Friday, August 30, 2013

At the Syrian Threshold:
“al-Qaeda’s Air Force” Prepares for Battle

Here's a report from July, "FSA chemical lab uncovered near Damascus":

Chemical weapons materials and facilities have been found multiple times in "rebel" areas. The "rebels" are the *only ones* who have any motive for using chemical weapons.

Yeah, it's from RT (Russia’s English-language TV channel). Do you really think you have any more reason to believe the US government and its media -- proven liars, multiple times, on the subject -- than RT?  It’s those who reflexively dismiss anything reported by RT or Press TV (Iran’s English-language TV channel), while reflexively taking for granted the truth of everything Obama and the New York Times and MSNBC say, who demonstrate their gullibility. Do you really believe that the foot-stomping insistence of Obama and Biden and Kerry that they absolutely, positively know the Syrian government is to blame is any more credible than was the sooo convincing “proof” that George Bush and Dick Cheney produced on Iraq? Remember how the media and the humanitarian interventionists liberal imperialists creamed over Colin Powell’s irrefutable presentation?  Here we go again. Fool me how often?

Guess what, Obamicans: It’s the same imperialist state. If anything, at this point, Obama has less credibility than Bush, and you have less excuse for going along with him.

Let’s, for a moment, seriously consider the two relevant questions: Was there a chemical weapons attack? Who did it?

Doctors Without Borders, which the Obama administration pretends to take seriously, has actually said that, while the symptoms “strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent,” they “can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack.”

In other words, We don’t know exactly what it is, and we don’t know who did it.

According to AFP, “Specialists in the impact of chemical weapons said the video evidence was not entirely convincing.” The AFP report cites a number of different experts, who give some quite specific reasons for their skepticism: 
"At the moment, I am not totally convinced because the people that are helping them are without any protective clothing and without any respirators," said Paula Vanninen, director of Verifin, the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
"In a real case, they would also be contaminated and would also be having symptoms."
John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said he had not seen the telltale evidence in the eyes of the victims that would be compelling evidence of chemical weapons use.
"Of the videos that I've seen for the last few hours, none of them show pinpoint pupils... this would indicate exposure to organophosphorus nerve agents," he said.
Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World magazine, which specialises in chemical weapons issues, said the evidence did not suggest that the chemicals used were of the weapons-grade that the Syrian army possesses in its stockpiles.
"We're not seeing reports that doctors and nurses... are becoming fatalities, so that would suggest that the toxicity of it isn't what we would consider military sarin. It may well be that it is a lower-grade," Winfield told AFP.
Chemical and biological weapons researcher Jean Pascal Zanders said…“I’m deliberately not using the term chemical weapons here,” he said, adding that the use of “industrial toxicants” was a more likely explanation.
Wow, none of them are Russian.

Haaretz, not Press TV, reports:
Western experts on chemical warfare…are skeptical that weapons-grade chemical substances were used.
Dan Kaszeta, a former officer of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps …pointed out a number of details absent from the footage so far: “None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear,” he says, “and despite that, none of them seem to be harmed.” This would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons, including the vast majority of nerve gases, since these substances would not evaporate immediately, especially if they were used in sufficient quantities to kill hundreds of people, but rather leave a level of contamination on clothes and bodies which would harm anyone coming in unprotected contact with them in the hours after an attack. In addition, he says that “there are none of the other signs you would expect to see in the aftermath of a chemical attack, such as intermediate levels of casualties, severe visual problems, vomiting and loss of bowel control.”
Steve Johnson, a leading researcher on the effects of hazardous material exposure at England’s Cranfield University who has worked with Britain’s Ministry of Defense on chemical warfare issues, agrees that “from the details we have seen so far, a large number of casualties over a wide area would mean quite a pervasive dispersal. With that level of chemical agent, you would expect to see a lot of contamination on the casualties coming in, and it would affect those treating them who are not properly protected. We are not seeing that here.”
There’s a whole lot of “Western” expert opinion, then, that there may have been some kind of chemical agent, or “industrial toxicant” used in this incident, but that it was probably not a weapons-grade chemical or nerve gas (“military sarin”), which would have had serious debilitating effects on responders, effects that were not in evidence.

It’s also acknowledged, even by the New York Times, that, whatever this substance was, it was delivered by some kind of rudimentary, homemade rocket: "Evidence from videos and witnesses suggested that the toxic substances in last week’s attack were delivered by improvised tube-launched missiles that could be used by smaller, more mobile units than were thought to be needed for chemical weapons." In the face of this evidence that points away from the Syrian army, which doesn’t depend on “improvised” rockets, the Times’ writer, Anne Barnard, does not skip a beat in maintaining her absolute credulity about the US government’s claims. She goes on to present as sensible various scenarios that keep the Syrian government in the frame: It was an attack “by a rogue commander,” or it was a “desperate and irrational” act by Assad. Anything to preserve the unshakeable presumption that the Syrian government did it because my president says so. No attempt to take seriously the evidence that points toward the “rebels” as the culprits. That’s establishment American journalism today.

Required to acknowledge how implausible it is that this was a deliberate act of the Assad government, the Obama administration has taken to insisting that, nonetheless, “the Syrian leader bears ultimate responsibility for the actions of his troops and should be held accountable.”  State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, delivers the US government’s rigorous moral thinking: “The commander in chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership…[even if] he’s not the one who pushes the button or says ‘go’ on this.

 [Yes, I remember how we held Richard Nixon responsible for the My Lai massacre. Or would that be the government that is now insisting on immunity for George W. Bush, et. al,. for waging a criminal war of aggression on Iraq? No question who said “go” on that, but, according to Eric Holder, these American culprits cannot be prosecuted – not because they aren’t guilty, but because, in committing the “supreme international crime” (also here and here) they were “acting within the legitimate scope of their employment” (also here and here). There’s still hope, though. Just this week, the journal Foreign Policy confirmed, based on “formerly unnoticed documents” and interviews with former intelligence officials, "an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched." What d’ya say, Marie? Let’s put the responsible parties in the dock! Really, how much of this hypocrisy can we stand?] 

This is the fruition of the ruthless and ridiculous logic that Obama laid out months ago, as Shamus Cooke pointed out, in an article I cited in a previous post: “No matter who is responsible, the Obama administration plans to hold the Syrian Government responsible for crossing the ‘red line’ of a chemical weapons attack…Susan Rice…’repeated previous American warnings that there would be ‘consequences’ if the Assad government used or failed to secure chemical weapons.’” So even if it the Syrian “rebels” were to use chemical weapons they had stolen from the Syrian government, it’s the Syrian government that the US will hold responsible, “for not securing chemical weapons.” Damned if you don’t.

One might consider the tiny question of motive. We are expected to believe, because Joe Biden says so, that the Assad government – which has been doing quite well without them – would use chemical weapons just as the UN chemical weapons inspectors were arriving in Damascus. WTF good does Assad think that will do for him? Oh, yeah, he’s “desperate and irrational,” that’s the ticket.

Somebody sure is. We’re supposed to not think about the huge motive the “rebels,” who are indeed desperate for decisive US/NATO intervention, have for shooting an “improvised tube-launched missile” stuffed with some “industrial toxicants” at a bunch of civilians. I’m sure you know – because I’m sure it’s been hammered home to you on every relevant occasion by the fiercely independent liberal voices of the NYT, and PBS, and MSNBC –  what came of the March incident in which the Obama administration blamed a chemical attack on the Syrian government. I’m sure you have been made aware that United Nations investigators who looked into that incident said: “indications are that the rebel opposition, not the Assad regime, deployed the nerve agent sarin.” The head of the UN inquiry, Carla Del Ponte, said she “has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons,…[A]ccording to [our investigators’] report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas...This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities.” (“UN: Syrian Rebels Used Chemical Weapons”) Perhaps that’s why this incident was allowed quietly to fade away – until now, when it’s actually being referred to as a “previous” use of chemical weapons by Assad!

And it must have been well-reported in the US that, in May, Turkish authorities found a canister of sarin gas, “believed to have been heading for Syria,” in the possession of Al Nusra, the al-Qaeda-affiliated “rebel” group (Gearóid Ó Colmáin, Turkish Police find Chemical Weapons in the Possession of Al Nosra Terrorists Heading for Syria). It’s also, certainly, quite well-known among educated Americans that, in June, Iraqi authorities discovered a poison gas laboratory run by the group known as Islamic State of Iraq, another al-Qaeda-affiliate that has linked itself to al-Nusra, and is involved in setting up camps along the 600km Iraq-Syria border, for fighters opposed to the Syrian and Iraqi governments.

And here’s a video of a Syrian rebel talking about using sarin. And here’s another of them allegedly firing chemical artillery. Do these videos constitute definitive proof of anything? No. It’s not I who is insisting on launching an American military attacks based on YouTube videos. What kind of fool would do that? I don’t put a lot of store in argument by atrocity video. I know very well that war means plenty of atrocity to go around, and that the Syrian government is no slouch when it comes to viciousness. But if such evidence is going to be in the mix, then you might make sure you see a wide range of it. Don’t miss this (verified) video of the Syrian “rebel” cutting out and eating the heart of a Syrian soldier, and this one, of “rebels” cutting the head off a living man with a knife and executing a couple of women. These are the forces who, it is likely, provoked Obama’s planned military attack on Syria, and who, it is certain, will benefit from it.  Dennis Kucinich is not wrong when he says that American airstrikes on Syria would turn the U.S. military into “al Qaeda's air force.”

Considering the various “chemical weapons” incidents during the course of this conflict, as well as the growing ascendancy of jihadi ideology among the “rebels," it’s my opinion, and that of many others, that the preponderance of evidence suggests the “rebels” are much more likely to have used “chemical weapons” than the Syrian government. Not a certainty, but a strong preponderance. And I’m not suggesting that my government attack anybody on the basis of it.

It’s quite possible that definitive proof of responsibility for last week’s incident will not be available – and that’s OK with me, and should be with every American. The US is rushing to attack Syria, and preempt UN inspectors from doing their job, not because it’s “too late,” but because the US knows very well that, given enough time and support, disinterested inspectors’ findings are not likely to help American claims of certainty.

What’s most important to understand, however, is that, no matter who might have used whatever “chemical weapons” might have been used in Syria last week, a military attack on that country by the US would, as Alastair Cooke, former ranking Middle East MI6 officer, recognizes, “constitute an illegal ‘act of war’ against a sovereign state – and a crime.” Believe it or not, the United States has no right to “punish” another country, or teach it a “lesson” with bombs.

The issue facing Americans right now is not who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy in this vicious civil war. It’s whether there is any reason or justification for a military attack on a sovereign country, an attack that will have only destructive consequences on that country, that will likely lead to devastating effects in the entire region, and maybe even – oh, the real horror – on us peaceful, innocent, naïve Americans ourselves. ‘Cause, you know, when you, in violation of every statute and concept of international law, bomb the crap out of another sovereign country that poses no threat to you at all, that country has the right to strike back.

Anybody who thinks the United States government gives a spit about the outrageousness of chemical weapons, or the plight of the poor Syrian people, has to explain fully, before they launch one American bomb, or send one American soldier, how that squares with our policy on Egypt, or our policy on Saudi Arabia, or our policy on Palestine, or the whole damn history of our foreign interventions and lacks thereof.  Let’s see, the United States government is absolutely certain, right now, based on YouTube videos, and, of course, Israeli intelligence (the same that invented Iraqi yellowcake), of the Syrian army’s “chemical weapons” guilt, but it can’t quite be sure, from all we’ve seen, if the Egyptian army is guilty of a “coup.”

We can surely believe the promise made by today-Obama that his attack will be aimed at nothing but “reinforcing an international ban on the use of chemical weapons,” and is, as Michael Gordon assures us in the NYT, “not linked to its larger diplomatic [!] strategy of persuading President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to yield power.” (Moi, seeking regime change?) So, then, if it were irrefutably determined that it was the “rebels” who used those weapons, the shocked, shocked Obama would immediately launch cruise missiles at rebel bases. Assad must go.”? "We're going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition…Assad needs to go."? Fear not, reluctant liberals, that was yesterday-Obama.

Lies cannot be more transparent than this.

Similarly, anyone who wants to assert that there is some transcendent right of “humanitarian intervention” – extra-legal, entirely bypassing the framework of international law and institutions, but nonetheless somehow still legitimate – must accept that China and Russia and their friends have as much right to get together and attack, for example, Egypt, to save its people from the “massacre,” as the US and its friends Britain and France have to attack Syria or Libya to save whomever. If there were, on this planet, a “humanitarian interventionism” which accepted that logic, then it might be something other than an equally transparent excuse for American/NATO imperialism. But there is not.

Indeed, anyone with an honest appreciation of the carefully-constructed and delicate post-war architecture of international law and institutions has to acknowledge Jean Bricmont’s point that, “like it or not, the actions of ‘Russia, China and Iran’ in Syria have been in accordance with international law, unlike those of the ‘U.S. and its Gulf allies.’” (And not just in Syria. At this point, through their repeated displays of arrogant disdain for that architecture, the United States and Israel have gone a long way toward demolishing it.)

I’m heartened to see the news that, in “a stunning defeat” for poodle-ism, the British Parliament has effectively blocked British participation in any military strike on Syria. PM Cameron has been forced to say: “It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that, and the government will act accordingly.” This is a wonderful victory for British democracy, and marks an unprecedented break from obedience to the American imperial regime. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

Of course, there’s also, “Obama Willing to Pursue Solo Syria Strikes.” Perhaps there will be a combination of domestic political pressure that, along with international reluctance, will create an effective pushback against Obama’s momentum towards war. I hope. (Come out for the demonstrations tomorrow.) It’s certainly the case that the American people don’t want this. Depending on the poll and how it’s read, 60%85%,  75% (or 91%), cutting across traditional political lines, oppose military intervention in Syria. There have even been some stirrings in congress, with one letter signed by 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats, and another letter from 54 House Democrats, both demanding that Obama seek congressional authorization before a strike against Syria.

Not likely. It’s not that Obama doesn’t “get it.” Short of widespread popular unrest, on issues like this, the will of the people counts for nothing against the exigencies of imperialism and Zionism, as understood by the American political elite. It’s folks who don’t understand that who don’t “get it.” To begin with, there would be no challenging debate in the US Congress like that in the British Parliament.  All the congresscritters are looking for – the Democrats certainly – is some contrived display of oh-so-conscientious concern, as a prelude to the inevitable acclamation of patriotic consent. Please, Mr. President, let us approve it for you, and then it’ll be all constitutional and everything.  Anyway, Obama is in a hurry. Can’t give people too much time to think about this.  As the NYT article makes clear, he is determined to attack Syria as soon as the UN inspection team is wheels-up, whatever Britain, the UN, or Congress do (i.e., again, with fewer willing accomplices, and less credible cover than Bush). A “chemical weapons” incident is a pretext that’s been in preparation for a long time, and can’t be wasted.

Let’s please also recognize that all the talk about “discrete, limited” strikes is more claptrap, designed to assuage uneasy Americans who either don’t, or don’t want to, understand the extremely dangerous comprehensive strategy in play. This is not about “chemical weapons” or “massacres.” The United States military is not going to be sent to knock down a couple of buildings as a “lesson.” It probably will not even strike chemical weapons facilities. (What, and disperse poison gases!) The American armed forces will, as quickly and as massively as possible, destroy Syrian aircraft, tanks, ammunition depots, air defenses, and command and control capabilities. This will be done in support of the rebels, and the American, Jordanian, and Israeli “commandos,” who, according to Le Figaro, entered Syria on August 17th.  Fortuitous timing.

Michael Gordon’s NYT article, cited above, implicitly recognizes this, right after explicitly denying it. He cites “military experts” who “say the strikes have to be aimed at the Syrian armed forces, infrastructure and command centers that Mr. Assad sees as critical to his ability to control his country and prevail.” He cites a former naval officer involved in contingency planning, to the effect that “cruise missile attacks could have a major effect on Mr. Assad’s forces if they were concentrated on destroying his warplanes and the airfields he has used to receive arms from Iran.” He also quotes a former Pentagon official, who says, “If deterrence is to be restored, we need to do more than Assad has anticipated and destroy assets he really values.”

Do you really think Obama is going to tell his general and admirals, “Don’t touch any of those things. I promised Congress and the people.”? Or do you think he’s going to come back and smoothly explain to us, “It’s because we were concerned about chemical weapons, and only chemical weapons, that we just had to destroy all kinds of valuable assets, too”?

The Obama regime will do this for a couple of reasons: first, to enable the victory of the jihadi-dominated rebels over the Assad regime (exactly what Obama denies is the purpose); second (not in order of importance), to remove any Syrian ability to defend itself, or be part of a regional defense, against Israeli aggressions. Those two purposes are, for the moment, infernally liked to a Saudi agenda of destroying the remnants of secular Arab nationalism, in favor of a fundamentalist Sunni hegemony in the region.  The political and strategic purpose of American military intervention – previously clandestine and now overt – on behalf of the “rebellion” is to destroy the Syrian nation as a coherent political and military entity in the region.  As the US already has done to Iraq and Libya.  It’s the same war. If one doesn’t understand that, one just thinks it’s crazy.

I started this blog a year ago this month, with a post on Syria.  I’ve written five other posts on Syria since (all listed here), explaining why this strategy isn’t as crazy as it seems, and why it’s even more dangerous. I’ll give excerpts from a couple of those posts here. My point hasn’t changed, and I hate having to repeat it, but it is quite urgent now.  We really should stop this if we can:
If Israel or the US invades a rebellion-weakened Syria, it won’t be to destroy chemical weapons, but to destroy the Syrian army tout court, and eliminate the Syrian state’s ability to provide any significant resistance to future Israeli or American attacks, or any significant material support to other targets, like Iran, Hezbollah, or Palestinian resistance groups.  This means destroying tanks, aircraft, anti-aircraft systems, communications systems, missile facilities, weapons stores, production facilities, and – especially if it’s Israel – as big a chunk of the social infrastructure as it can get away with.  If the Syrian rebels can’t or won’t thoroughly destroy the military capacity of the Syrian state, and if the Americans (and their Arab and Turkish allies) want to avoid the embarrassing presence of the IDF in the Assad endgame, the US will have to do this dirty work on Israel’s behalf.  “Chemical weapons” are nothing but a cover for that….
It is also virtually certain that [any Syrian state resulting from such an intervention] will be weak, divided, utterly dependent on foreign patronage, laid bare to the predations of international capital, incapable of providing any support to Palestinian resistance, and defenseless against the at-will incursions of the Israeli army and air force.  It is possible, if the Israelis have their way, that it will devolve into a collection of confessional bantustans. (Too Many Cooks: The Syrian Demise)
[E]verybody knows what’s coming: "’Syria . . . will be an Islamic and Sharia state,’" said [al-Nusra fighter] Khattab, who has little knowledge of Arabic but fought in Afghanistan. ‘We will not accept anything else. Democracy and secularism are completely rejected.’ … [H]e warned anyone who might stand in the way. ‘We will fight them,’ he said, ‘even if they are among the revolutionaries.’”  Syria will be a divided, violent, and chaotic country, at war with itself, a danger to everyone, and with a lot of anger directed at Israel and the United States.  And that is not a mistake.  It is the point. Creating new enemies is the point. Perpetual war is necessary for Israel and for the United States (for different but complementary reasons), and raging jihadi violence will give a veneer of “moral legitimation” to their perpetual warfare.  Both countries think they can manage that.  And why should they not?  They are excellent at blowing stuff up.  Who’s going to stop them? Who’s going to force a change of course? American leaders or voters, conservative or liberal?  (As Syria Devolves, Israel Rampages
Throughout this week, a lot of progressive media have been, rightly, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, and Martin Luther King’s renowned “I Have A Dream” speech, and have been considering what’s changed for the better since then and what has not. It would do us well also to remember MLK’s other words, whose enduring truth will, unfortunately – by the country’s first African-American president, unfortunately – be confirmed in a few days: that the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

It’s been a long today.

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