Once again the current rulers of the USA have decided some little dusky-brown skinned people need to be saved from some other dusky-brown skinned people. Once again they’ll be saving them by bombing. Carefully, of course, and with every effort made to kill only the bad brown ones and not the good brown ones, and in a strictly limited numbers. It’s going to be another one of those Shock, Awe and Mutilate humanitarian gestures by a regime which specializes in them. Never, I think, has any regime been so consistently ‘called upon by history’ and its own ‘moral beliefs’ to save so many people so often in such an explosive manner.
A NOTE ON REGIME v GOVERNMENT – I have noticed that when our leaders approve of the people running a country those people get called ‘the government’ while those they do not approve of seem to get called ‘the regime’ instead. And of course our ever compliant and rarely questioning media always obligingly use whichever term is fed to them allowing the manipulation to go unchallenged. The regime/government difference has nothing to do with democratic or not – Saudi is not democratic but is always either ‘the rulers of’ or ‘the government of’, but never ‘the regime’. So I thought I would simply reverse the manipulation for a while to see how it feels.
The run up to the Iraq war was based on telling lies. This time the run up to war is based on trying to ensure no one asks ‘Why’, ‘What for’ and ‘Cui Bono’ (Who benefits)?
The use of limited questions
The regimes in America, Britain and France want you to fixate on a simple question – did the Assad regime use chemical weapons? And they want to convince you that the answer to this question is of purely moral importance to them. As deeply moral and caring people – and a nobel peace prize winner himself – Mr Obama wants to establish that unlike other people, other ‘regimes’, he and his democratic government, his “Shining City on the Hill” to quote President Reagan’s famous speech, have no grubbier motives, no hidden agenda or real politik policy objectives. Our enemies, the ‘evil doers’ may have ulterior motives – in fact they always do. We don’t. We are simple moral crusaders – sorry, not crusdaers,err.. liberators! Yes, that’s it.
To this end Mr Obama declared in August 2012, that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a ‘Red Line’. The Red Line idea caught on. A month later Mr Netanyahu used it and drew his own Red Line in a speech at the UN about Iran’s quest for nuclear technology. ‘Red Lines’, ‘Lines in the Sand’, plus ca change. “Change you can believe in”? Kiss my arse!
Why are lines in the sand and red lines so popular? They make the world a simple place. If you can accept them they enclose you in a world where there are no complex criss-crossing of motives and policies, no need to wonder ‘who benefits?’ There are just clear lines, with right on one side and wrong on the other. They are easy to get into a sound bite, visually memorable and easy for a compliant media to sell to the hard-of-thinking. What is not to like, when you want to have people forget to ask any questions?
And our media have talked about virtually nothing else but these red lines and whether we have proof or not that they have been crossed. They have been so focused on this quest for proof they have offered nearly no deeper analysis. A simple cover has been pulled over all the real complexities of who is after what.
Of course having proof sounds so right. Who could argue with it? The problem is that in the real world proof in human affairs is often so elusive that the quest for it quickly degenerates into claim and counter-claim. What I belive we are in danger of losing sight of, as a result of this insistence on proof, is analysis. Proof that some action or event took place does not guarantee that you understand WHY it happened. For that you need analysis. But I have begun to feel that our governments don’t like analysis because anyone can do it. It is democratic. Whereas insisting on proof is a convenient thing for those who claim to have it but cannot show it to us because it is too…secret.
It seems ot me that those same people who insist on proof have taken to dismissing any analysis they don’t like as ‘conspiracy theory’. In fact I wonder if analysis as a whole is being slowly demonized as conspiracy. I want to argue that proof is great where you can get it. But to make a fetish of it and forget analysis is to surrender to authority. It is not proof we need but understanding.
What is being covered over?
The US regime says it now has proof of chemical weapons use and who used them and therefore, according to Secretary of State- John Kerry, quoted in The Guardian,
“We can not accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale,..”
Which sticks in the throat a little. Formerly classified documents seen by Foreign Policy Magazine show very clearly that the American military and intelligence machine has been quite happy to see chemical weapons used when those using them were their allies – as was the case in the 1980’s when the US smiled upon Sadam Hussein’s use of gas against the Iranians.
Top CIA officials, including the Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey, a close friend of President Ronald Reagan, were told about the location of Iraqi chemical weapons assembly plants; that Iraq was desperately trying to make enough mustard agent to keep up with frontline demand from its forces; that Iraq was about to buy equipment from Italy to help speed up production of chemical-packed artillery rounds and bombs; and that Iraq could also use nerve agents on Iranian troops and possibly civilians.
Thousands of Iranian troops died. And when the same weapons were used again in 1988, this time to gas Iraqi civilians, there was not a murmur of moral concern in the regimes in America and Europe. A friend of mine was one of the scientists who did the work on those gas attacks and remembers the indifference and denial.
But of course today the gas attacks are by a someone our rulers no longer like and therefore, in Mr Kerry’s mind,
“History will judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turn a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction,..”
Funny how history in America is always very closely aligned with American foreign policy. Anyway, Mr Kerry said he would present a compelling case, which was supposed to be in the document released along with his speach. Only the document is long on assertion of who was responsible and mostly devoid of actual proof.
Mr Kerry and the regime he serves are nevertheless quite certain. History, apparently is also certain. British intelligence is not. The document compiled by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee said, there was only
…some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack,..a limited but growing body of intelligence which supports the judgement that the regime was responsible for the attacks.
Perhaps I am missing it but nothing in that shouts ‘Proof’.
2) confusing proof of use with proof of perpetrator
Let’s be clear. Proof that chemical weapons were used is quite different from proof of who used them. The former is a questions of chemical residues. The latter requires eyewitnesses, photographs or video showing who used them or a confesssion from those who used them. Nothing else is proof.
Falling short of actual proof you can offer a case based on showing who had the means, the opportunity and the motive. But of course all that pulls back the cover of the simple ‘ask no questions and offer no analysis’ and opens up a real debate.
So what do we know? Early on there were reports of chemical attacks. The US was quick to seize upon them. At the time the video evidence did not suggest organophosphates (Sarin and other modern gases are organophosphates). The most tell tale thing to look for is pin-point pupils. In the early attacks the videos showed lots of distressing frothing and choking but not pin-point pupils. There were reports from people in the affected areas saying they smelt Chlorine. So it seemed likely that someone got their hands on industrial chemicals including chlorine and perhaps other nasty chemicals such as insecticides and simply used them in home made mortars and rocket payloads.
More recently videos have shown adults and children dying and some of them did appear to have pin-point pupils. Obviously a less ambiguous proof would be an actual sample, which should be possible to get. When Sarin breaks down, one of the residues produced is isopropyl methylphosphonic acid (IMPA), which is specific only to Sarin. Find it and you have proof Sarin was used. The French say they have such samples from as long ago as April. Brought to them, they say, by journalists working in Syria for the French newspaper Le Monde. The French claim they have a full audit trail of who had the samples and where and so can guarantee the samples were not tampered with. The French may be telling the truth or they could have tampered with the samples to get the result they wanted. The French have a very definite agenda and interest which I’ll come back to.
For what it’s worth the French let the UK Chemical Warfare group at Porton Down test the samples and they concurred the tests showed positive for IMPA.
The only reliable non-government agency on the ground in Syria that has spoken up is Medicins Sans Frontieres. They have by far the most people on the ground who see and treat the actual casualties and have the best relationships with local hospitals and doctors and are, in my opion a trustworthy oragnization.
In a press release on 24th August 2013 they said,
MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr Janssens. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events—characterised by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers—strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.
So some sort of neurotoxic agent has probably been used and if we believe the French it was Sarin. But no one has proof of WHO was responsable. That is what Mr Kerry and the Obama regime should have said but didn’t.
3) Various groups might have been responsible.
We don’t have proof so we should proceed carefully as a good detective would do – Means, Opportunity and Motive.
The Assad government.
They have the means. They are one of the few countries which have not signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Five countries have not signed at all, two have signed but never ratified. The two are Israel and Burma, the five are Syria, Egypt, South Sudan, North Korea and Angola.
Chemical weapons are far simpler to use than nuclear or biological. They are the poor man’s mass and indiscrimiate murder weapon. They can be delivered by most means, from mortar to missile. All you need to do is be careful not to break the container while you are still handling it, make sure the wind disperses it where you want it (simple enough if you fire it far enough away from your own side) and make sure the explosion disperses but does not destroy the chemical.
In Syria the delivery may have been by plane, missile/rocket or mortar. There have been several claims of unguided missile attacks in the past and the US document concentrates on a recent rocket attack which it thinks was carrying a chemical payload.
Motive is the troubling bit for the Assad regime. Various experts and commentators (see second half of article) have pointed out that it made little or no sense for the Assad regime to use chemical weapons which would not achieve any decisive military objective but would certainly bring down international condemnation upon their heads and would cross Mr Obama’s red line. Of course someone, senior or junior, still could have.
Back in May the US regime (gets to be insulting doesn’t it) was already claiming Assad’s forces were using chemical weapons. So it was an almighty embarrasment when a former Swiss Atorney-General, Carla Del Ponte, now a member of a UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria that had been working in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and people working in field hospitals, said they felt there was growing evidence of gas attacks but by rebel forces. Reuters quoted her and the Obama regime was in danger of looking like what it was.
Since then the US has just ignored the UN evidence.
Some time later RT reported that Assad’s forces had found a storehouse of rebel chemicals which it suggested was proof of rebel chemical use. In my opnion it was just a poor piece of propaganda. The report said there were “toxic substances” including Chlorine, “corrosive substances”, which, it quoted Syria’s UN ambassador as saying, were
“capable of destroying a whole city, if not the whole country.”
Capable of destroying the whole city? Unlikely. Among the bottles of chemicals the embedded video shows are bags of caustic soda. With which you could clean a whole city perhaps but not destroy it. The article then gives the names of two other chemicals it says were found: monoethylene glycol and polyethylene glycol. The former is rated as moderately toxic. It is used as the coolant in fridges and air-conditioning. The latter is used, among other things, in laxatives and in hospitals for whole bowel irrigation. To destroy a whole city that way would be messy, smelly and traumatic, but difficult.
It seems to me that both Rebels and Assad, are aware of what a coup it would be if they had ‘proof’ showing the other side using gas. So far both sides have provided propaganda and asssertion rather than proof.
Do the rebels have the means to use chemical weapons? They might well do. They could have seized government stores or been supplied by others. There are plenty of claims that Saudi or Qatar have provided the rebels with chemical weapons. The most recent published on 29th August by MintPress News says the very attack the US regime blames on Assad and holds up as the atrocity over which the US will go to war, was in fact carried out by rebels who admit it was them.
The article begins,
As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.
It then goes on,
…from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the deadly gas attack.
The article describes how chemical weapons were smuggled in through tunnels by rebels who did not understand what they were carrying and there was an accident.
The reporter who spoke to the rebels, families and victims on the ground in Ghouta in Syria was Yahya Ababneh. The article was written for MintPress News by Dale Gavlak, who is a freelance journalist who has in the past worked for AP. Is the report true? Or are the journalists lying or being fed lies? Sadly the endless lies of the Iraq War and the financial crisis have ensured that no one believes anyone.
I believe this means we cannot and should not hope that some report, some ‘proof’ is going to appear and be so conclusive that we will all accept it and all arguments will be over. I believe, therefore, our only hope for clarity is to try to understand the broader context in which all these conflicting claims and warring factions exist and focus not on ‘is this or that report or claim true, do we have proof?, because we won’t. Instead of looking for proof which is always elusive and always contested, we should look for understanding. And the key to understanding is motive, which is there just beneath the surface.
So back to Means, Opportunity and Motive.
If the rebels were given chemical weapons would they they have the means to deliver them? it’s not impossible. A mortar, small artillery shell or rocket will do.
Do they have the motive? They certainly have a far stronger motive than the Assad side. The rebels know if they can make it look as if the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, then they have given Mr Obama the excuse he needs. So they have every motive. All that would stand in their way is common humanity and care for innocent victims. Both of which are commonly in short supply in war.
So far I have been using the term ‘rebels’ much as our media and governments use it – lazily. The use of the term ‘rebels’ suggests they are a uniform bunch. It suggests they are Syrians opposed to Assad. In fact the ‘rebels’ are not all Syrian and though they are united in opposition to Assad they are certainly not all on the same side. They have one common enemy but serve different masters who have different agendas. And this is where we begin to do what our rulers have been keen to prevent – look at the real complexities of who is working for whom and for what advantage.
I am sorry this has been so long but I felt if I jumped straight to offering my analysis without addressing what has been claimed and how the whole issue has been carefully framed as a quest for ‘proof’ then my analysis would founder because people would feel I had not addressed any of the questions our masters claim are the essential ones. I felt I had to show why I felt their approach was wrong before I offered the beginnings of what I hope is better.