Shooting from the hip with unerring accuracy was the Wild West according to Hollywood. As anyone who has ever fired a pistol will tell you it is improbable, and historically the West’s few gun duels were rather unremarkable. The latest hip-shooter is of course Donald J. Trump whose foreign policy seems to turn on a dime — from not interested in removing Bashar al-Assad to his having no place in a future Syria, all within a week.
The U.S. has a powerful military and it is very good at breaking things, so it is no surprise that presidents are tempted to use it. It doesn’t matter that the problem requires shrewd diplomacy and difficult negotiations; the president is making a point.
In a ridiculous Kabuki drama 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired off at Shayrat Air Base … after the Russians had been forewarned and had promptly informed their Syrian allies, who were spotted removing equipment and personnel. Damaging a few hardened aircraft shelters and a few of the less serviceable aircraft makes the episode a token rather than a serious military attack. And costing the U.S. taxpayer $1.6 million a piece for a total close to $100 million, this missile show left the U.S. a likely loser financially.
Who knows what happened in Idlib when there hasn’t been time for a proper investigation. Eyewitnesses report a plane dropping a bomb which is not much to go on. But a conventional bomb does its damage through its explosive force and would show much greater physical destruction at the site than a chemical weapon using a small quantity of explosive as a means for dispersing the gas. An examination of the site could prove or disprove the Russian assertion that a conventional weapon hitting a storage/manufacturing facility released organophosphates.
No such analysis from anyone, least of all Mr. Trump as he shed crocodile tears for the poisoned ‘babies’. Instant death from gas is clearly more humane than shrapnel. It is why you won’t see any pictures from Yemen (they are much too gruesome) where Mr. Trump’s allies are making mincemeat out of men, women and children alike, even using cluster bombs in civilian areas. That does not cross Mr. Trump’s ‘many lines’. The Convention on Cluster Munitions bans their use and has been ratified by a majority of the world’s nations.
It was another time but the same place, the UN, when Secretary of State Colin Powell accused the Iraqis of concealing WMDs. The denials of the Iraqi Ambassador were brushed aside, and the subsequent war continues in one form or another. A million plus dead and many millions displaced, an ISIS monster born, war in Syria and a refugee crisis in Europe. The latter tipping the scales in Britain’s narrow Brexit vote. Who could have imagined the consequences or the ultimate cost — initially estimated at $64 billion, but nearly $5 trillion and counting according to a Sept 2016 report by the Watson Institute at Brown University.
Now we have UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s undiplomatic language accusing Syria of using chemical weapons. The question not being asked in this propaganda war is simple: What in heaven’s name does Syria gain from using sarin gas on its own civilians? Assad is not an idiot. Syria does not need the extra firepower, it certainly does not need the opprobrium of the world, and, if one may recall, it surrendered all its chemical weapons (under international supervision) after the last such incident four years ago.
Quite frankly, this accusation makes as much sense as the one about Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait removing premature babies from hospital incubators leaving them to die, to steal the incubators. That one by the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter Nayirah al-Sabah was gospel at the time, even corroborated by Amnesty International, and helped propel the first Iraqi war under George Bush Senior. It was absolutely false.
When President Trump now says he is changing his mind about Assad, the objective seems to have been achieved. Whether it was a shot fired by intransigent rebels to disrupt the Russia-sponsored Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, or an accident, the results are highly satisfactory for those who do not want peace. Again, it points not to Assad but elsewhere.
While military analysts like Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, consider the Russian account “unsustainable” and “very fanciful,” the idea that a storage/manufacturing facility could have partially damaged weapons leaking after the blast heat had dissipated may not be. The Russians are not fools and would not make a claim so easily dismissed . And as yet without forensic evidence, nobody can be certain what nerve agent is responsible.
Dan Kaszeta also a former military man concurs with Bretton-Gordon. Yet in 2013, the hexamine in government storage prompted him to blame the Assad regime for a chemical attack. However, hexamine has many uses. It was also determined that the triggering devices used containers and explosive not in use by the Syrian army. The experienced Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, a member of the then UN Independent Commission of Enquiry on Syria, expressed “strong concrete suspicions” of rebel culpability. A former Swiss attorney general and respected prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, her conclusion was categorical: “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she had ascertained. Are military analysts unconsciously biased?
Now we are being told this is the second time Syria has used chemical weapons. The fake news never stops and neither do leaders or their representatives. Their currency is never counterfeit … until it’s too late. In the 2013 incident, the fake news would have had us believe that Assad invited UN inspectors and then exploded a chemical weapon 10km from their hotel.
It is important not to demonize Assad not only because it is unconscionable if he is innocent of these war crimes, but also because peace without him is at present unattainable. As a British MP, George Galloway, not taken in by the hysteria at the time said, “he may be bad but is he mad?” Here we are back again and it’s time to repeat his question. Also one more — the elephant-in-the- room question: WHY?
‘Remember the Maine’ before the Spanish-American War; the Lusitania carrying weapons despite Germany’s strong warning before the First World War; the ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ before the Vietnam war; the ‘undeniable evidence’ of WMDs in Iraq; and now Syria — an unrepentant tarnished history of varnished mendacity costing millions of lives and tens of millions of refugees in a trail of horrendous human suffering.
Truth would be refreshing, but it comes at a tremendous cost. Ask some recent purveyors.
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor based in the U.S. whose comments over several decades have appeared in a wide-ranging array of print and electronic media. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.