Venezuela is in flames. Or at least parts of it is.
Since April 4th, opposition militants have been carrying out targeted acts of violence, vandalism and arson, as well as deliberately clashing with security forces in an attempt to plunge the country into total chaos and forcefully remove the elected socialist government. It is the continuation of an 18 year effort to topple the Bolivarian revolution by any means necessary — although you may have seen it miraculously recast in the mainstream media as “promoting a return to democracy” in the country.
A catalogue of the violence over the last 18 days is shocking – schools have been ransacked, a Supreme Court building has been torched, an air force base attacked, while public transport, health and veterinary facilities have been destroyed. At least 23 people have been left dead, with many more injured. In one of the most shocking cases of right-wing violence, at around 10pm on April 20th, women, children and over 50 newborn babies had to be evacuated by the government from a public maternity hospital which came under attack from opposition gangs.
Anywhere else in the western world, this would have given way to horrified international and national calls for an end to the violence, and for the swift prosecution of those responsible – making it all the more scandalous that these incidents have at best been ignored, and at worst totally misrepresented by the international press. Instead, those tasked with providing the public with unbiased reporting on international affairs have opted to uncritically parrot the Venezuelan opposition’s claims that the elected government is violently repressing peaceful protests, and holding it responsible for all deaths in connection with the demonstrations so far.
This narrative cannot be described as even a remotely accurate interpretation of the facts, and so it is important to set the record straight.
- To date, three people (two protesters and one bystander) have been killed by state security personnel, who were promptly arrested and in two cases indicted.
- A further five people have been directly killed by opposition protesters, while one person has died as an indirect result of the opposition roadblocks in Caracas (Ricarda Gonzalez, 89, who suffered from a CVA and was prevented from getting to a hospital).
- Five people have been shot in separate incidents near protests but under unclear circumstances. One of these victims was shot by an alleged opposition supporter from a high rise building, although the perpetrator’s political affiliation is yet to be confirmed.
- Nine protesters appear to have died as a result of their own actions (at least nine were electrocuted in the recent looting of a bakery).
A cursory look at the reality reveals that the government is clearly not responsible for the majority of these deaths. However, to paraphrase a remark recently made by Venezuelan author Jose Roberto Duque, the “truth has suddenly become useless”.
The media has failed to go into too much detail surrounding the exact circumstances of these deaths; precisely because the truth presents a serious obstacle to their narrative that all these people were killed during pro-democracy peaceful protests at the repressive hands of the authoritarian regime. This narrative isn’t just overly simplistic; it distorts the reality on the ground and misinforms international audiences.
Take this deliberately misleading paragraph from an article written by Nicholas Casey, the New York Time’s latest propaganda writer for the opposition.
“Protesters demanding elections and a return to democratic rule jammed the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities on Wednesday. National Guard troops and government-aligned militias beat crowds back with tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons, and at least three people were killed, according to human rights groups and news reports.”
Casey opted to omit the fact that none of those three deaths has so far been attributed to security forces, and one of the victims was an army sergeant killed by protesters themselves. Moreover, those on the receiving end of the “tear gas and rubber bullets” are not quite the “peaceful protesters” he so disingenuously implies. Anyone in the east of the city on April 19th, when both opposition and pro-government forces marched, could see how opposition supporters gathered in total freedom in Plaza Francia in Altamira, even buying anti-government t-shirts, caps, and purchasing ice-creams, and were able to march along the main highway linking the east of the city to the west.
Police “repression” has occurred in two specific scenarios. Firstly, when opposition gangs have set-up burning barricades and carried out violent acts of vandalism on the streets, including the targeting of public institutions – actions deliberately aimed at provoking photo-op worthy clashes with security forces. In the second instance, it has occurred when opposition marchers have attempted to cross a police line blocking them from getting to the working class municipality of El Libertador in the west of the city – where government support is traditionally concentrated. Again, this action is a deliberate attempt to provoke clashes with security forces and their supporters by the opposition, who are well aware that they have not been granted permission to march into El Libertador since a short-lived opposition-led coup in 2002, triggered by an anti-government march diverted towards Miraflores Presidential Palace in the west that left 19 dead by opposition sniper-fire.
It is hard to see how the police would not respond to these violent actions in a similar way, or even more violently, in the rest of the world. I can only imagine what would happen if armed and violent protesters consistently tried to march on the White House in Washington, or on No. 10 Downing Street in London. What if they assaulted police lines outside the White House, or attacked hospitals and looted businesses in London? Not only would they not be granted permission to continue, but protesters would most likely be shot, or end up in jail under anti-terrorism legislation for a very long time. But in Venezuela, the opposition can rely on its carte blanche from the mainstream press as its get out of jail card.
Needless to say, details of the undemocratic actions of opposition leaders and their supporters – ranging from these latest attacks to support for a violent coup in 2002 – are glaringly absent from virtually all news reports. This is despite the fact that the opposition’s current protest leaders – Julio Borges, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Henry Ramos Allup and Leopoldo Lopez – were active players in the 2002 coup.
The above article by Casey is a patent attempt to mislead the public over the dynamic on the ground in Venezuela. But unfortunately this is not just a case of one isolated news agency. The UK’s Guardian, for instance, provided its readers with an image gallery of the opposition’s April 19th march and “ensuing violence”, but failed to acknowledge that a pro-government march of similar size, if not greater, was also held the same day. They simply erased the actions of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Whichever news agency you check, be it the BBC, the Washington Post, CNN, or any other corporate outlet, you will find the same, uniform consensus in their Venezuela coverage. There are no words to describe this state of affairs other than a total media blockade.
The last time the country witnessed unrest on this scale was in 2014, when opposition militants again unsuccessfully tried to force the “exit” of President Nicolas Maduro using similar tactics, leading to the deaths of 43 people. The majority of those victims were innocent passersby caught in the violence or state security personnel, who were given the somewhat impossible task (just like today) of somehow refraining from responding with violence to people who are deliberately trying to provoke, maim and kill them.
While protests in 2014 were a response to violent unrest headed by the country’s right-wing student movement, this year’s commenced at the beginning of April after the Supreme Court issued a ruling granting the court temporary powers to assume the legislative functions of the National Assembly. It came in response to the Venezuelan parliament having been declared “in contempt of court” for more than six months, after the opposition refused to remove three of its lawmakers under investigation for electoral fraud in violation of a Supreme Court order. This is much like the current legal case hanging over the thirty Conservative MPs in the UK. The only difference in Venezuela is that the legislators were suspended from being sworn into parliament pending the results of the investigations. The opposition immediately hit out at the ruling, declaring it an attempted “coup” by the government that had come out of nowhere. The media swallowed this version of events hook, line and sinker. Although the ruling was overturned almost straightaway, the opposition took to the streets denouncing a “rupture of the constitutional order”.
This soon morphed into a hodgepodge of ultimatums which have dominated the opposition’s agenda since it won control of the country’s National Assembly (one of the five branches of the Venezuelan government) in December 2015, promising to have deposed the national government “within six months” – something beyond the power of Venezuela’s legislative branch. These demands include the release of what they call “political prisoners”, the opening-up of a “humanitarian channel” for receiving international aid and, most importantly, immediate regional and general elections. The street protests were an unmissable opportunity for the opposition, which was suffering from steadily decreasing popularity following an entire year of having squandered its legislative majority in parliament.
Evidently, long term strategy is not the opposition’s strong point. History testifies to the fact that they tend to go for maximum amount of damage in the minimum amount of time, no matter the cost. This brings us to why this kind of violence, which has been employed several times throughout the last 18 years by Venezuela’s well-seasoned opposition, is once again happening at this moment. If the government is so unpopular, as the opposition claims it is, why not just wait for the presidential elections in 2018 for their time to shine?
At this point it should be clear that the opposition’s only goal, far from promoting a “return” to democracy, is to step right over it. They want to remove the elected government more than a year ahead of scheduled elections. But they don’t want to stop there. As one opposition marcher told me on Wednesday: “Get your stuff together Maduro, because you’re going to jail”. The opposition’s goal is the total annihilation of Chavismo.
Whatever the government’s many errors and faults over the past four years under the leadership of Nicolas Maduro, progressives across the globe have an obligation to defend it against the opposition’s onslaught and the international media’s blockade. The alternative is the same savage neoliberalism – currently being mercilessly unleashed by Brazil’s unelected government – which previously squeezed blood from the entire continent throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
The slogan “No Volveran” (they shall not return) has never been more urgent.
The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written in his latest piece: “Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia… Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan…”
The daily and the columnist enjoy reputations as old warhorses empathising with Israeli interests. The probability is that Friedman is advancing Israel’s project to refuel the US’ stalled project of ‘regime change’ in Syria. Israel is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the swathe of Syrian territory bordering its ‘occupied territories’ in the Golan Heights remain in the hands of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Israel nurtured these groups to create a buffer zone between the Syrian territory it illegally occupies and where Damascus’ writ ends.
The Israeli attacks on Syrian forces operating near Golan Heights are becoming more frequent. Another major attack took place two days ago. Every time Israel attacks Syrian government assets, it provides an alibi, but in reality these attacks coincide with Syrian government operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS groups. Clearly, Israel intervenes to protect its al-Qaeda and ISIS proxies.
Friedman’s piece falls into perspective. On two occasions in recent weeks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced unease that the US may rekindle the regime change agenda in Syria and give it precedence over the fight against the ISIS. He said on April 12:
- US-led coalition only delivered strikes on selected ISIS positions. Jabhat al-Nusra has always been spared. We strongly suspect, and nobody has dispelled this suspicion so far, that al-Nusra is being spared so as to enact Plan B to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. I have mentioned the potential consequences of such an action. We have seen this in Iraq and Libya. I hope that those who can draw lessons from history will prevail.
Two days back, Lavrov again warned against a “return to the old plan for changing the Syrian government.” Of course, the US’ strategy to use ‘jihadi’ groups as geopolitical tools dates back to the CIA’s Afghan war in the eighties. The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned repeatedly about such a scenario repeating, with ISIS furthering the US’ plan to weaken Russian influence in Central Asia.
All this draws attention to India’s policies toward Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Israel in June. Modi is on record that one main purpose of his visit is to buttress the interests of Gujarati diamond merchants who have lucrative business dealings with Israel. Presumably, fat cats who thrive on kickbacks from Israeli arms deals and our security experts struggling with the ‘Intifada’ in J&K are also stakeholders in Modi’s Israel trip.
However, Modi should have a frank conversation with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Israel’s clandestine dealings with the Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Our intelligence agencies are constantly planting stories in the Indian newspapers highlighting the ISIS threat to India’s security, with a focus on the Malabar region. Praveen Swamy of Indian Express has been copiously reproducing such raw intelligence reports. (here, here, here and here) Such sensational reports cannot be totally dismissed as rumor-based fear-mongering garbage propagated by interest groups within the Indian establishment to raise the bogey of a ‘Kerala Islamic State’ (to borrow a colourful expression from Swamy) who aim at Hindu-Muslim polarization in the southern state.
Incidentally, Fox News reported last week that the ISIS is shifting its ‘capital’ from Raqqa to Dier es-Zor to the south, closer to the Israeli border. The American drones spotted ISIS convoys heading for Dier es-Zor but didn’t interdict them – presumably because of Israeli interests involved. (It is useful to recall that last September, US and Israel had attacked the Syrian military base in Dier es-Zor to ‘degrade’ it just hours before a major ISIS offensive to capture it.)
According to Swamy, our Malabari radicals fighting for ISIS eventually hope to return home to take revenge on the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. And yet, clearly, ISIS in Syria serves Israeli interests. Suffice it to say, Israel’s unholy alliance with Al-Qaeda and ISIS seriously undermines India’s security interests and it is only proper that Modi makes a strong demarche with Netanyahu regarding Israel’s indirect backing for the radicalization of our region. We can forgo diamond trade but not national security.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu making opening remarks at a joint White House press conference with President Donald Trump on Feb. 15, 2017. (Screenshot from White House video)
The other day, I asked a longtime Democratic Party insider who is working on the Russia-gate investigation which country interfered more in U.S. politics, Russia or Israel. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Israel, of course.”
Which underscores my concern about the hysteria raging across Official Washington about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential campaign: There is no proportionality applied to the question of foreign interference in U.S. politics. If there were, we would have a far more substantive investigation of Israel-gate.
The problem is that if anyone mentions the truth about Israel’s clout, the person is immediately smeared as “anti-Semitic” and targeted by Israel’s extraordinarily sophisticated lobby and its many media/political allies for vilification and marginalization.
So, the open secret of Israeli influence is studiously ignored, even as presidential candidates prostrate themselves before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both appeared before AIPAC in 2016, with Clinton promising to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” – whatever that meant – and Trump vowing not to “pander” and then pandering like crazy.
Congress is no different. It has given Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record-tying three invitations to address joint sessions of Congress (matching the number of times British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared). We then witnessed the Republicans and Democrats competing to see how often their members could bounce up and down and who could cheer Netanyahu the loudest, even when the Israeli prime minister was instructing the Congress to follow his position on Iran rather than President Obama’s.
Israeli officials and AIPAC also coordinate their strategies to maximize political influence, which is derived in large part by who gets the lobby’s largesse and who doesn’t. On the rare occasion when members of Congress step out of line – and take a stand that offends Israeli leaders – they can expect a well-funded opponent in their next race, a tactic that dates back decades.
Well-respected members, such as Rep. Paul Findley and Sen. Charles Percy (both Republicans from Illinois), were early victims of the Israeli lobby’s wrath when they opened channels of communication with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the cause of seeking peace. Findley was targeted and defeated in 1982; Percy in 1984.
Findley recounted his experience in a 1985 book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, in which Findley called the lobby “the 700-pound gorilla in Washington.” The book was harshly criticized in a New York Times review by Adam Clymer, who called it “an angry, one-sided book that seems often to be little more than a stringing together of stray incidents.”
Since then, there have been fewer and fewer members of Congress or other American politicians who have dared to speak out, judging that – when it comes to the Israeli lobby – discretion is the better part of valor. Today, many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.
During the 2008 campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama, whom Netanyahu viewed with suspicion, traveled to Israel to demonstrate sympathy for Israelis within rocket-range of Gaza while steering clear of showing much empathy for the Palestinians.
In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney tried to exploit the tense Obama-Netanyahu relationship by stopping in Israel to win a tacit endorsement from Netanyahu. The 2016 campaign was no exception with both Clinton and Trump stressing their love of Israel in their appearances before AIPAC.
Money, of course, has become the lifeblood of American politics – and American supporters of Israel have been particularly strategic in how they have exploited that reality.
One of Israel’s most devoted advocates, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has poured millions of dollars in “dark money” into political candidates and groups that support Israel’s interests. Adelson, who has advocated dropping a nuclear bomb inside Iran to coerce its government, is a Trump favorite having donated a record $5 million to Trump’s inaugural celebration.
Of course, many Israel-connected political donations are much smaller but no less influential. A quarter century ago, I was told how an aide to a Democratic foreign policy chairman, who faced a surprisingly tough race after redistricting, turned to the head of AIPAC for help and, almost overnight, donations were pouring in from all over the country. The chairman was most thankful.
The October Surprise Mystery
Israel’s involvement in U.S. politics also can be covert. For instance, the evidence is now overwhelming that the Israeli government of right-wing Prime Minister Menachem Begin played a key role in helping Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980 strike a deal with Iran to frustrate President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to free 52 American hostages before Election Day.
Begin despised Carter for the Camp David Accords that forced Israel to give back the Sinai to Egypt. Begin also believed that Carter was too sympathetic to the Palestinians and – if he won a second term – would conspire with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to impose a two-state solution on Israel.
Begin’s contempt for Carter was not even a secret. In a 1991 book, The Last Option, senior Israeli intelligence and foreign policy official David Kimche explained Begin’s motive for dreading Carter’s reelection. Kimche said Israeli officials had gotten wind of “collusion” between Carter and Sadat “to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Kimche continued, “This plan prepared behind Israel’s back and without her knowledge must rank as a unique attempt in United States diplomatic history of short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation.”
But Begin recognized that the scheme required Carter winning a second term in 1980 when, Kimche wrote, “he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”
In a 1992 memoir, Profits of War, former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe also noted that Begin and other Likud leaders held Carter in contempt.
“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”
So, in order to buy time for Israel to “change the facts on the ground” by moving Jewish settlers into the West Bank, Begin felt Carter’s reelection had to be prevented. A different president also presumably would give Israel a freer hand to deal with problems on its northern border with Lebanon.
Ben-Menashe was among a couple of dozen government officials and intelligence operatives who described how Reagan’s campaign, mostly through future CIA Director William Casey and past CIA Director George H.W. Bush, struck a deal in 1980 with senior Iranians who got promises of arms via Israel in exchange for keeping the hostages through the election and thus humiliating Carter. (The hostages were finally released on Jan. 20, 1981, after Reagan was sworn in as President.)
Though the evidence of the so-called October Surprise deal is far stronger than the current case for believing that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign, Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media have refused to accept it, deeming it a “conspiracy theory.”
One of the reasons for the hostility directed against the 1980 case was the link to Israel, which did not want its hand in manipulating the election of a U.S. president to become an accepted part of American history. So, for instance, the Israeli government went to great lengths to discredit Ben-Menashe after he began to speak with reporters and to give testimony to the U.S. Congress.
When I was a Newsweek correspondent and first interviewed Ben-Menashe in 1990, the Israeli government initially insisted that he was an impostor, that he had no connection to Israeli intelligence.
However, when I obtained documentary evidence of Ben-Menashe’s work for a military intelligence unit, the Israelis admitted that they had lied but then insisted that he was just a low-level translator, a claim that was further contradicted by other documents showing that he had traveled widely around the world on missions to obtain weapons for the Israel-to-Iran arms pipeline.
Nevertheless, the Israeli government along with sympathetic American reporters and members of the U.S. Congress managed to shut down any serious investigation into the 1980 operation, which was, in effect, the prequel to Reagan’s Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of 1984-86. Thus, U.S. history was miswritten. [For more details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative; Secrecy & Privilege; and Trick or Treason.]
Looking back over the history of U.S.-Israeli relations, it is clear that Israel exercised significant influence over U.S. presidents since its founding in 1948, but the rise of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party in the 1970s – led by former Jewish terrorists Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir – marked a time when Israel shed any inhibitions about interfering directly in U.S. politics.
Wanted Poster of the Palestine Police Force offering rewards for the capture of Stern Gang terrorists: 1. Jaacov Levstein (Eliav), 2. Yitzhak Yezernitzky (Shamir), 3. Natan Friedman-Yelin
Much as Begin and Shamir engaged in terror attacks on British officials and Palestinian civilians during Israel’s founding era, the Likudniks who held power in 1980 believed that the Zionist cause trumped normal restraints on their actions. In other words, the ends justified the means.
In the 1980s, Israel also mounted spying operations aimed at the U.S. government, including those of intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, who fed highly sensitive documents to Israel and – after being caught and spending almost three decades in prison – was paroled and welcomed as a hero inside Israel.
Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in the photo from his U.S. Naval Intelligence ID
A History of Interference
But it is true that foreign interference in U.S. politics is as old as the American Republic. In the 1790s, French agents – working with the Jeffersonians – tried to rally Americans behind France’s cause in its conflict with Great Britain. In part to frustrate the French operation, the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.
In the Twentieth Century, Great Britain undertook covert influence operations to ensure U.S. support in its conflicts with Germany, while German agents unsuccessfully sought the opposite.
So, the attempts by erstwhile allies and sometimes adversaries to move U.S. foreign policy in one direction or another is nothing new, and the U.S. government engages in similar operations in countries all over the world, both overtly and covertly.
It was the CIA’s job for decades to use propaganda and dirty tricks to ensure that pro-U.S. politicians were elected or put in power in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, pretty much everywhere the U.S. government perceived some interest. After the U.S. intelligence scandals of the 1970s, however, some of that responsibility was passed to other organizations, such as the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
NED, USAID and various “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) finance activists, journalists and other operatives to undermine political leaders who are deemed to be obstacles to U.S. foreign policy desires.
In particular, NED has been at the center of efforts to flip elections to U.S.-backed candidates, such as in Nicaragua in 1990, or to sponsor “color revolutions,” which typically organize around some color as the symbol for mass demonstrations. Ukraine – on Russia’s border – has been the target of two such operations, the Orange Revolution in 2004, which helped install anti-Russian President Viktor Yushchenko, and the Maidan ouster of elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
NED president Carl Gershman, a neoconservative who has run NED since its founding in 1983, openly declared that Ukraine was “the biggest prize” in September 2013 — just months before the Maidan protests — as well as calling it an important step toward ousting Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2016, Gershman called directly for regime change in Russia.
Another key issue related to Israeli influence inside the United States is the role of the neocons, a political movement that emerged in the 1970s as a number of hawkish Democrats migrated to the Republican Party as a home for more aggressive policies to protect Israel and take on the Soviet Union and Arab states.
In some European circles, the neocons are described as “Israel’s American agents,” which may somewhat overstate the direct linkage between Israel and the neocons although a central tenet of neocon thinking is that there must be no daylight between the U.S. and Israel. The neocons say U.S. politicians must stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel even if that means the Americans sidling up to the Israelis rather than any movement the other way.
Since the mid-1990s, American neocons have worked closely with Benjamin Netanyahu. Several prominent neocons (including former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, Meyrav Wurmser and Robert Loewenberg) advised Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign and urged a new strategy for “securing the realm.” Essentially, the idea was to replace negotiations with the Palestinians and Arab states with “regime change” for governments that were viewed as troublesome to Israel, including Iraq and Syria.
By 1998, the Project for the New American Century (led by neocons William Kristol and Robert Kagan) was pressuring President Bill Clinton to invade Iraq, a plan that was finally put in motion in 2003 under President George W. Bush.
But the follow-on plans to go after Syria and Iran were delayed because the Iraq War turned into a bloody mess, killing some 4,500 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Bush could not turn to phase two until near the end of his presidency and then was frustrated by a U.S. intelligence estimate concluding that Iran was not working on a nuclear bomb (which was to be the pretext for a bombing campaign).
Bush also could pursue “regime change” in Syria only as a proxy effort of subversion, rather than a full-scale U.S. invasion. President Barack Obama escalated the Syrian proxy war in 2011 with the support of Israel and its strange-bedfellow allies in Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-ruled Gulf States, which hated Syria’s government because it was allied with Shiite-ruled Iran — and Sunnis and Shiites have been enemies since the Seventh Century. Israel insists that the U.S. take the Sunni side, even if that puts the U.S. in bed with Al Qaeda.
But Obama dragged his heels on a larger U.S. military intervention in Syria and angered Netanyahu further by negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program rather than bomb-bomb-bombing Iran.
Showing the Love
Obama’s perceived half-hearted commitment to Israeli interests explained Romney’s campaign 2012 trip to seek Netanyahu’s blessings. Even after winning a second term, Obama sought to appease Netanyahu by undertaking a three-day trip to Israel in 2013 to show his love.
Still, in 2015, when Obama pressed ahead with the Iran nuclear agreement, Netanyahu went over the President’s head directly to Congress where he was warmly received, although the Israeli prime minister ultimately failed to sink the Iran deal.
In Campaign 2016, both Clinton and Trump wore their love for Israel on their sleeves, Clinton promising to take the relationship to “the next level” (a phrase that young couples often use when deciding to go from heavy petting to intercourse). Trump reminded AIPAC that he had a Jewish grandchild and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Both also bristled with hatred toward Iran, repeating the popular falsehood that “Iran is the principal source of terrorism” when it is Saudi Arabia and other Sunni sheikdoms that have been the financial and military supporters of Al Qaeda and Islamic State, the terror groups most threatening to Europe and the United States.
By contrast to Israel’s long history of playing games with U.S. politics, the Russian government stands accused of trying to undermine the U.S. political process recently by hacking into emails of the Democratic National Committee — revealing the DNC’s improper opposition to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign — and of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — disclosing the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street and pay-to-play aspects of the Clinton Foundation — and sharing that information to the American people via WikiLeaks.
Although WikiLeaks denies getting the two batches of emails from the Russians, the U.S. intelligence community says it has high confidence in its conclusions about Russian meddling and the mainstream U.S. media treats the allegations as flat-fact.
The U.S. intelligence community also has accused the Russian government of raising doubts in the minds of Americans about their political system by having RT, the Russian-sponsored news network, hold debates for third-party candidates (who were excluded from the two-party Republican-Democratic debates) and by having RT report on protests such as Occupy Wall Street and issues such as “fracking.”
The major U.S. news media and Congress seem to agree that the only remaining question is whether evidence can be adduced showing that the Trump campaign colluded in this Russian operation. For that purpose, a number of people associated with the Trump campaign are to be hauled before Congress and made to testify on whether or not they are Russian agents.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other establishment-approved outlets are working with major technology companies on how to marginalize independent news sources and to purge “Russian propaganda” (often conflated with “fake news”) from the Internet.
It seems that no extreme is too extreme to protect the American people from the insidious Russians and their Russia-gate schemes to sow doubt about the U.S. political process. But God forbid if anyone were to suggest an investigation of Israel-gate.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
In the old days of journalism, we were taught that there were almost always two sides to a story, if not more sides than that. Indeed, part of the professional challenge of journalism was to sort out conflicting facts on a complicated topic. Often we found that the initial impression of a story was wrong once we understood the more nuanced reality.
Today, however, particularly on foreign policy issues, the major U.S. news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, apparently believe there is only one side to a story, the one espoused by the U.S. government or more generically the Establishment.
Any other interpretation of a set of facts gets dismissed as “fringe” or “fake news” even if there are obvious holes in the official story and a lack of verifiable proof to support the mainstream groupthink. Very quickly, alternative explanations are cast aside while ridicule is heaped on those who disagree.
So, for instance, The New York Times will no longer allow any doubt to creep in about its certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intentionally dropped a sarin bomb on the remote rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4.
A mocking article by the Times’ Jim Rutenberg on Monday displayed the Times’ rejection of any intellectual curiosity regarding the U.S. government’s claims that were cited by President Trump as justification for his April 6 missile strike against a Syrian military airbase. The attack killed several soldiers and nine civilians including four children, according to Syrian press reports.
Rutenberg traveled to Moscow with the clear intention of mocking the Russian news media for its “fake news” in contrast to The New York Times, which holds itself out as the world’s premier guardian of “the truth.” Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.
To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.
Rutenberg wrote: “As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole. Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some ‘reportage’ from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a ‘false flag’ operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the [U.S.] fringe. Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.”
Ergo, in Rutenberg’s sophistry, the “prevailing notion in the [U.S.] news” must be accepted as true, regardless of the checkered history of such confidence in the past, i.e., the “prevailing notion” that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD in Iraq in 2003. Today, to shut down any serious evaluation of the latest WMD claims about Syria just say: “Alex Jones.”
Thus, any evidence that the April 4 incident might have been staged or might have resulted from an accidental release of Al Qaeda-controlled chemicals must be dismissed as something on par with believing the wildest of silly conspiracy theories. (Indeed, one of the reasons that I detest conspiracy theories is that they often reject hard evidence in favor of fanciful speculation, which then can be used, in exactly the way that Rutenberg did, to undermine serious efforts to sort through conflicting accounts and questionable evidence in other cases.)
In the case of the April 4 incident, there were several alternative explanations that deserved serious attention, including the possibility that Al Qaeda had staged the event, possibly sacrificing innocent civilians in an attempt to trick President Trump into reversing his administration’s recent renunciation of the U.S. goal of “regime change” in Syria.
This notion is not as nutty as Rutenberg pretends. For instance, United Nations investigators received testimonies from Syrian eyewitnesses regarding another attempt by Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and their “rescue” teams to stage a chlorine attack in the town of Al-Tamanah on the night of April 29-30, 2014, and then spread word of the bogus attack through social media.
“Seven witnesses stated that frequent alerts [about an imminent chlorine weapons attack by the government] had been issued, but in fact no incidents with chemicals took place,” the U.N. report stated. “While people sought safety after the warnings, their homes were looted and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these witnesses] had come forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.”
The rebels and their allies also made preposterous claims about how they knew canisters of chlorine were contained in “barrel bombs,” by citing the supposedly distinctive sound such chlorine-infused bombs made.
The U.N. report said, “The [rebel-connected] eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information.”
Of course, the statement could not be corroborated because it was crazy to believe that people could discern the presence of a chlorine canister inside a “barrel bomb” by its “distinct whistling sound.”
Still, the U.N. team demanded that the Syrian government provide flight records to support its denial that any of its aircraft were in the air in that vicinity at the time of the attack. The failure of the Syrian government to provide those records of flights that it said did not happen was then cited by the U.N. investigators as somehow evidence of Syrian guilt, another challenge to rationality, since it would be impossible to produce flight records for flights that didn’t happen.
Despite this evidence of a rebel fabrication – and the lack of a Syrian military purpose from using chlorine since it almost never kills anyone – the U.N. investigators succumbed to intense career pressure from the Western powers and accepted as true two other unverified rebel claims of chlorine attacks, leading the Western media to report as flat-fact that the Syrian government used chlorine bombs on civilians.
The Dubious Sarin Case
Besides the dubious chlorine cases – and the evidence of at least one attempted fabrication – there was the infamous sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, when there was a similar rush to judgment blaming the Syrian government although later evidence, including the maximum range of the sarin-carrying missile, pointed to the more likely guilt of Al Qaeda-connected extremists sacrificing the lives of civilians to advance their jihadist cause.
In all these cases, the Times and other Western news outlets behaved as if there was only one acceptable side to the story, the one that the U.S. government was pushing, i.e., blaming the Syrian government. It didn’t matter how implausible the claims were or how unreliable the sources.
In both the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin case and the current April 4, 2017 case, Western officials and media ignored the obvious motives for Al Qaeda to carry out a provocation, foist blame on the government and induce the U.S. to intervene on Al Qaeda’s side.
In August 2013, the Syrian government had just welcomed U.N. investigators who came to Damascus to investigate government allegations of rebels using chemical weapons against government troops. That the Syrian government would then conduct a poison-gas attack within miles of the hotel where the U.N. investigators were staying and thus divert their attention made no logical sense.
Similarly, in April 2017, the Syrian government was not only prevailing on the battlefield but had just received word that the Trump administration had reversed the U.S. policy demanding “regime change” in Damascus. So, the obvious motive to release chemical weapons was with Al Qaeda and its allies, not with the Syrian government.
Manufacturing a Motive
The West has struggled to explain why President Assad would pick that time – and a town of little military value – to drop a sarin bomb. The Times and other mainstream media have suggested that the answer lies in the barbarism and irrationality of Arabs. In that vaguely racist thinking, Assad was flaunting his impunity by dropping sarin in a victory celebration of sorts, even though the predicable consequence was a U.S. missile attack and Trump reversing again the U.S. policy to demand Assad’s ouster.
On April 11, five days after Trump’s decision to attack the Syrian airbase, Trump’s White House released a four-page “intelligence assessment” that offered another alleged motivation, Khan Sheikhoun’s supposed value as a staging area for a rebel offensive threatening government infrastructure. But that offensive had already been beaten back and the town was far from the frontlines.
In other words, there was no coherent motive for Assad to have dropped sarin on this remote town. There was, however, a very logical reason for Al Qaeda’s jihadists to stage a chemical attack and thus bring pressure on Assad’s government. (There’s also the possibility of an accidental release via a conventional government bombing of a rebel warehouse or from the rebels mishandling a chemical weapon – although some of the photographic evidence points more toward a staged event.)
But we’re not supposed to ask these questions – or doubt the “evidence” provided by Al Qaeda and its allies – because Alex Jones raised similar questions and Russian news outlets are reporting on this scenario, too.
There’s the additional problem with Rutenberg’s sophistry: Many of the April 4 sarin claims have been debunked by MIT national security and technology expert Theodore Postol, who has issued a series of reports shredding the claims from the White House’s “intelligence assessment.”
For instance, Postol cited the key photographs showing a supposed sarin canister crumpled inside a crater in a roadway. Postol noted that the canister appeared to be crushed, not exploded, and that the men in the photos inspecting the hole were not wearing protective gear that would have been required if there actually were sarin in the crater.
All of these anomalies and the problems with “evidence” generated by Al Qaeda and its allies should put the entire meme of the Syrian government using chemical weapons in doubt. But Rutenberg is not alone in treating this official groupthink as flat-fact.
Washington Post “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler awarded “four Pinocchios” – reserved for the most egregious lies – to former National Security Adviser Susan Rice for asserting last January that the Syrian government had surrendered all its chemical weapons as part of a 2013 agreement.
Kessler declared: “The reality is that there were confirmed chemical weapons attacks by Syria – and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration [regarding its surrendered chemicals], and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent …. and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement,” i.e., the chlorine cases.
But Kessler has no way of actually knowing what the truth is regarding Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use. He is simply repeating the propagandistic groupthink that has overwhelmed the Syrian crisis. Presumably he would have given four Pinocchios to anyone who had doubted the 2003 claims about Iraq hiding WMD because all the Important People “knew” that to be true at the time.
What neither Rutenberg nor Kessler seems willing or capable of addressing is the larger problem created by the U.S. government and its NATO allies investing heavily in information warfare or what is sometimes called “strategic communications,” claiming that they are defending themselves from Russian “active measures.” However, the impact of all these competing psychological operations is to trample reality.
The role of an honest press corps should be to apply skepticism to all official stories, not carry water for “our side” and reject anything coming from the “other side,” which is what The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the Western mainstream media have done, especially regarding Middle East policies and now the New Cold War with Russia.
The American people and other news consumers have a right to expect that the Western media will recall the old adage that there are almost always two sides to a story. There’s also the truism that truth often resides not at the surface but is hidden beneath.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russia-gate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November – until April 4, that is.
On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack.
Since Trump took those actions – in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia – Russia-gate has almost vanished from the news.
I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived.
“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is – and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.
Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russia-gate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line.
If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russia-gate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus.
McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol.
How Washington Works
But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket.
Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.”
Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.”
But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain on a policy that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term.
In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia – amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years – required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.
Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russia-gate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign.
Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism.
For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russia-gate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked.
However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russia-gate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russia-gate: Mission accomplished!
Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russia-gate could claim some other notable achievements: it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.
Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!”
Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.
Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russia-gate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance!
It didn’t matter that the “scandal” – the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election – amounted to a bunch of informational dots that didn’t connect.
Russia-gate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian — and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.”
Another Russia-gate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage – and loads of new subscription money – by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing.
The Post and the Times also conflated complaints against news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department and some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money.
To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russia-gate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe.
While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russia-gate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson.
If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan.
Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be – not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want – but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia.
For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russia-gate.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
After several months of pushing the “Russiagate” conspiracy theory – a wild-eyed, all-encompassing but somewhat nebulous narrative involving U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks, the Russian mob, assassinations and certain indiscretions with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel – the U.S. mainstream media is now reverting to its traditional role of downplaying conspiracy theories, particularly those raising questions about the intelligence surrounding the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria last week.
On Monday, the New York Times published an article titled “Syria Conspiracy Theories Flourish, at Both Ends of the Spectrum,” which lamented the fact that websites on the left and the right have raised doubts about the casus belli for U.S. military action against Syria.
Noting that some alternative news sites have called the chemical attack a “false flag” operation and others have raised the question of whether Trump’s military action was a “wag the dog” diversion tactic, the Times pointedly attempts to “debunk” the internet memes that have been raising doubts about the chemical attack or calling into question the justification for the U.S. military action.
With an aggressiveness not seen at all when it comes to the unsubstantiated “Russian election-hacking” allegations, the Times fires back forcefully on matters such as whether President Bashar al-Assad had reason to use chemical weapons in the first place or whether anti-Assad forces may have had advance knowledge of the sarin attack. The Times article uses curt, all-caps responses to rebut these claims, such as flatly stating, “FALSE,” “NO EVIDENCE,” or “MISLEADING.”
The Times, for example, points out that Information Clearing House has argued that Assad lacked an obvious tactical or strategic reason to use chemical weapons, and therefore the attack may have actually been carried out by one of the terrorist groups operating in Syria such as Al-Nusra Front. As the Times responds, however, “THIS IS MISLEADING.”
Floating a few reasons that Assad’s forces might have conceivably been motivated to conduct a chemical attack, the Times argues that the attack was “consistent with Mr. Assad’s calculated strategy of attempting to drive out the civilian population in rebel strongholds through bombing neighborhoods and civilian targets.” The Syrian leader may have also “felt emboldened” by perceived shifts in U.S. foreign policies and priorities under Trump, the Times speculates.
Of course, this is simply guesswork on the part of the Times, which is not presenting any facts to counter doubts over the official story, but just responding to the doubts with more conjecture. The Times also seems to be cherry-picking some of the more easily “debunked” stories surrounding the Syria case, failing to address legitimate concerns over the lack of proof of Assad’s culpability. These include doubts raised by the former British ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, who told BBC Radio last week that there is “no proof that the cause of the explosion was what they said it was.”
It would not make sense for Assad to launch such an attack, Ford said, claiming that it would be “totally self-defeating.” He also objected to the veracity of claims made by eyewitnesses who claimed that they saw chemical bombs dropping from the air. “Well, you cannot see chemical weapons dropping from the air,” he said. “Such testimony is worthless.”
There are also serious doubts as to whether Syria even possesses the chemical weapons in question, with the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons noting that since 2013, “all of the chemical weapons declared by Syria were removed and destroyed outside of Syrian territory.”
While some governments have claimed that Syria’s declaration about its chemical weapons program may have been incomplete, the OPCW stresses that it has adapted itself “in unprecedented ways” in efforts “to remove, transport and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile in the midst of an active conflict zone.”
With this in mind, Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, last Friday blasted the United States for unilaterally attacking Syria, saying that it recalls the decision 14 years earlier to attack Iraq based on equally questionable intelligence. It is “vital to remember what history teaches us,” Llorenti said, citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq and holding up a photo of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell delivering false testimony to the UN Security Council on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
“Whereas an investigation would have allowed us to establish in an objective manner who is responsible for the [chemical] attacks [in Syria], this is an extreme, extreme violation of international law,” he said.
In addition to the doubts that have been raised at the United Nations, a number of the U.S.’s closest G7 allies have refused to implement additional sanctions against Syria without proof of Assad’s guilt.
As the BBC reported on Tuesday, “Sanctions against Russian and Syria will not be put in place until after an investigation into last week’s apparent chemical attack, British government sources said. Members of the G7 group of leading industrialised nations agreed to delay implementing sanctions until there was ‘hard and irrefutable evidence’ over the alleged chemical attack.”
Yet the New York Times and other mainstream U.S. outlets continue to report as undisputed fact that Assad’s government intentionally carried out this attack, and furthermore, that Moscow knew about it in advance.
The sorts of unequivocal retorts that the NYT uses against journalists and bloggers for raising doubts about the official stories could, of course, just as easily be applied to the official stories themselves. When the Associated Press, for example, reported on Tuesday that “The United States has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week,” the Times could have responded with an emphatic all-caps retort such as “NO EVIDENCE.”
These retorts could also be used against the accusations of the Russian government engaging in a convoluted conspiracy to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances by hacking John Podesta’s and the DNC’s emails in order to expose the Democratic establishment’s undermining of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign while simultaneously “elevating” Trump’s candidacy in the media through the so-called “pied piper” strategy, with the evil geniuses of the Kremlin somehow knowing beyond a doubt that this information would sway voters in favor of voting for the least popular major-party nominee in a generation.
Just as the NYT has denounced theories surrounding the Syria chemical attack as lacking evidence, so too could the entire Russiagate narrative be picked apart as lacking any foundation in fact. All that one needs to do is actually read the U.S. intelligence assessment that dubiously concluded that Russia “interfered” in the election without offering anything approaching hard proof of this claim – spending seven full pages instead bashing the Russian network RT for its perceived biases.
Going through the Director of National Intelligence report from last January, the reader is left with few details as to how the extraordinary conclusion was reached that Russia “hacked” the election, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others have called an “act of war.”
The closest thing to evidence that could be found in the DNI report was regarding so-called Russian fingerprints on the hacking attacks of Podesta’s and the DNC’s emails, including malware associated with Russian hackers, as well as some Cyrillic letters and the phrase “Felix Edmundovich,” a reference to the founder of the Soviet Union’s secret police.
However, as revealed in subsequent WikiLeaks’ disclosures of the so-called Vault 7 documents, the CIA has developed numerous tools, including a library of foreign malware, that can be used to falsely implicate a foreign intelligence service in a cyber-attack. These revelations called into question the entire basis for Washington’s case against Moscow for allegedly interfering in the U.S. election, but besides a few articles in the alternative press, including at Consortium News, the revelations received scant attention.
Apparently, the disclosures of CIA hacking activities – including new revelations of the CIA deploying malware in Samsung televisions as covert listening devices to spy on unwitting Americans – were not the sort of conspiracy theory considered worthy of sustained media coverage in the United States. In contrast to the months of wall-to-wall coverage of Russiagate, the Vault 7 leaks were largely treated as a one-day story by the mainstream press.
The disparity in coverage speaks to a longstanding aversion of the mainstream media to what it considers illegitimate “new media” encroaching on its territory and peddling conspiracy theories and what is today called “fake news.” This hostility can be traced to the earliest days of the internet.
Twenty years ago, responding to a proliferation of alternative news sites on the World Wide Web – or what was called back then the “information superhighway” – Newsweek magazine ran a 1,800-word article entitled “Conspiracy Mania Feeds Our Growing National Paranoia.” In the piece, Newsweek denounced what it called “conspiracy freaks.”
Explaining a growing acceptance of conspiracy theories as evidence of “mass psychosis,” the article warned that the “ranks of the darkly deluded may be growing” as “conspiracism has become a kind of para-religion.” It took particular aim at the African-American community, which it described as “a hotbed of this kind of suspicion and mistrust,” for believing that “the CIA had spread the crack epidemic by backing Nicaraguan drug dealers whose profits went to the contras.”
Newsweek also criticized Oliver Stone, director of “Platoon” and “JFK,” and Chris Carter, the creator of the popular “X-Files” television series, for promoting dangerous ideas that had the effect of eroding trust in the government. “On ‘The X-Files,’ everything from who killed JFK to why the Buffalo Bills lose so many Super Bowls is traceable to a single master plan,” Newsweek sneered.
Of course, Newsweek wasn’t alone in scoffing at popular conspiracy theories in the ‘90s. In fact, it was conventional wisdom among “respectable” media that government leaders simply do not cross certain lines, and that certain stories, for example, regarding CIA involvement in the cocaine trade – no matter how much evidence backed them up – were off-limits. Those who failed to get on board with this groupthink, for example Gary Webb who wrote a widely disseminated series for the San Jose Mercury News about the CIA-crack cocaine connection, had their careers destroyed.
This trend continued into the 2000s, with millions of angry Americans still seething over the stolen election in 2000 told to “get over it,” and then called crazy for doubting the basis for George W. Bush’s case for invading Iraq in 2003.
A couple years later, those who raised questions about the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina were accused by the Washington Post of “racial paranoia” and hawking “conspiracy theories,” such as the widespread belief that New Orleans’ levees may have been intentionally blown up to protect rich neighborhoods at the expense of poorer ones, or to drive low-income African Americans out of town.
But skip ahead a decade, and oddly, this same media that historically has been so hostile to conspiracy theories was seen eagerly pushing conspiracy theories surrounding Clinton’s loss to Trump. Headlines of “Russian election hacking” were freely used by the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times, despite the fact that there is zero evidence that Russia manipulated any voting machines in any state to alter the outcome of the election, or even any substantial proof offered to support the claims that the Kremlin attempted to influence voters’ decisions by exposing private emails between DNC officials.
Nevertheless, the Democrats and the media have coalesced around the conventional wisdom that the election was lost due to a Russian plot, which conveniently absolves the national Democratic Party of any responsibility for losing the election – for example by writing off the white working class vote or nominating a deeply flawed establishment candidate during a decidedly anti-establishment year – while simultaneously calling into question the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.
It also feeds into the rallying cry that the Democrats have embraced since losing the election, which has been variations of the theme “This is not normal,” expressed by the hashtag #NotNormal on social media. This theme laments the loss of a more “normal” time, presumably personified by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Typically, the slogan refers to Trump’s controversial dealings with Russia, his unconventional communication style and his extensively documented conflicts of interests, as well as perceived misogyny, nepotism, racism and incompetence in his administration.
Clearly, there is very little that can be considered “normal” about this administration, including the strange role of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who has moved into the White House while the First Lady, Melania Trump, lives in New York. The First Daughter reportedly was instrumental in convincing the President to carry out the unilateral attack on Syria. “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said: ‘Listen, this is horrible stuff,’” Ivanka’s brother Eric Trump told the Telegraph.
While that is certainly not normal, what the Democrats and the media are revealing through their #NotNormal campaign and the official conspiracy theories that they are promoting – while downplaying other theories or doubts about government claims – is how much they actually consider “normal.”
In today’s America, what is normal, according to the bipartisan consensus, are unilateral strikes against countries without evidence and in violation of international law. It is also apparently normal for televisions to spy on law-abiding citizens, and with drone strikes shooting up 432% under the Trump presidency so far, it is apparently quite normal to use flying robots to bomb suspected terrorists (and their eight-year old daughters) half-way around the world. Indefinite detention at the legal black hole of Guantanamo is also rather normal.
After all, these are all policies that have been in place for a decade and a half under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and hope seems to be dwindling for returning to a period of actual normalcy.
Almost immediately after video of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Idlib hit Western media, Assad was declared guilty by US news networks and political commentators. The front page of the New York Times on April 5th showed a heartbreaking image of a child wounded in the alleged chemical attack with a headline claiming Assad was responsible.
By the afternoon of April 7th, a US attack seemed inevitable as both Rex Tillerson and Trump said action would be taken.
Between Democrats and Republicans, a bipartisan consensus emerged, rare in the Trump presidency, whereby Assad was deemed guilty and Trump was goaded on to attack. The few voices of dissent seemed mostly concerned with the lack of constitutional approval for the strike
The night of the strike, US media snapped into DPRK-style, state media mode. TV pundits fell into a trance while expressing the “beauty” of American power being unleashed on a country already destroyed by 6 years of war.
Pundits described the attack as “surgical” despite the pentagon quietly admitting one of the missiles missed its target and they don’t know where it landed. My questions to both CENTCOM and the Secretary of Defense Office on the missing cruise missile have thus far gone unanswered. However, Syrian sources claim civilians were killed in the missile strike.
Trump justified the attack by invoking religiously themed buzzwords and unconvincing blather on the “beautiful babies” murdered in the chemical attack.
Following the attack, Trump officials’ statements indicated there was a shift towards regime change. UN ambassador Nikki Haley said Sunday that removing Assad is now a priority.
The Neocon sharks have started circling too. Bill Kristol tweeted that these strikes should be used to move towards regime change in Iran. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain have all joined in too, their mouths watering at the thought of ousting Assad.
But was Assad really responsible for the attack?
To ask such a question is to be deemed an “Assadist” by pundits and discourse police across the political spectrum.
Neither the lack of an independent investigation, nor the fact that nearly all the information on the alleged attack has come from rebel sources, who stand to benefit from a US response, is deemed sufficient cause for skepticism.
In a civilized society an actor is be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. If guilt is determined, a legally justified course of action is taken. In the US however, if the accused is a US enemy, no evidence is needed, and even deranged conspiracies are given play in mainstream media coverage.
The best recent example of this is the US media’s conspiracy about Russia stealing the US election and working for Trump. The US media has stooped so low as to even push bizarre conspiracies by Louise Mensch. She recently claimed the 2014 uprising in Ferguson was a Russian plot.
In the case of the alleged attack on Khan Sheikhun, US officials and pro-war experts immediately declared Assad’s guilty and then cheered on an illegal use of force. This is all very reminiscent of the lead up to the Iraq war.
In an eerie coincidence, Michael R. Gordon, who with Judith Miller helped sell the Iraq WMD story to Americans, coauthored the New York Times April 4th article on Assad’s alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhun.
To help sell the sarin narrative, the US media brought on a doctor to describe the alleged attack that has been accused of helping kidnap journalists in his work with extremists.
When the US investigated its own airstrike in Mosul this March, it took a number of days before it admitted it had killed hundreds of civilians. Yet, guilt was immediately assigned in the Khan Sheikhun attack.
In 2013, the US media also rushed to the conclusion Assad used sarin in a horrific incident in Ghouta. The US was on the verge of attacking Assad then, but Obama decided against it. Obama claimed he held off because US intelligence voiced skepticism about Assad’s guilt.
The UN investigation on the Ghouta attack took almost a month and even its conclusions have been disputed.
In December of 2013, Seymour Hersh published a lengthy investigation into the 2013 attack in Ghouta and found reason to doubt Assad’s responsibility for attack. He was forced to publish it in the London Review of Books after the New York Times and the Washington Post refused to run it.
He reported that classified US reports claimed that Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate had “mastered the mechanics of creating sarin”.
A month after Hersh’s piece appeared, a MIT study cast further doubt on the US government’s story by demonstrating that the rockets used in the Ghouta attack couldn’t have flown as far as the US government claimed.
Ted Postol, one of the authors of the study said, “We were within a whisker of war based on egregious errors.”
In this latest alleged gas attack, a few individuals have dared question the state narrative.
The journalist Robert Parry has recently claimed there is much to be made of the fact that Mike Pompeo, the CIA Director, wasn’t among those helping sell this latest sarin story to the American people. He believes it indicates doubt in the CIA over Assad’s involvement.
Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, has raised skepticism over Assad’s involvement. He says rebels have had chemical weapons facilities in Syria and some of the witnesses’ statements describe a strong smell during the attack, which indicates something other than sarin was used.
The Canadian government originally called for an investigation and stopped short of blaming Assad at the UN, but then later championed Trump’s strikes.
Groups like Organizations for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Human Rights Watch are still investigating the alleged attack in Khan Sheikhun.
Whether these groups or others will be able to conduct an independent investigation is not known. But in usual fashion, the US had no interest in investigating facts, which may provide the wrong answers.
It’s possible that Assad carried out the attack, but just because he’s a reprehensible figure doesn’t mean there is no need to present evidence and conduct an independent investigation.
What’s clear now is that the US attack benefitted jihadi groups, has made further US military action more likely, and has increased the chances of a direct military confrontation with Russia. All of these results are very dangerous.
Future US military action in Syria should be resisted with popular pressure. History shows we can’t count on the media or pundits to act as the voice of reason.
«Sentence first, verdict afterwards», cries out the MSM Queen of Hearts: «Off with his head!»
In late February 2017, the Russian Federation and China vetoed a joint, US, French and British resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over allegations of chemical weapons use. I wondered at the time why this issue was coming back. In 2014, on Russian initiative the Syrian government agreed to give up its chemical weapons stocks under international observation and with international assistance. Subsequently, the UN confirmed, and the United States accepted, that the Syrian government had no further chemical weapons stocks or facilities for producing them. The Syrian government has always denied using chemical weapons in the proxy war being waged against it by the US-led western and regional coalition consisting most importantly of Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Apartheid Israel. The only entities using chemical weapons, sometimes as false flag operations, were and are the foreign backed Jihadist mercenaries operating in Syria.
Nevertheless, Jihadist use of chemical weapons has been largely ignored, or the responsibility for using them, in an Orwellian turnabout, has been foisted upon the Syrian government in Damascus. The issue keeps coming up, and is used by the United States and its European and regional vassals as an implicit threat or means of pressure against the Damascus government. In fact, according to Seymour Hersh, the muckraking American journalist, the US State Department and the CIA facilitated, or were complicit in the shipping of chemical weapons from Libya to Syria through Turkey for the use of their Salafist allies.
If you search Google, you will find numerous stories in the western Mainstream Media (MSM) about alleged Syrian war crimes or chemical weapons use intended, apparently, to set up that Anglo-French-US sponsored resolution at the end of February. In early February, for example, the MSM published dramatic stories about the Syrian government hanging 13,000 victims in a prison «slaughterhouse». The story originated with Amnesty International, a well-known NGO and propaganda agency in the service of the US State Department. This US inspired canard nevertheless did not gain traction. On 10 February, Global Research in Canada, amongst others, dismissed the Syrian «slaughterhouse» story as bogus American propaganda intended to justify US military intervention in Syria.
Within a week this «fake news» gave way to renewed accusations against the Syrian government of chemical weapons use. On 13 February Human Rights Watch, another well-known US propaganda agency, accused the Syrian government of «chemical attacks in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during the final month of the battle for the city». It called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions. Tass and Sputnik responded on the following day dismissing the allegations. «Such reports prepared by laymen with reference to the data of social networks and stories by unknown anonymous witnesses over the phone are destroying further the already ambiguous reputation of Human Rights Watch», said the Russian defence department spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov. Sputnik also quoted Konashenkov’s statement. Predictably, as if by cue the MSM immediately ran with the new allegations, accepting them as a given. Amongst these western sources were the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Voice of America and various other US overt and covert propaganda outlets.
A competing story about the US use of depleted uranium bombs in Syria was pushed into the background and disappeared. On 14 February the French government without any attempt at verification of the new accusations immediately demanded a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the imposition of sanctions on the Syrian government. «Syrian artists call for Assad’s prosecution for war crimes» ran another headline. Already, in mid-February the MSM was whipping up hysteria about Syrian chemical weapons. The big story in the last week of February was the Russian and Chinese veto of the Security Council resolution calling for sanctions on the Syrian government. «Russia breaks with Trump in the UN», said the LA Times. Russia was the real spoiler; China received less attention. Seven times, complained BBC, Russia «has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to protect the Syrian government». China only six times, added BBC. The British and French were indignant, forgetting how many times the United States has used its veto to block resolutions condemning Apartheid Israel or Apartheid South Africa. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault declared that Russia bore a «heavy responsibility towards the Syrian people and humanity as a whole». Oh my, «humanity», he said. Does that mean that the Jihadist terrorists rampaging in Syria, backed by France, are on the side of «humanity»?
The west’s indignation did not end with the Sino-Russian veto at the end of February. As if mysteriously directed, the MSM campaign of «false news» mounted in intensity during March. All the while, the Russian government was working to get peace talks moving toward a negotiated end of the war. The Turkish and Syrian presidents were supposed to meet in Moscow. Was the MSM campaign intended to block a negotiated settlement to the US-led proxy war against Syria? «Russia sides with chemical weapons», accused the New York Times on 1 March. «Ignoring UN», Fox News declared on 6 March, «Russia and Assad continue Syrian chemical weapons and bombing attacks labeled war crimes». Even lowly, US compliant Sweden jumped on Russia’s back. «France will go on fighting chemical weapons use», declared the French foreign minister. Oh, how brave of France.
Aliens from another planet deciphering MSM headlines in March might logically conclude that the Jihadist terrorists and mercenaries destroying Syria were the real heroes of the conflict. In March, accusation after accusation was hurled at Syria and especially against President Bashar al Assad, but as far as I can see, no credible evidence was ever presented which could indict the Syrian government. There is of course evidence of the western-backed Salafists using chemical weapons, though the MSM almost never notices it. On 20 March the EU sanctioned four Syrian military officials for alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Underlining western double standards, this headline on 17 March went almost unnoticed: «US Military Bombs Syrian Mosque during Evening Prayers, Killing Dozens». That’s the way it is in the western MSM, Pot calls Kettle black. One set of rules for the west and one set of rules for everyone else. The US-led sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s caused the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children. «We think the price was worth it», declared the sententious former Secretary of State Albright. How many Iraqi civilians died in the Anglo-American war of aggression of 2003? The estimates are more than a million dead.
If actions speak louder than words, one would have to reckon that the United States doesn’t give a damn about dead civilians—you know, «collateral damage» — except as bad publicity. And Washington can always count on the MSM to bury stories that tarnish the US image. Just look at the coverage of «collateral damage» around Mosul in Iraq.
And still the MSM’s invective spewed out against Assad and the Syrian government and against Russia, as though the Jihadist terrorists represent the most noble of causes. It’s true that Assad and Syria have fought back denying any use of chemical weapons. So did the dignified Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the MID spox, the eloquent Maria Zakharova, with her rapier-like sallies against US and western hypocrisy and double standards. And of course the truth-telling Vladimir Putin has repeatedly attempted to talk common sense and reason to the stone deaf west, only to be vilified for his efforts. Reason, logic and truth make little headway in the west against the cyclone of MSM invective and unsubstantiated accusations against Assad.
«Sentence first, verdict afterwards», cries out the MSM Queen of Hearts: «Off with his head!»
Then, on Tuesday, 4 April, Salafists in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykoun, long an Al Qaeda stronghold in north-western Syria, claimed that more than 50 people had been killed by a Syrian gas attack. The Syrian Arab Army denied any use of chemical weapons, though it confirmed an air raid on a Salafist arms dump where, unbeknownst to them, chemical weapons may have been stored. Outside of Khan Shaykoun, no one knows what really happened on 4 April, or whether the Salafists had launched yet another false flag attack to lay blame on the Syrian government, or indeed whether the alleged attack was staged by Al Qaeda and its «white helmets», subsidised by the United States and Britain. In the west no one wants to know. The United States did a U-turn after declaring only a day or two before that the Syrian people could decide who would govern them. Oh, how very decent of the United States, but then the Americans suddenly changed their minds.
The Khan Shaykoun gassing, or whatever it was, changed everything. The MSM cyclone, as if by cue, erupted once again to blow down Russian suggestions of a UN directed investigation. «Bashar el-Assad just gassed his own people», blared one typical headline. «Syria’s ‘barbaric’ regime» has to go, opined the British Foreign Secretary. The US ambassador at the UN, Nikki Haley, threatened US unilateral action, if the Security Council did not comply with American wishes. Khan Shaykoun looks like a set-up, the deus ex machina, the providential event, of a US orchestrated campaign to sabotage Russian-led peace talks and to justify US military aggression. Already some of Trump’s advisors are calling for a «full-scale war» against Syria.
There are a few voices of prudence in the United States, like former Congressman Ron Paul. «It makes no sense, even if you were totally separate from this and take no sides… and you were just an analyst, it doesn’t make sense for Assad under these conditions to all of the sudden use poison gasses», Paul commented: «I think it’s a zero chance that he would have done this deliberately». But no one in the US government was listening to people like Ron Paul, least of all President Donald Trump, who approved an attack in the early morning of 6 April on a Syrian airbase used in the fight against Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Fifty-nine cruise missiles were launched and 23 hit the airbase doing little damage apparently. What happened to the other 36 missiles? No one is saying for certain. The base was returned to operations within 24 hours, but the damage to the Russian-US relations is far more severe. How can Putin, Lavrov, or any Russian government official trust anything US «partners» say? They can’t. Dealing, negotiating, accepting the United States at its word is like trusting a rattlesnake. But the rattlesnake at least warns when it is about to strike.
After the sneak attack on Syria, President Putin was scathing, and accused the US of aggression, which of course it was, unless you believe the United States has special rights to attack any state it wants, if only it decides to do so. The accusations against the Syrian government, Putin said plainly, are «bullshit» or less colloquially, «utter nonsense» (дурь несусветная). Like the Tonkin Gulf, the Kosovo «genocide», the Kuwaiti incubator babies, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Libyan government «mass rapes» and «massacres», the US accusations against Assad are canards to justify military aggression. «Will we ever learn?» the brave Bolivian ambassador asked in so many words in the Security Council: «When is enough going to be enough?» When will Europeans wake up and say enough is enough? The European powers, most importantly France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are the only ones capable of saying to the United States, we won’t support your wars any more, stop. Stop before you drag us into World War III. Stop. Only the European powers, if they have the courage and determination to reassert their national independence, can restrain the United States without war. I dare to hope that they will take their courage in their two hands and act before it is too late. Time is running out.
The headline of a New York Times article published April 6, “C.I.A. Had Evidence of Russian Effort to Help Trump Earlier Than Believed,” misleadingly implies not only that there was an effort by the Russian government to help Donald Trump win the American presidential election but that it is a settled fact that the CIA was in possession of hard evidence to that effect. The text of the piece does nothing to substantiate either claim. There is not one mention in the 33 paragraphs that follow about the purported evidence. As has been true for months, no evidence of any actual Russian actions is presented – only unfounded assertions that such evidence exists. But the allegations have been repeated over and over so many times over the course of so many months that they have become established fact, as saying something often enough apparently makes it true.
Eric Lichtblau, the reporter whose byline appears on the piece, received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on illegal and unconstitutional warrantless surveillance of Americans inside the United States by intelligence agencies during the George W. Bush administration. One would expect a journalist with such a history to be extra skeptical of government sources, but that is not the case. Lichtblau appears not to have done any due diligence at all. The article does little more than transcribe anonymous rumors, turning the New York Times into a conduit for intelligence officials to disseminate their narrative to the public.
The Times’ reports on Bush’s illegal spying campaign, first released in December 2005, are often presented as an example of the mainstream media practicing its intended role as the Fourth Estate in American society by acting in the public interest to hold government accountable for overreach and abuse. In reality, the warrantless spying story fits perfectly within the propaganda model of media developed by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. The propaganda model recognizes that media organizations will – with varying degrees of frequency – produce critical coverage of government actions. But their criticisms are framed as examples of rogue actors or misguided policies that are part of a political system that is fundamentally benevolent, despite mistakes and abuses that represent exceptions to the rule.
This overarching worldview is evidenced by Lichtblau’s deference to the fact-free rumors spread by anonymous intelligence officials. Having reported first hand about the CIA’s flagrant disregard for the constitution, Lichtblau would logically be expected to reflexively question the motives of Agency officials when they feed him information off the record. Instead, he takes for granted that they are being honest.
“The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought,” Lichtblau writes.
This logical fallacy assumes that if members of the CIA told something to Congress, then it must be true. Alternatively, the briefings could indicate that intelligence officials stirred up wild fantasies about foreign interference in the elections as a way of themselves intervening in the election much earlier in the campaign than previously thought.
A journalist wouldn’t take his sources at face value unless he internalized the belief that they had benevolent motives and were only interested in ensuring the public learned the truth. It doesn’t even occur to him that they might have their own agenda, and were manipulating him by leaking information selectively to advance that agenda. Naturally, these are the motives of foreign intelligence agents – like the Russians – but not ours. Because U.S. intelligence agents are different, naturally; they have only noble motives.
This type of thinking requires a special penchant for ignoring and apologizing for the CIA’s long history of misdeeds, from playing an indispensable role in overthrowing the elected governments of Guatemala, Iran and Chile; to meddling in the elections of more than 30 sovereign nations; organizing and operating death squads and torture chambers in South Vietnam; creating and sponsoring a terrorist army led by former security officials from the ousted military dictatorship in Nicaragua, looking the other way as the terrorists obtained funding for weapons by flooding the streets of Los Angeles and other American cities with crack cocaine.
Even leaving aside the CIA’s history from more than a few decades ago, during the last 15 years alone the CIA has carried out illegal programs of kidnapping, torture and assassination. The CIA even went as far as hacking into the computers of Senate investigators – who nominally oversee them – while they were investigating the crimes. This was widely reported and even acknowledged by the Agency themselves.
When describing Trump’s assertion that he was wiretapped by Obama, Lichtblau notes that Trump made the claim “with no evidence.” One has to wonder why, then, he chooses to report completely unsubstantiated assertions from the CIA without qualifying them with the same caveat.
One could speculate that the CIA, in the absence of any real evidence of any Russian activities relating to the U.S. election, is using Lichtblau and the Times to launder their unfounded rumors. Instead of producing evidence, officials merely assert (off the record, of course, without explanation of why they refuse to attach their names to their assertions) that they have evidence. The press accepts these claims at face value without questioning their veracity, and gives them credibility by printing them as if there could be no doubt they are true.
In this way, intelligence officials are able to create a narrative stamped by the paper of record as historical fact based on nothing more than their own word. When government officials can shape the political discourse by substituting their own alternate reality for objective facts, there is no way a democracy can function. The media serve merely as an extension of government while simultaneously providing the facade of independence and oversight.
The picture that corporate media paints of the world would indeed be much different if journalists demonstrated the same skepticism toward their own government that they do without fail towards official enemies. And it would be much more difficult for the government to carry out their perilous game of demonizing foreign adversaries and leading the public towards a reckless, needless and possibly apocalyptic military confrontation based on grievances that have been manufactured out of whole cloth.
On December 22 last year the government of Syria regained control of the city of Aleppo that had been occupied by brutal rebel forces since 2012. As reported by the BBC, «The predominantly Sunni Muslim opposition is made of several rebel groups, many of whom have received financial aid from key opponents of President Assad, including the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey».
Following defeat of the US-supported insurgents, «Under a deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, convoys of buses and cars have shuttled thousands of civilians and fighters out of Aleppo’s last rebel-held pocket toward opposition areas outside the city», and peace was restored, much to the frustration and annoyance of some Western governments. The Los Angeles Times noted that «a series of victory celebrations were held in Aleppo following the government forces’ victory, attended by large crowds. For the first time since the civil war began, Christmas was celebrated in Aleppo, with a tree lighting ceremony».
When the rebels controlled the city there was persecution and slaughter of Christians, with the BBC recording that «in areas seized by the jihadist group Islamic State, Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam, pay jizya (a religious levy), or face death. In the Syrian province of Hassakeh in February 2015, hundreds of Christians are feared to have been kidnapped by the militants. Senior Christian clerics have also been kidnapped by unknown gunmen. Suspicion for the abductions has fallen on the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate». You might imagine that the Christian West would have welcomed the freedom restored to Syrian Christians by the Syrian government, but there was hardly a word about this aspect of victory over the Muslim fanatics.
On the other hand, immediately before the rebels were defeated the leaders of the West were vociferously critical of operations to take the city, with reports that «Theresa May has joined Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and the leaders of France, Canada and Italy to jointly condemn Russia over its role in the humanitarian disaster ‘taking place before our very eyes’ in Aleppo». There was saturation media cover of the joint statement that «The urgent need now is for an immediate ceasefire to allow the United Nations to get humanitarian assistance to people in eastern Aleppo. Only a political settlement can bring peace for people in Syria».
If the situation had not been so appalling this would have excited derisive laughter because much of the West, along with the freedom-loving kingdom of Saudi Arabia (which forbids the practice of Christianity) and the near-autocracy of Turkey, are the very countries that advocated rebellion in Syria rather than advocating a «political settlement». They all urged the violent overthrow of Syria’s President Assad, with Saudi Arabia declaring that he «cannot be part of a solution to the conflict and must hand over power to a transitional administration or be removed by force». Turkey’s Erdogan, himself intent on establishing a dictatorship, proclaimed that his armed forces intervened in Syria «to bring justice. We are there to end the rule of the cruel Assad, who has been spreading state terror». And the hypocrites of the West cheered them on.
The US and the European Union announced that «President Assad, who is resorting to brutal military force against his own people and who is responsible for the situation, has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead the country». They were all determined that Syria’s President be brutally deposed by the vicious anti-Christian rebels who were murdering civilians and laying waste to Aleppo.
Then in 2017 the governments in Washington, London and some other capitals which championed rebellion in Syria and condemned Russian airstrikes in support of the government suddenly changed their tune about aspects of the conflict. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told reporters on March 29 that «You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out». No doubt President Assad has views on this, but it is a welcome development — if indeed it is official US policy, as one never knows which way the tweet might blow in Trumpland, nowadays — and it would have been even more welcome had there been a similar change of mind about accepting responsibility for the massacres in Mosul by US airstrikes.
The Iraqi city of Mosul came under control of Islamic State barbarians in 2014, since which time they behaved much as their soulmates in Aleppo, murdering opponents, destroying ancient buildings, and persecuting those whose religion differed from their own warped interpretation of Islam. Last year it was decided to retake the city, and Iraqi forces launched a series of operations supported by a «coalition» of countries, some of which assisted the US in mounting hundreds of airstrikes on the city and its environs. Many of the rockets, bombs and missiles caused the deaths of countless civilians, but it was only on March 17 that the western media had to take notice, after a particularly hideous attack killed some 200 civilians in a Mosul suburb.
Then the damage control experts swept into action. Not to alleviate the slaughter and destruction on the ground, of course, but to control the media as best they could.
US Central Command was forced to admit that «the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties». Most western media then carried reports heavily slanted towards blaming Islamic State for the slaughter.
The commander of «Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve», US Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, admitted to reporters that «our initial assessment… shows we did strike in that area, there were multiple strikes in that area, so is it possible that we did that? Yes, I think it is possible. Because we struck in that area, I think there’s a fair chance that we did it». But then he altered his tone and said that «We know ISIS were fighting from that position in that building… So that’s my initial impression, the enemy had a hand in this…» This line was followed by the media, with, for example, the Washington Post commenting that Russian airstrikes had killed civilians and then, almost as an afterthought, that «Confusion still surrounds the [Mosul] incident: Iraqi military authorities are saying the casualties were caused by booby traps the Islamic State had planted in the house, or by a suicide car bomb that detonated nearby. There’s no question that the jihadists are using civilians as shields, forcing them to stay in homes that are used as firing positions».
To give it its due, the Post ended by saying that it is «vital that US authorities determine as quickly as possible whether an American or coalition bomb [note the clever use of the singular «bomb»] caused the civilian deaths, and, if so, accept responsibility», but we can be confident that Pentagon inquiries will not result in anyone accepting responsibility for this or any other atrocity, as indicated by The New York Times reporting on March 30 of the hardening official line that «ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack».
The Mosul airstrikes and many others killed over a thousand Iraqi civilians in March, and you might imagine that western leaders would be at least mildly disapproving of this horrible butchery, but there hasn’t been a word from any of them.
Remember that Barack Obama, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Justin Trudeau and Matteo Renzi were eloquent about the Aleppo airstrikes and lamented emotionally that «the images of dying children are heart-breaking». But they don’t say a word about the hideous slaughter in Mosul. It’s just a collateral massacre. What a bunch of hypocrites.
The recent bombing of a Syrian airbase by American Tomahawk missiles was preceded by several days of heavy media coverage centered on the presumed “chemical attack” against the Khan Sheikhun community.
In fact, this press coverage was the only justification for the bombing, since the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and other international bodies simply had no time to properly investigate the circumstances.
This situation imposes additional responsibility on journalists, but were they up to the task? Unfortunately, just like in many previous cases, there were many immediate assumptions and immediate categorical statements that have been made concerning the presumed guilty party. The current situation is a vivid demonstration of the dilapidated state of the so-called fourth estate that is mixing, without any distinction, information and opinion in the news of this event.
If the hype and opinion are removed from the equation, what are the solid facts that are known about this really cruel act? The attack occurred on April 4, 2017 in the Khan Shaykhun area in the south of the Idlib province of Syria. This fact was recorded by OPCW and reflected in its press release.
For the Western mainstream media (MSM), at this point, the facts ended and allegations started. What is worse, these allegations bore all the hallmarks of propaganda. The MSM quickly assigned guilt and in many cases suggested a military course of action. In retrospective, the press coverage looks like a hasty justification for the US government’s position on the matter, which resulted in the bombing.
Here is the press statement of the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, issued immediately after the attack in Khan Shaykhun: “While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal unabashed barbarism. Those who defend or support him, including Russia and Iran, should have no illusions… Anyone who uses chemical weapons to attack his own people shows a fundamental disregard for human decency and must be held accountable.”
The first and the most frequently used technique of propaganda is assertion. It consists of presenting a disputed sequence of events or a debatable idea as a fact, with no further explanation. It reflects the public’s longing for a quick and easy explanation of events. Even Tillerson’s statement contains a lot of categorical and emotionally laden assertions, but offers very little in terms of hard evidence to back those claims. The guilt is also personalized (another typical element of propaganda), with Assad proclaimed guilty without any sort of trial or investigation.
Unfortunately, the MSM follow this tactic of distributing guilt by assertion. The MSM also adds to its guilt by association — a propaganda technique, in which previous misdeeds of some (possibly very different) actors are somehow associated with the demonized person. The scale of the blame is deliberately exaggerated or left unclear.
The MSM did not busy itself with any sort of balanced contextual understanding, what was being projected and promoted was the notion of a massive scale crime immediately associated with Assad. A New York Times headline read “Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria; US Blames Assad“.
This headline is deceptive and misleading as it can be deduced that this is the worst single act in six years of the Syrian civil war, even though a bigger attack took place just recently — in 2013, near Damascus. Many other attacks, some of them possibly coming from the opposition groups fighting Mr. Assad, were also recorded since then. The authors have not seen the scene of the attack, but they rush to dramatize what they have not seen: “One of the worst chemical bombings in Syria turned a northern rebel-held area into a toxic kill zone on Tuesday, inciting international outrage over the ever-increasing government impunity shown in the country’s six-year war.” This one sentence contains a number of different elements of propaganda. One of them is bandwagoning — in this case the entire international community’s reaction is represented as aligning itself with the US’ position, without the authors specifying the positions of individual countries. In addition, the implication is that the Syrian government must abide by the NYT’s representation of what the international opinion and reaction is. Assertion propaganda also appears, where there is little to no evidence provided to support the assertion (in this case concerning the ever-increasing impunity and the assigned guilt of Mr. Assad in person). The headline and the very end of the article also differ in terms of the strength of the assigned guilt. The headline contained “US blames Assad” (certainty is projected), but the last paragraph notes that “a chemical weapons attack, if carried out by the government…” denotes much less certainty of the guilty party.
Fox News, while representing a different, “illiberal” wing of the American MSM, is involved in the same kind of propaganda as the New York Times. The simplest technique is exaggeration. Here is the headline: “At Least 100 Dead in a Suspected Chemical Attack in Syria, Hospital Reportedly Hit“.
Very soon we shall read that even by the most pessimistic accounts there were less than 90 victims, and not “at least 100” offered to us by Fox News. But Fox News never apologized or corrected itself. In the article they present a slideshow with “heartbreaking images of gas attack victims.” This particular statement contradicts the headline that points to “a suspected chemical attack” and not a definite one. As to the “hospital reportedly hit”, once again there is no certainty or due diligence concerning the verification of information, which should be a standard journalistic good practice. Fox’s sources of information include the MSM standard source, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is a shadowy organization that has been actively campaigning for regime change in Syria. In addition to this source, they use the White Helmets, which are in fact a Western-funded organization that is called by some as “al-Qaeda’s civil defense.”
The last, but certainly not the least effective means of propaganda is an emotional attack on the audience. The reader (or the viewer) is put face to face with such unbearable cruelty, that it spurs him to justify any military action (in this case — from the US government) that would remove the terrible descriptions from a newspaper page or the unbearable images from the screen before his eyes. A headline appearing in Vox certainly is among the most emotionally-based ones — “Bashar al-Assad Just Gassed His Own People, Then Bombed the Clinic Treating Victims”
This article also uses a personalized form of character assassination against Assad, lacking any proof to back up the claims, and hypes the level and scale of the alleged atrocities committed. The information that is published in the article is not even verified, as it is admitted on the first page. Once more a great deal of stress is placed on the deaths of children. As with Reuters, some quotes by Syrian government and Russian sources are published, but hidden in the middle of the article. The end of the article confirms the conspiracy theory of the Syrian government’s guilt in this matter, using selective historical accounts to try and create the picture of a pattern (as opposed to an isolated incident) of atrocities by the ‘bad’ character of this story.
All in all, these practices of the MSM media should be remembered and in due time used against it. Not only politicians justifying war should be held to account, if we are allowed to use MSM’s favorite formula. Journalism once more found itself in the situation of not only supporting war, but enabling it, war journalism at its very worst and supporting a narrow set of destructive political interests that are very far from the public interest of starting yet another war of choice.
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.