Donald Trump entered military terra incognita on Thursday by launching an illegal Tomahawk missile strike on an air base in eastern Syria. Beyond the clear violation of international law, the practical results are likely to be disastrous, drawing the U.S. deeper into the Syrian quagmire.
But it would be a mistake to focus all the criticism on Trump. Not only are Democrats also at fault, but a good argument could be made that they bear even greater responsibility.
For years, near-total unanimity has reigned on Capitol Hill concerning America’s latest villains du jour, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Congressmen, senators, think-tank strategists, and op-ed analysts all have agreed that Putin and Assad are the prime enemies of “peace,” by which is meant global American hegemony, and that therefore the U.S. must stop at nothing to weaken or neutralize them or force them to exit the world stage.
Until recently, in fact, just about the only politically significant dissenter was Trump. Accusing reporters of twisting the news at a tumultuous press conference in late February, he told them, “Now tomorrow, you’ll say, ‘Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.’ It’s not terrible. It’s good.”
But since getting along with Russia was terrible for America’s perpetually bellicose foreign-policy establishment, Official Washington declared war on Trump, building on Hillary Clinton’s charge during the last presidential debate that he was Putin’s “puppet.” It became the conventional wisdom that Trump was a “Siberian candidate” being inserted in the White House by a satanic Kremlin determined to bend freedom-loving Americans to its will.
As Inauguration Day approached, President Obama’s intelligence chiefs pulled out all stops to persuade the public that (a) Russian intelligence had engineered Clinton’s defeat by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computers and placing thousands of embarrassing emails in the hands of WikiLeaks and that (b) Trump was somehow complicit in the effort.
The campaign was highly effective. The alleged Putin-Trump relationship was a major feature at the anti-Trump protests surrounding his inauguration and the major U.S. news media pounded on the Russia “scandal” daily.
On Feb. 13, barely four weeks after taking office, Trump crumbled under a mounting barrage of political abuse and gave National Security Adviser Michael Flynn the boot after it was revealed that he had talked with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition, supposedly in violation of the 1799 Logan Act, an absurd piece of ancient legislation that even The New York Times referred to as “a dusty, old law” that should have been repealed generations ago.
Under Media Pressure
A day later, the administration reeled again when the Times charged in a front-page exposé that “members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”
The article provided no evidence and no names and said nothing about whether such contacts were knowing or unknowing, i.e., whether they involved a John le Carré-style midnight rendezvous or merely an exchange of pleasantries with someone who may or may not have been connected to the FSB, as Russia’s version of the CIA is known.
In a March 6 article entitled “Pause This Presidency,” Times columnist Charles M. Blow called for little less than a coup d’état: “The American people must immediately demand a cessation of all consequential actions by this ‘president’ until we can be assured that Russian efforts to hack our election … did not also include collusion with or cover-up by anyone involved in the Trump campaign and now administration.”
How “the American people” would demand such a cessation or who would provide such assurances was not specified.
On March 31, CNN quoted an unnamed senior administration official saying that Trump’s hopes of a rapprochement with Russia were fading because he “believes in the current atmosphere – with so much media scrutiny and ongoing probes into Trump-Russia ties and election meddling – that it won’t be possible to ‘make a deal.’”
Thus, Trump found himself increasingly boxed in by hostile forces. But he still tried to fulfill his promise to concentrate on defeating terrorists in Syria and Iraq. On March 30, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. administration “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” but to concentrate on defeating Al Qaeda and ISIS instead.
But the more Trump contemplated his predicament in the following days, the more he realized how untenable it had come. Tuesday’s poison-gas incident in Idlib thus offered a way out regardless of who was actually responsible. The only way for Trump to make peace with the “deep state” in Washington was by waging war on Syria.
Finally, on Thursday, hours before Trump sent a volley of cruise missiles wafting towards Syria, Hillary Clinton taunted him by declaring that America “should take out his [Assad’s] airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people.” The effect was to all but force Trump to show that he was every bit as macho as the former First Lady.
Trump is certainly a fool for going ahead with such an attack in clear contravention of international law and entangling the United States more deeply into the complicated Syrian conflict. But the blame also should go to the people who frog-marched him to the precipice and then all but commanded him to step over the edge.
Within hours, all the usual suspects were congratulating one of the most scorned U.S. presidents in history for taking the leap.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described Trump’s missile barrage as “a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.”
Republican super-hawks Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, previously as anti-administration as any Democrat, issued a joint statement declaring that Trump “deserves the support of the American people,” while liberal heart-throb Sen. Elizabeth Warren also agreed that “the Syrian regime must be held accountable for this horrific act.”
The Guardian, as fiercely anti-Trump as it is anti-Putin and anti-Assad, conceded that “Donald Trump has made his point” and that the next step would be up to Russia. All in all, Trump had never gotten such good press. It’s clear that Official Washington was pleased with Trump’s handiwork and was eager to encourage him to do more.
But the missile barrage was not just an assault on Syria but on reason and good sense, too. Although the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor tried to make it seem that the only critics of the missile barrage are members of the alt-right “known for espousing racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view,” the fact is that criticism flowed in from other quarters.
At Alternet, Vijay Prashad pointed out that there were few independent observers in Khan Shaykhun, the farming town where the April 4 incident occurred, to provide an accurate account. Eyewitnesses “with the densest relationship to the armed opposition,” he wrote, “are the first to claim that this attack was done by the government.”
Consortiumnews’ Robert Parry pointed out that rather than dropping the gas themselves, Syrian or Russian warplanes could well have triggered an outbreak by bombing a facility containing “chemicals that the rebels were planning to use in some future attack.” Parry also noted that Al Qaeda, which controls Idlib province, could have “staged the incident to elicit precisely the international outrage directed at Assad as has occurred.”
[Previously, United Nations investigators have received eyewitness testimony from Syrians about rebels staging an alleged chlorine-bomb attack so it would be pinned on the Assad regime.]
Something similar may well have occurred in August 2013, a sarin-gas missile attack on the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds and that appears to have been launched from a rebel-controlled area two kilometers away. The two incidents are curiously parallel.
The August 2013 incident, which horrified the world and brought the Obama administration to the brink of its own attack on the Syrian government, occurred just days after a U.N. team had arrived in Damascus to investigate an alleged chemical attack by rebels against Syrian government troops some four months earlier.
It made little sense for the Assad regime to have invited U.N. investigators in and then launch a more horrific chemical-weapons attack just miles from the investigators’ hotel. It would be a bit like someone inviting a police inspector to dinner and then committing a murder in full view.
Not Making Sense
As one independent analysis noted in 2013, the Assad regime would have to have decided to carry out a large-scale attack “despite (a) making steady gains against rebel positions, (b) receiving a direct threat from the US that the use of chemical weapons would trigger intervention, (c) having constantly assured their Russian allies that they will not use such weapons, (d) prior to the attack, only using non-lethal chemicals and only against military targets.”
The Assad government would also have had to decide “to (a) send forces into rebel-held area, where they are exposed to sniper fire from multiple directions, (b) use locally manufactured short-range rockets, instead of any of the long-range high quality chemical weapons in their arsenal, and (c) use low quality sarin.”
All of which seems supremely unlikely, but much of the mainstream U.S. media still treats the 2013 sarin-gas attack as the undeniable case of Assad crossing Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons. And the highly dubious 2013 incident is cited as a key reason to believe that Assad has done it again. [Recently, The New York Times has quietly backed off the 2013 claims although not explicitly retracting its earlier reporting blaming the attack on the Assad regime.]
Assad would have possibly even stronger reasons not to deploy sarin gas on April 4, 2017. He would have to make a conscious decision to court world opprobrium at a time when the tide of the war was finally turning in his favor with the liberation of Aleppo last December and with most world leaders having concluded that the Assad regime was here to stay.
To have produced and deployed a sarin bomb would have meant deliberately risking military intervention more than three years after Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations to destroy its entire chemical-weapons stockpile so as to avoid … military intervention.
All of which seems supremely unlikely as well. It would be an act of suicide – and after holding off a combined U.S., Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish assault for half a decade or more, one thing that Assad does not appear to be is suicidal.
Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “there is no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for this horrific attack,” in reality there is plenty of doubt.
Nevertheless, Trump decided to fire away before the facts were in because the enemy he is most worried about is not the one half a world away in Syria, but the Democratic-neocon alliance in his own backyard. The political warfare in Washington is now generating more agony from real wars in the Middle East.
Gore Vidal called our country “the United States of Amnesia.” Not only is the American media forgetful they fight violently not to remember. Every day is a new day, every war a new war. As the bombs were launched cable TV bombarded us with uniform accounts: the bombings were “surgical,” “effective,” and “proportional.” Our media so obsessed with ‘fact-checking’ and ‘fake-news,’ didn’t wait to verify these accounts. They know their script; it is almost like they have been here before.
There was an eerie unity of opinion to the attack revealing that none of the pundits on CNN took seriously the consequences of unilateral action. Instead, former generals sat together and praised the effectiveness of the strikes unchallenged by the hosts, even though the strikes were ongoing, premature conclusions at best. Leader of the resistance, Chuck Schumer, said the strikes were the right thing to do.” Nancy Pelosi joined the chorus adding, “Tonight’s strike in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.” It seems Trump has proved his merit to the political and media elites, the praise reminiscent of the applause he received after he used a dead Navy Seal as political prop during his address to Congress.
Bombing and bravado are bipartisan. For all of the talk by Democrats about proportionality they don’t seem to understand it. Hillary Clinton yesterday called for airstrikes against Syrian airbases, beating Trump to it. When there is this much consensus in politics we should worry. Many on the left were chided for opposing Hillary Clinton because, “we agreed on 90% of the issues.” Apparently, being pro-war or anti-war is a trivial difference. By entertaining the Democrats long held desire to antagonize Russia and attack Syria, Trump has proven to the ruling class that he really is one of them and that US imperialism will not be interrupted. There seems to be much more that unites them than unites us. With Steve Bannon in seeming bad grace with Trump, it looks like the military has become ascendant.
Incredibly, the Russian conspiracy theorists refuse to put away their toys. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters crudely scribbled connections between Trump and Putin claiming that giving Russian troops warning of the incoming strike proves collusion. The attack, it seems, could only be justified if Russian blood was spilled. Only a Russian agent would avoid the killing of Russians: Putin’s sloppy work exposed! Not wanting to be softer than Trump, Fmr. Hilary Clinton advisor and “proud American” Peter Daou, declared that we must “use appropriate means” to stop “human rights violations across the globe.” Democrats against Trump want more not less.
There is romanticism behind the praise for Trump’s unilateral attack. The New York Times wrote a squishy titled piece, “On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First,” (though they seem to have gotten cold feet and changed the title.) Brian Williams, with a sparkle in his eye, called the bombing, “beautiful.” Nothing inspires warms the heart of the media like 59 tomahawks. The war pornography continued late into the night on CNN, which covered the attack with a split screen of the missiles being fired one by one. I hope someone can get Brian Williams a copy.
What is terrifying about this class of pundits and politicians is not some conspiracy to unite the powerful, but that the powerful are genuine in their reactions. Shock and awe tactics, bright lights in the sky impress them. They willingly choose to forget history; in the exuberance announcing “this time we have got it right!” War after war begins with the confidence of the rich, and end in the suffering of the poor. Karl Marx wrote in the introduction to The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” As the punditry rails off support for yet another military occupation in the Middle East, you must forgive me if I have lost count.
The world stands on the brink of global conflict. Nuclear war is currently a serious possibility. The US launched an attack on a Russian ally state based on completely unproven claims that it had used chemical weapons on its own people. No investigation to verify these claims has yet been undertaken. Responsible journalism needs to play an urgent part in pulling the situation back from the brink. It needs to point out the lack of data and the requirement for cool heads and rational thinking. But today, of all days, this is the Guardian’s headline.
Guardian headline April 8 2017
“Again.” Could there be a more complete abdication of journalistic responsibility to question and inform? Do the Guardian editorial staff who sanctioned this offence realise they are not simply advertising their own lack of moral fibre but may also be propagandising for the end of the world, themselves and their loved ones? Or does some innate hubris make them feel immortal and invulnerable? If so, by the time they realise they were wrong it will be very much too late for all of us.
Washington has presented “no evidence whatsoever” yet that the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s Homs Province targeted by the US after an alleged chemical attack in Idlib had any such weapons, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
“Twenty-four hours have passed since the US Navy warships launched a massive missile strike at the Shayrat airfield, and neither the Pentagon nor the State Department have provided any evidence of presence of chemical weapons at this airbase,” the ministry spokesman, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement on Saturday.
Dozens of representatives of the media, local authorities, fire departments, police, and the Syrian military have visited the airfield since then, with no alleged “storage units” or any chemical shells having been found, he said.
“The only way to receive and present to the whole international community any objective evidence on the alleged presence of poisonous substances at Shayrat is to send a mission of professional experts there,” the defense ministry statement said.
Early Friday morning, the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airfield, ordered by US President Donald Trump in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib Province. Dozens of civilians including children died from suspected gas poisoning in the rebel-occupied territory earlier this month, with Washington blaming the Syrian government for the incident.
Calling its attack on the airbase a “targeted military strike,” Trump claimed the airfield in Homs was where the alleged chemical gas attack originated.
24 Palestinian journalists imprisoned; freed journalist Omar Nazzal barred from Jerusalem, travel and banking
Palestinian journalist and former prisoner Omar Nazzal recently reported on his Facebook page about a series of restrictions that have been issued by Israeli occupation forces against him through military orders. Nazzal was released from administrative detention on 20 February after 10 months of imprisonment without charge or trial; since that time, he has been slapped with a two-year travel ban preventing him from leaving occupied Palestine; banned from Jerusalem and Palestine ’48 for 99 years; and forbidden from opening bank accounts until further notice.
Nazzal was seized by Israeli occupation forces in April 2016 as he attempted to enter Jordan through the Karameh/Allenby crossing en route to the European Federation of Journalists conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a member of the Secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and president of the Assembly of Democratic Journalists. His detention was internationally condemned by the EFJ, the International Federation of Journalists and other international associations.
There are currently 24 Palestinian journalists imprisoned in Israeli jails, the Palestinian Media Assembly reported on 2 April on March violations of the rights of journalists by the Israeli occupation. They include the five journalists of Sanabel Radio, who have been imprisoned since August 2016, when occupation forces invaded the radio station, abducting all of the staff present. Nine journalists were arrested in March, including Samah Dweik, Hassan Sawan, Mohammed Abed Rabbo, Khaleda Ghosheh, Raed Abu Remaileh (since released) and Mohammed Batrakh, Ayoub Sawan, Asim Mustafa and Musab al-Said (all still detained.)
Palestine TV correspondent Ahmed Shawar was injured by rubber-coated metal bullets as he covered a demonstration against settlements and the apartheid wall in Kufr Qaddoum. In addition, multiple photographers were injured in Nabi Saleh by Israeli occupation forces, including Rasha Herzallah, Hamza Shalash, Essam Rimawi, Mohammed Turkman, Majdi Shtayyeh, Abbas Momani and Saleh Hamad. In Kafr Malek, Nasser Shyoukhi and Abdel-Kader Bilbeisi were injured after inhaling tear gas. In addition, Israeli occupation forces attacked and confiscated several print shops, including Nahda in Tulkarem, Ibn Khaldoun in Tulkarem and Dozan in Bethlehem.
Israeli occupation forces stormed the home of Palestinian cartoonist Osama Nazzal on 27 March, smashing his paintings on the wall and drawing tools as well as confiscating other artwork.
At least 10 civilians have been killed in a Syrian village near the city of Raqqa, in an alleged air strike by the US-led coalition, Syrian media report.
The strike targeted a village to the west of Raqqa, SANA news agency reports. The attack caused casualties among the civilian population, SANA said, citing its local sources.
The alleged air strike and the same number of casualties was also reported by Syrian Tishreen newspaper, citing its sources.
Washington and its allies have been carrying out air strikes near Raqqa to provide support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
HEBRON – Two Palestinians from the Hebron-area village of Beit Ummar were lightly injured Friday after an Israeli settler attempted to run them over on a main road connecting the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron to Jerusalem.
Local activist Muhammad Awad told Ma’an that an Israeli settler was driving on the road, located near Beit Ummar, when the settler attempted to to run over Palestinians Muhammad Basem Khader al-Alami, 25, and Saed Samir Hassan al-Salibi, 20.
“The Israeli settler drove very fast with his car towards the two, who noticed the settler’s car rushing towards them at the last moment, causing them to fall on the side of the street, while the Israeli settler escaped,” Awad said, describing the scene to Ma’an.
An Israeli army spokesperson said they were looking into reports.
The incident came a day after Israeli settlers from the illegal settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West Bank closed a Nablus-area road in protest, calling for “revenge” on Palestinians after an alleged car-ramming attack was carried out earlier in the day near the illegal Israeli Ofra settlement in Ramallah, which killed an Israeli soldier and wounded another moderately.
Incidents involving Israeli settlers hitting Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory are a relatively regular occurrence, and are usually treated by Israeli security forces as accidents, even in cases when witnesses claim the car rammings were deliberate.
Many Palestinian activists and rights groups have accused Israel of fostering a “culture of impunity” for Israeli settlers and soldiers committing violent acts against Palestinians.
Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law, with announcements of settlement expansion earlier this year sparking condemnation from the international community.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were a total of 107 reported settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2016.
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump appears to have been psychologically profiled and manipulated into ordering cruise missile airstrikes against Syria, former US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski told Sputnik.
On Friday, US senior military officials disclosed declassified intelligence information to lay out reasoning behind the attack on the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat near Homs late Thursday.
“Trump appears to have been easily manipulated into this response,” Kwiatkowski said on Friday. “It could have not been more effective if President Trump had been psychologically profiled and specifically manipulated into this ‘surprise’ decision.”
Trump’s instinctive response to the first pictures of the use of chemical weapons “would have been easily predictable from a psychological analysis,” Kwiatkowski stated.
Kwiatkowski pointed out that parts of US foreign policy, defense and intelligence community and their supporters in the media had been very concerned over Trump’s long-expressed “America First” foreign policy approach.
“Reported events [on] Tuesday in Idlib served these interests well, and I believe it was an opportunity for these factions to attempt to prolong the wars in the Middle East, and ultimately further entrench their business and political interests,” she observed.
Kwiatkowski noted that Trump had ordered the missile strikes against Syrian military targets without taking action to carefully confirm Damascus had actually delivered the weapons and detonated them.
“Because evidence at the Syrian Air Base in Homs has likely been compromised by the impacts of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, the investigation will be even more difficult to conduct,” she remarked.
Kwiatkowski said she was surprised at the eagerness with which the US media joined the call for an attack, given the lack of concrete analysis of what happened in Idlib on Tuesday.
“It is as if the western media, time and time again, receives talking points from various governmental factions and republishes them uncritically and without verification,” she said.
Kwiatkowski expressed the hope that Trump would come to realize his cruise missile order had been premature and that he would revert to his previous efforts to reduce US military involvement across the Middle East.
“I personally believe that the percolation of correct intelligence will soon reach the White House, and US policy will revert back to Trump’s original position in the region, which is military disengagement and real self-determination for people there,” she said.
Some US officials were working to try and protect Islamic State fighters from being captured by Syrian government forces and finding protection for them after all the outrages they had perpetrated, Kwiatkowski warned.
“It seems to me that in Mosul and throughout Syria, IS fighters and leaders who have worked with the US are trying to ensure that they will be protected, and the US may be trying to ensure that many of its former ‘rebel’ colleagues are… provided safe haven out of the countries,” she said.
However, the search for truth about what really happened in the chemical weapons attack at Idlib would continue aggressively, Kwiatkowski concluded.
Just two days after news broke of an alleged poison-gas attack in northern Syria, President Trump brushed aside advice from some U.S. intelligence analysts doubting the Syrian regime’s guilt and launched a lethal retaliatory missile strike against a Syrian airfield.
Trump immediately won plaudits from Official Washington, especially from neoconservatives who have been trying to wrestle control of his foreign policy away from his nationalist and personal advisers since the days after his surprise victory on Nov. 8.
There is also an internal dispute over the intelligence. On Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. intelligence community assessed with a “high degree of confidence” that the Syrian government had dropped a poison gas bomb on civilians in Idlib province.
But a number of intelligence sources have made contradictory assessments, saying the preponderance of evidence suggests that Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were at fault, either by orchestrating an intentional release of a chemical agent as a provocation or by possessing containers of poison gas that ruptured during a conventional bombing raid.
One intelligence source told me that the most likely scenario was a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy, announced only days earlier, that the U.S. government would no longer seek “regime change” in Syria and would focus on attacking the common enemy, Islamic terror groups that represent the core of the rebel forces.
The source said the Trump national security team split between the President’s close personal advisers, such as nationalist firebrand Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, on one side and old-line neocons who have regrouped under National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army general who was a protégé of neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus.
White House Infighting
In this telling, the earlier ouster of retired Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and this week’s removal of Bannon from the National Security Council were key steps in the reassertion of neocon influence inside the Trump presidency. The strange personalities and ideological extremism of Flynn and Bannon made their ousters easier, but they were obstacles that the neocons wanted removed.
Though Bannon and Kushner are often presented as rivals, the source said, they shared the belief that Trump should tell the truth about Syria, revealing the Obama administration’s CIA analysis that a fatal sarin gas attack in 2013 was a “false-flag” operation intended to sucker President Obama into fully joining the Syrian war on the side of the rebels — and the intelligence analysts’ similar beliefs about Tuesday’s incident.
Instead, Trump went along with the idea of embracing the initial rush to judgment blaming Assad for the Idlib poison-gas event. The source added that Trump saw Thursday night’s missile assault as a way to change the conversation in Washington, where his administration has been under fierce attack from Democrats claiming that his election resulted from a Russian covert operation.
If changing the narrative was Trump’s goal, it achieved some initial success with several of Trump’s fiercest neocon critics, such as neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, praising the missile strike, as did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The neocons and Israel have long sought “regime change” in Damascus even if the ouster of Assad might lead to a victory by Islamic extremists associated with Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State.
Wagging the Dog
Trump employing a “wag the dog” strategy, in which he highlights his leadership on an international crisis to divert attention from domestic political problems, is reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s decision to attack Serbia in 1999 as impeachment clouds were building around his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.
Trump’s advisers, in briefing the press on Thursday night, went to great lengths to highlight Trump’s compassion toward the victims of the poison gas and his decisiveness in bombing Assad’s military in contrast to Obama’s willingness to allow the intelligence community to conduct a serious review of the evidence surrounding the 2013 sarin-gas case.
Ultimately, Obama listened to his intelligence advisers who told him there was no “slam-dunk” evidence implicating Assad’s regime and he pulled back from a military strike at the last minute – while publicly maintaining the fiction that the U.S. government was certain of Assad’s guilt.
In both cases – 2013 and 2017 – there were strong reasons to doubt Assad’s responsibility. In 2013, he had just invited United Nations inspectors into Syria to investigate cases of alleged rebel use of chemical weapons and thus it made no sense that he would launch a sarin attack in the Damascus suburbs, guaranteeing that the U.N. inspectors would be diverted to that case.
Similarly, now, Assad’s military has gained a decisive advantage over the rebels and he had just scored a major diplomatic victory with the Trump administration’s announcement that the U.S. was no longer seeking “regime change” in Syria. The savvy Assad would know that a chemical weapon attack now would likely result in U.S. retaliation and jeopardize the gains that his military has achieved with Russian and Iranian help.
The counter-argument to this logic – made by The New York Times and other neocon-oriented news outlets – essentially maintains that Assad is a crazed barbarian who was testing out his newfound position of strength by baiting President Trump. Of course, if that were the case, it would have made sense that Assad would have boasted of his act, rather than deny it.
But logic and respect for facts no longer prevail inside Official Washington, nor inside the mainstream U.S. news media.
Alarm within the U.S. intelligence community about Trump’s hasty decision to attack Syria reverberated from the Middle East back to Washington, where former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reported hearing from his intelligence contacts in the field that they were shocked at how the new poison-gas story was being distorted by Trump and the mainstream U.S. news media.
Giraldi told Scott Horton’s Webcast: “I’m hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham.”
Giraldi said his sources were more in line with an analysis postulating an accidental release of the poison gas after an Al Qaeda arms depot was hit by a Russian airstrike.
“The intelligence confirms pretty much the account that the Russians have been giving … which is that they hit a warehouse where the rebels – now these are rebels that are, of course, connected with Al Qaeda – where the rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear.”
Giraldi said the anger within the intelligence community over the distortion of intelligence to justify Trump’s military retaliation was so great that some covert officers were considering going public.
“People in both the agency [the CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict,” Giraldi said before Thursday night’s missile strike. “They are astonished by how this is being played by the administration and by the U.S. media.”
The mainstream U.S. media has presented the current crisis with the same profound neocon bias that has infected the coverage of Syria and the larger Middle East for decades. For instance, The New York Times on Friday published a lead story by Michael R. Gordon and Michael D. Shear that treated the Syrian government’s responsibility for the poison-gas incident as flat-fact. The lengthy story did not even deign to include the denials from Syria and Russia that they were responsible for any intentional deployment of poison gas.
The article also fit with Trump’s desire that he be portrayed as a decisive and forceful leader. He is depicted as presiding over intense deliberations of war or peace and displaying a deep humanitarianism regarding the poison-gas victims, one of the rare moments when the Times, which has become a reliable neocon propaganda sheet, has written anything favorable about Trump at all.
According to Syrian reports on Friday, the U.S. attack killed 13 people, including five soldiers at the airbase.
Gordon, whose service to the neocon cause is notorious, was the lead author with Judith Miller of the Times’ bogus “aluminum tube” story in 2002 which falsely claimed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was reconstituting a nuclear-weapons program, an article that was then cited by President George W. Bush’s aides as a key argument for invading Iraq in 2003.
Regarding this week’s events, Trump’s desperation to reverse his negative media coverage and the dubious evidence blaming Assad for the Idlib incident could fit with the “Wag the Dog” movie from 1997 in which an embattled president creates a phony foreign crisis in Albania.
In the movie, the White House operation is a cynical psychological operation to convince the American people that innocent Albanian children, including an attractive girl carrying a cat, are in danger when, In reality, the girl was an actor posing before a green screen that allowed scenes of fiery ruins to be inserted as background.
Today, because Trump and his administration are now committed to convincing Americans that Assad really was responsible for Tuesday’s poison-gas tragedy, the prospects for a full and open investigation are effectively ended. We may never know if there is truth to those allegations or whether we are being manipulated by another “wag the dog” psyop.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a buffer zone against Syria, Iran and Hezbollah on the borders with Syria to be part of any future deal to end the Syrian crisis, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Friday.
According to the Israeli newspaper, Netanyahu proposed this issue during meetings with American and other coalition countries.
Netanyahu wants to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from establishing a foothold and he intends to undermine future attacks against Israel, noting that he had suggested international forces to supervise his proposed buffer zone.
Last Friday, the Israeli Maariv revealed that Netanyahu sent messages to the international parties involved in the talks about Syria’s future.
These messages, according to the Egyptian news website Moheet, suggested Israel’s desire to decrease its reliance on military attacks on Syria in exchange for reaching a silent agreement that Iran and Hezbollah do not approach the Armistice Line in the occupied Golan Heights.
Maariv said that Israel would accept the return of the Syrian army to the border area connected with the occupied Palestinian territories based on a 1974 deal between the two.
Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper reported fears from the Israeli political and military leadership from reaching a deal which kept Bashar Al-Assad as president and this would give Iran the chance to deploy forces loyal to it in areas close to the Golan Heights.
Over the past year, the Israeli military has carried out several airstrikes deep inside Syria, targeting Hezbollah’s personnel and weapons.
Late Thursday night, The Pentagon stated that their attack on the Syrian Government air-base near Homs was not targeting the regime’s supposed chemical weapon stocks. Despite “all the signs” pointing to Assad’s guilt, and it being “very likely” that this base is where the gas attack originated… no efforts were made to destroy any chemical weapons. At all.
The Pentagon’s official statement says:
The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4.
And that the attack…
… was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.”
But the targets were limited to:
… aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.
So they “know” where the chemical weapons are. And they “know” Assad used them on civilians and (for all they know) may well do so again.
So why not target and destroy these weapons? Wouldn’t that be the easiest option?
Well, it is NOT because they know Assad doesn’t really have any. They want to be very clear on that point. Rather, it’s because they want to prevent possible casualties [which could be caused] by putting chemicals into the atmosphere, as the Guardian reports:
But that tenuous self-defence justification was weakened by the Pentagon’s insistence that the goal of the strike was not to destroy chemical weapons. In fact, it took great pains to avoid bombing any sites where chemical weapons may have been stored, for fear of causing civilian casualties downwind.
But, hold on, isn’t this statement in total and complete contradiction to all the media coverage of the Idlib attack so far? Why yes, yes it is!
When the Russian government suggested the chemical casualties were caused by the bombs hitting a rebel weapons stockpile, these claims were rubbished as “fanciful” by the current go-to expert on chemical weapons, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon. He told the Guardian, the BBC and others:
“No I think [the Russian explanation] is pretty fanciful, no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies,” he said.
“Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin, you destroy it.”
“It’s very clear it’s a sarin attack,” he added. “The view that it’s an al-Qaida or rebel stockpile of sarin that’s been blown up in an explosion, I think is completely unsustainable and completely untrue.”
All the mainstream media have been very clear that releasing sarin gas into the atmosphere through bombing is impossible. Even going so far as to ignore weapons experts so say otherwise, and remove them from their articles.
So there we are, it is perfectly safe – according to our own former-NATO experts – to bomb the crap out of sarin. It poses no threat whatsoever to civilians and will be completely destroyed.
The fact the American’s didn’t destroy, or even attempt destroy, Assad’s supposed sarin gas stocks is definitive proof of one of two things:
1. They know Assad doesn’t have any sarin gas.
2. They know the Russian explanation to be, at least theoretically, correct.
Of course, it could also be both.