 14 page analysis of the White House “intelligence report” by Theodore Postol (Professor Emeritus at MIT, see Wikipedia).

(4)  Before believing the new Syria sarin attack story, ask if the 2013 story was true.

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Russia, and about atomic weapons, and especially these…

  1. Important to read before you believe the US government’s story about Syria: The Big List of Lies by our Leaders. Post it everywhere to change America.
  2. Rambo & James Bond taught us about Afghanistan’s mujahid — Part of the propaganda campaign in the 1980s to build support in America to overthrow the secular Afghanistan regime (replaced by a fundamentalist Islamic regime).
  3. Martin van Creveld explains why our actions in the Syrian civil war will fail.
  4. Peter van Buren asks what the Middle East would look like if we hadn’t helped.
  5. Martin van Creveld warns us about Syria.

To better understand how US foreign policy is made…

I recommend reading The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government by Mike Lofgren. From the publisher…

“Every Four years, tempers are tested and marriages fray as Americans head to the polls to cast their votes. But does anyone really care what we think? Has our vaunted political system become one big, expensive, painfully scriped reality TV show? In this cringe-inducing expose of the sins and excesses of Beltwayland, a longtime Republican party insider argues that we have become an oligarchy in form if not in name. Hooked on war, genuflecting to big donors, in thrall to discredited economic theories and utterly bereft of a moral compass, America’s governing classes are selling their souls to entrenched interest while our bridges collapse, wages, stagnate, and our water is increasingly undrinkable.

“Drawing on insights gleaned over three decades on Capitol Hill, much of it on the Budget Committee, Lofgren paints a gripping portrait of the dismal swamp on the Potomac and the revolution it will take to reclaim our government and set us back on course.”

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3 replies »

  1. Hi FM and all,

    This is one that keeps gnawing at me. Chuck has reposted a sensational article by Uri Avnery which is germane to this topic. Some semblance of the truth will come out, but I fear it will be a dribble under the fold in the international section right after the article about the lady in Dumfries, Scotland who kept a pet shrike for years in violation of a local zoning ordinance.

    Regards,

    Bill
    s
    PS: Putting “cui bono” in the tweet was coincidence. I rsead your post then jumped over to The Blaster, LOL!

    Like

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