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Syria: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

by Mike Whitney

CounterPunch (April 12 2017)

 

 

Our US Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack. Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died … This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important – what they appear to believe happened. {1}

 

 

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the case against Syrian President Bashar al Assad is extremely weak. The chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, has produced no smoking gun, no damning evidence, in fact, no evidence at all. Similar to the Russia hacking fiasco (not a shred of evidence so far), the western media and the entire political class has made the case for attacking a sovereign country on the thin gruel of a few videos of an incident that took place in a location that is currently under the control of militant groups connected to al Qaida. That’s pretty shaky grounds for a conviction, don’t you think?

And it’s not up to Assad to prove his innocence either. That’s baloney. The burden of proof rests with the prosecution. If Trump and his lieutenants have evidence that the Syrian President used chemical weapons, then – by all means – let’s see it and be done with it. If not, we have to assume that Assad is innocent, not because we like Assad, but because these are the legal precedents that one follows to establish the truth. And that’s what we want, we want to know what really happened.

Neither Trump nor the media care about the truth, what they care about is regime change, which is the driving force behind Washington’s six year-long war on Syria. The fact that Washington has concealed its support by secretly arming-and-training Sunni militias, does not absolve it from responsibility. The US is totally responsible for the mess in Syria. Without Washington’s support none of this would have happened. Seven million Syrians wouldn’t have fled their homes, 400,000 Syrians wouldn’t have been killed, and the country would not be the anarchic wastelands it is today. The United States is entirely is responsible for the death and destruction of Syria. These are Washington’s killing fields.

As we said earlier, there is no evidence that Assad used chemical weapons against his people nor has there been any investigation to substantiate the claims. The Trump administration launched its Tomahawk missile barrage before consulting with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (“OPCW”) which essentially preempted the organization from doing its job. The administration’s rejection of the normal investigative procedures and rush to judgement reinforces the belief that they know they have no case and are just peddling pro-war BS in the mad pursuit of their geopolitical objectives.

Since we don’t have an organization like the OPCW to conduct an investigation, we should at least consider the informed opinions of professionals who have some background in intelligence. This doesn’t provide us with iron-clad proof one way or another, but at least it gives us an idea of some probable scenarios. Here’s a quote from former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, who stated last week on the Scott Horton show:

 

 

I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known – but maybe didn’t – and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict. {2}

 

 

We hear a very similar account from retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was former chief of Staff to General Colin Powell. Here’s what he said in a recent interview on the Real News Network:

 

 

I personally think the provocation was a Tonkin Gulf incident … Most of my sources are telling me, including members of the team that monitors global chemical weapons – including people in Syria, including people in the US Intelligence Community – that what most likely happened … was that they hit a warehouse that they had intended to hit … and this warehouse was alleged to have to ISIS supplies in it, and … some of those supplies were precursors for chemicals … conventional bombs hit the warehouse, and due to a strong wind, and the explosive power of the bombs, they dispersed these ingredients and killed some people {3}.

 

 

Finally, we have the collective judgement of twenty former members of the US Intelligence Community the so-called Steering Group of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. Here’s what they say:

 

 

Our US Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian chemical weapons attack. Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died … This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important – what they appear to believe happened {1}.

 

 

So, why is the administration so eager to jump to conclusions? Why do they want to use such a sketchy incident to justify an attack on sovereign nation that poses no threat to US national security? What’s really going on here?

To answer that, we need to review an interview with President Trump’s new National Security Advisor, Lieutenant. General H R McMaster, that took on place on Sunday on Fox News. McMaster – you may recall – recently replaced General Michael Flynn at the same position. Flynn’s failing was that he wanted to “normalize” relations with Russia which the behind-the-scenes powerbrokers rejected out-of-hand and worked to have him replaced with far-right wing militarist-neocon McMaster. Now, McMaster is part of the one-two combo that decides US foreign policy around the world. Trump has essentially dumped Syria in the laps of his two favorite generals, McMaster and James “Mad Dog” Mattis who have decided to deepen Washington’s military commitment in Syria and intensify the conflict even if it means a direct confrontation with Russia.

In the Fox interview, McMaster was asked a number of questions about Trump’s missile attack. Here’s part of what he said:

 

 

The objective (of the strikes) was to send a very strong political message to Assad. And this is very significant because … this is the first time the United States has acted directly against the Assad regime, and that should be a strong message to Assad and to his sponsors …

 

 

He added,

 

 

Russia should ask themselves, what are we doing here? Why are we supporting this murderous regime that is committing mass murder of its own population and using the most heinous weapons available … Right now, I think everyone in the world sees Russia as part of the problem. (Fox News with Chris Wallace)

 

 

Can you see what’s going on? Trump’s missile attack was not retaliatory, not really. It was a message to Putin. McMaster was saying as clearly as possible, that “the US military is coming for Assad, and you’d better stay out of the way if you know what’s good for you”. That’s the message. It has nothing to do with chemical weapons or the suffering of innocent people. McMaster was delivering a threat. He was putting Putin “on notice”.

Like McMaster said, “this is the first time the United States has acted directly against the Assad regime, and that should be a strong message to Assad and to his sponsors …”

In other words, McMaster wants Putin to know that he’s prepared to attack the Syrian government and its assets directly and, that, if Putin continues to defend Assad, Russian forces will be targeted as well.

There was some confusion about this in the media because UN ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson got their talking-points mixed up and botched their interviews. But The Washington Post clarified the policy the next day by stating bluntly:

 

 

Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the United States.

 

 

Bingo. That’s the policy in a nutshell. The issue isn’t chemical weapons. The issue is Russia’s support for Assad, the leader who remains the target of US regime change plans. We are seeing a fundamental shift in the policy from mainly covert support for CIA-backed Sunni militias to overt military intervention. This is just the first volley in that new war.

The media wants the American people to believe that President Trump impulsively ordered the missile attacks in response to the use of chemical weapons. But there’s reason to suspect that the attacks had been planned for some time in advance. As one blogger pointed out:

 

 

In the weeks before the missile strikes, Trump met with the Saudis, the president of Egypt, and the King of Jordan, while Secretary of State met with Turkish President Erdogan. In other words, the administration met with the entire Middle East “Sunni alliance” just days before ordering the missile strikes. Coincidence?

 

 

Probably not. They were probably tipped off and asked for their continued support.

Also, Trump waited until the evening that he was having dinner with President Xi Jinping to launch the attacks. How’s that for timing?

Do you think that the announcement that Trump just attacked Syria would have an impact on the two leaders’ conversation about North Korea? Do you think Xi might have seen the announcement as a not-so-subtle threat of violence against the North unless China forces its ally to make concessions?

Of course, he did. The man wasn’t born yesterday.

It seems unlikely that Trump’s attack was a snap decision made by an impulsive man. Instead, it looks like there was a significant amount of planning that went on beforehand, including the deploying of 400 additional Special Ops to Syria and 2,500 combat troops to nearby Kuwait. It appears as though Washington had been building up its troop-strength for some time before it settled on the right pretext for taking things to the next level. As journalist Bill Van Auken noted at the World Socialist Web Site:

 

 

We have been here so many times before that it is hardly worth wasting the time required to refute the official story. It is now fourteen years since the US launched its invasion of Iraq over similar lies about weapons of mass destruction, setting into motion a vast slaughter that has claimed the lives of over one million people and turned millions more into refugees …

Once again, as in the air war against Serbia in 1999, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and the attack on Libya in 2011, the United States has concocted a pretext to justify the violation of another country’s sovereignty … {4}

 

 

I have no way of knowing whether Assad used chemical weapons or not, but I found Russian President Vladimir Putin’s analysis particularly interesting. Reporters asked Putin – “What is your view about the use of chemical weapons in Syria?”

Putin answered:

 

 

You all know that the Syrian government has repeatedly asked the international community to come and inspect the sites where the rebels used chemical weapons. But they always ignored those requests. The only time the international community has responded, was to this last incident. So, what do I think?

I think we can figure out what’s going on by just using a little common sense. The Syrian army was winning the war, in some places they had the rebels completely surrounded. For them to throw it all away and give their trump card to the people who have been calling for regime change is, frankly, a crock of shit. {5}

 

 

Putin’s response to Trump’s missile attack has been subdued to say the least. He did issue a perfunctory presidential press statement on the incident, but the tone of the statement was neither incendiary or belligerent. If anything, it sounded like he found the whole matter irritating, like the man who sits down to a picnic lunch and finds he has to deal with pesky mosquito before he can eat. But, of course, this is the way that Putin handles most matters. He’s a master of understatement who is not easily given to emotional outbursts or displays of rage. He’s more apt to scratch himself, roll his eyes and give a shrug of the shoulders, than wave his fist and issue threats.

But from a strategic point of view, Putin’s measured response makes perfect sense, after all, the real battle isn’t going to be won or lost in Syria. It’s much bigger than that. Putin is challenging the present world order in which a disproportionate amount of political and economic power has accrued to one unipolar center of authority, a global hegemon that imposes its economic model wherever it goes and topples sovereign states with a wave of the hand. Putin’s task is to build resistance among the vassals, form new alliances, and strengthen the collective resolve for a different world where national sovereignty and borders are guaranteed under an impartial set of international laws that protect the weak as well as the strong.

That’s Putin’s real objective, to rebuild the system of global security based on a solid foundation of respect for the vital interests of each and every country. To accomplish that, Putin must seem like a reasonable and trustworthy ally who honors his commitments and stands by his friends even when they are under attack. That’s why Putin won’t abandon Assad. It’s because he can’t.

Syria is the battlefield where competing visions of the future meet head on. It’s where the rubber meets the road.

Links:

{1} http://warisacrime.org/content/syria-was-it-really-%E2%80%9Cchemical-weapons-attack%E2%80%9D

{2} http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/07/the-impending-clash-between-the-u-s-and-russia/

{3} https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah14yOHWrGY

{4} https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/04/07/pers-a07.html

{5} https://www.facebook.com/eurasiadaily.nz/videos/1591135637844089/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/12/syria-where-the-rubber-meets-the-road/

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