The Syrian gassing: No evidence Trump’s allegations are true
Let’s assume that sarin really was used in Khan Shaykhun (Idlib Province) on April 8. America’s government says so; the U.K.’s government says so; Turkey says so; even Russia holds that something involving “chemical weapons” occurred.
The question is, Who was responsible? President Donald J. Trump, offering no evidence, insists it was the Syrian government, with the probable foreknowledge of Russia. However, the Russian Defense Ministry has a different explanation. “The Syrian air force delivered an airstrike on several militant facilities in the Idlib Governorate, where munitions filled with poisonous substances were being made.”
The BBC reported more fully on this: “The Syrian air force…struck Khan Sheikhoun between 11:30am and 12:30pm local time”… and the target was “a large terrorist ammunition depot…there were workshops which produced chemical warfare munitions…terrorists had been transporting chemical munitions from this largest arsenal to the territory of Iraq.”
According to this view, the chemicals were owned by militant forces—not the Syrian government. A powerful air strike by Syrian government forces would thus have dispersed the chemicals into the air; it would then drift down and kill people. (Some scientists point out that some of the gas would have been destroyed in such an attack, but there’s no proof that all of it would).
You’d never know from the U.S. media that there are serious challenges to Trump’s “Assad did it” claim, which they’ve swallowed whole hog. Nor would you be likely to know that Russia is insisting on an independent investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an independent body which is the world’s leading NGO on chemical warfare; the U.S., which is a member, has just in essence opposed this. Yesterday, Russia submitted its formal proposal to OPCW, calling for “a fair investigation into this incident.” According to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, he proposed this to American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during their meeting in Moscow, “but he [Tillerson] was not ready for this.”
Why not? Why would Trump’s Secretary of state object to a formal investigation by a respected international body? Even Bashir Assad “supports the idea of [an] impartial investigation” into the attack. (It’s worth noting that, the last time this happened, in 2016, “the OPCW corroborate[d] the Syrian government’s assertions that the faction responsible for the chemical attack, as well as 11 other instances of chemical weapons use, was the Syrian opposition.”)
Some analysts have concluded that it would have been insane for Assad to use sarin on his people, for two reasons: The country no longer possesses such weapons (both Russia and Assad insist they’re long gone), and “the Syrian government is winning the war and has no possible motive for giving the ‘international community’ an excuse to come to the aid of the ‘rebels.’”
Assad is reported to believe that “the US has taken advantage of this incident” for its own purposes. “[America] fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.” Even some people in this country—Ron Paul, for example—have said there’s “zero chance” Assad was responsible for the attack.
Clearly, any reasonable person must conclude there’s enough ambiguity surrounding the incident to make a rush to judgment inadvisable.
President Obama was faced with a similar problem back in 2013, when the Syrian town of Ghouta was hit by a sarin-like agent. At that time, Obama refused to retaliate against Assad, warning against “the perils of intervention.” Obama’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, a Republican, wondered, “Shouldn’t we finish up the two wars we [already] have [Afghanistan and Iraq] before we look for another?”
This was the same time Trump famously advised Obama to “stay the hell out of Syria.”
Well, that was then; this is now. In 2013 Trump was thinking about running for President. Today, he is the President, and he’s in a world of trouble, with RussiaGate looming and the public’s confidence in him eroding. Now, he has resorted to the oldest trick in the book: war. It rallies the public into patriotic furor, sends the media off on fruitless side tracks, and silences his critics. But with this President’s track record for lies, why should anyone believe him now? He lies about everything, big and small. He may well be lying now, to save his skin. Look, I know I’ve quoted Russian and Syrian sources in this reporting, and most of us are prone to believe that anything they say is a lie. But ask yourself, in your heart of hearts: Do you believe everything Trump says just because he says it?
Trump is getting a taste for this sort of violent intervention. Yesterday’s massive bombing in Afghanistan suggests as much; so does the “armada” he sent to North Korea. This is exactly the sort of thing Democrats warned about prior to the election: Give this guy unlimited power, including the nuclear codes, and he could easily go insane.
Have a nice weekend.