The claims that the Assad government in Syria used chemical weapons has been forwarded very aggressively by Western media outlets. And as this writer heard declaration after declaration made, without evidence to that effect mind you, it began to take on the eerie feel of the runup to the war in Iraq.
The understandable push for intervention
Let’s be clear, the situation in Syria is dire. It is an ongoing civil war that has claimed approximately 70,000 lives since it began. Although both sides have been complicit in those casualties, it is the culpability of rebel forces, however, that appears to be the dirty little, not-so-secret, secret Western powers are trying to gloss over.
The rate of killing in Syria’s bloody conflict has reached a new high. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an average of 196 people died each day in April, up from 190 per day in March.
The group also reported an uptick in civilian deaths. Half of the nearly 6,000 people killed last month were civilians; nearly 1,700 were rebel fighters and more than 1,000 were members of the Syrian army. So the desire to stop that sort of bloodshed is understandable; it is altogether a natural and human response.
Nevertheless, the details are still very much in question in regard to potential chemical weapons attacks inside Syria, which have been described by President Obama as the possible “game-changer” for direct U.S. intervention.
Claims of Assad’s use of chemical weapons appear to be specious
A U.N. commission investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, attempted to walk back the claims by one of its investigators (the lead investigator in fact) that sarin nerve gas was likely used by rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
In a statement, the commission said it “wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday expressed the skepticism of the Obama administration has regarding the claims that rebels used chemical agents and that the president believes any attack involving the weapons would likely have been carried out by the Assad regime.
Once again, the intelligence and information coming out of Syria is rather murky. It would not be a great stretch, however, to believe that some pressure may have been placed on the U.N. commission to disavow the earlier assertion by lead investigator, Carla Del Ponte.
Further, since the allegation had already been made that it was the rebels who would have been most likely to use chemical weapons, it would have been a bridge-too-far, so to speak, to turn around and say that it was the Assad regime that used sarin gas. So the only conclusion that could suffice, outside of rebel responsibility, would be that there was no conclusive proof that either side engaged in chemical warfare – the story that we now have.
Heralded Middle-Eastern correspondent, Robert Fisk, stated in a May 7 Democracy Now interview that he “had a talk with a Syrian army intelligence officer over coffee in Damascus, and I put it very frankly: ‘Look, you’ve got chemical weapons. You’ve always had chemical weapons, from the Russians. Do you use them?’ And he said, ‘Why on earth would we want to?’ He said, ’we’ve got MiGs, with firepower infinitely more destructive than chemical weapons.
“Why would we want to use chemical weapons when we have MiGs with bombs?’ which did seem to be a fairly, you know, straightforward argument. I have to say that on none of the soldiers which I saw, either in the area of Daraya, one of the suburbs of Damascus where there’s fierce fighting around the site of Zeinab Mosque in Damascus, or on the northern frontier opposite Turkey, were any of the soldiers carrying gas masks, which, if they were in the habit of using poison gas, they would have done.”
So we see here that according to, at least one source, the use of chemical weapons wouldn’t be just a game-breaker for the Obama administration, but a counter-productive and ineffective move by the Syrian government.
Col. Wilkerson, former chief of Staff for Colin Powell in the runup to the Iraq War, had this to say: “This could have been an Israeli false flag operation,” he said. “You’ve got basically a geo-strategically, geo-political — if you will — inept regime in Tel Aviv right now.”
The sprinting of suspect claims and the slow walkbacks
The international community is not blind to the obvious parallels to the months and weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even questioned why U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was calling for a fact-finding mission in Syria, claiming that the allegations were unfounded.
Lavrov said that the “demand by the secretary-general with reference to a forgotten episode reminds us a great deal of attempts in Syria to introduce a practice analogous to that which existed in Iraq, when they were looking for weapons of mass destruction there.”
It is important to note that Russia opposed the American invasion of Iraq as well. In other words, they have at least been consistent in their opposition.
Even the Obama administration knows that weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and Iraq is the dark cloud that hangs over the chemical weapons claims being made about Syria and that they will need much more compelling evidence to back up any proposed excursion into Syria.
But when the White House’s official stance is that they believe “with some degree of varying confidence” that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, they do far more to instill doubt than confidence in their ability to rightly discern the reality on the ground in Syria.
Chemical weapons, however, are not the only potential false flag we have encountered in regard to the Syrian conflict.
A bit of reporting that was initially and widely regarded as accepted, cut-and-dry fact, is now a murky and complicated account — this writer speaks of the Houla massacre. The initial report alleged that on May 25, 2012, pro-Syrian forces massacred 108 civilians in the Syrian village of Houla, including 34 women and 49 children, many of whose throats were cut.
From that report spawned various passionate responses from the international community and Western media. Syrian diplomats have been expelled from several countries over the massacre, including by U.S., Britain, France, Australia and Canada.
The Washington Post asked in an op-ed, “Who Will Stop the Massacres”; the Chicago Tribune, in May 2012, also reported, with seeming absolute certainty, that the dead in Houla were “the latest victims of Assad’s violent rule” and those from across the pond were not going to be left out either as the May 29, 2012 headline of the Guardian read: “Syrian Diplomats Expelled Across World as Outrage Over Houla Massacre Grows.”
The most egregious media allegation might have come from the award-winning journalist Christiane Amanpour when claiming to be quoting a “highly placed Syrian insider” that the Houla massacre was part of a program of ethnic cleansing: “What’s emerging is a campaign of ethnic cleansing. These massacres [are] used by the Syrian president to expel populations disloyal to him and to consolidate control in what might become a divided Syria.”
Once again, like Iraq, the media becomes, in effect, cheerleaders (absent of all the facts) for a specific foreign policy misadventure instead of being the catalyst for the creation and maintenance of a well informed populace.
These reports and allegations are now in question, as other conflicting reports have come to light over the past 10 months or so. On June 7, 2012, a leading German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung (FAZ) quoted sources who said that the Houla massacre was carried out by anti-Assad Sunni militants, and that their victims were nearly all Alawi and Shia — populations traditionally loyal to Assad.
Further, in a June 15 press conference in Damascus, General Mood said that U.N. observers had heard two competing versions of what occurred from Houla residents themselves. So Houla was by no means the “slam dunk” of certainty that many in the Western media made it out to be.
In their book, “Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq,” Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, highlighted and outlined many of the media missteps and deceptions that occurred with regard to Iraq, that are now playing out in their analysis of Syria:
The lie of association: White House officials used repetition and misinformation — the “big lie” tactic — to create the false impression that Iraq was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, especially in the case of the alleged meeting in Prague five months earlier between hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence officials – this is especially curious given the association of the Syrian rebel forces with al-Qaeda.
Media culpability: by headline; by news show; by press conference – there was a deliberate, targeted and forceful public relations campaign that sold the Iraqi war to the American public – and this plan was highly successful.
This is what we are starting to see now and it is easy to see how Obama and Bush rhetoric are beginning to be indistinguishable – with policy not too far behind.
There are many on the political left when it comes to Syria that have either been silent or are warmly receptive of the Obama administration’s duplicitous declarations. The “some degree of varying confidence” line would have been called the double-talk and misdirection that it is by liberal activists and talking heads had those same words been uttered by any Bush official.
We are faced with a Syrian opposition that has within its ranks the Nusra Front, a group with a five-star rating from al-Qaeda. This group is a direct offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq according to Iraqi officials and former Iraqi insurgents.
So … what are we to expect Mr. President? Will you arm the Syrian rebels and by extension, the sworn enemy of the US, al-Qaeda? Or will you attack the rebels with drones, as you have American citizens, because they are standing a little too close to terrorists?
Oh yes, it is déjà vu all over again.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News’ editorial policy.