We have no easy answers in Syria. Yes, Bashar Assad is a dictatorial beast. If I were a young Syrian, I might well join the rebellion. On the other hand, some opposition leaders give every indication of being no better than the current dictator -- and potentially much worse.
Yesterday, cable teevee inundated us with images of the gassings in Syria. The spewers of conventional wisdom seem certain that Assad is the perp (just as the same spewers seemed certain that Saddam Hussein had WMDs). But the cui bono
approach has always worked against this idea, since these attacks against civilians gave no military advantage to Assad, who was slowly winning his civil war. The only benefit went to the rebels, who sought aid from the United States.
that the rebels perpetrated an earlier chemical attack in Aleppo. So it's not as though Assad was ever the sole suspect in Ghouta.
This post offers a compendium of the latest news. Don't worry; we'll get to the weird stuff soon...
Congressman Alan Grayson is skeptical.
Having seen a summary of the hidden evidence -- the stuff that Obama won't share with us mere mortals -- Grayson reports that the Administration does not possess the proverbial smoking gun
The administration has said there’s no direct evidence, only circumstantial evidence. I know what that circumstantial evidence is, and I’m not impressed. The whole discourse is, ‘how do we change his incentives?’ But they may not be relevant here. If there were direct evidence that Assad ordered it, it would be quite meaningful to say Assad ordered it and how do we change his incentives in the future. But if we assume he’s a rational, calculating person, why would he have ordered the attack in the first place?
Grayson also makes the important point (which I've made myself, in preceding posts) that airstrikes cannot take out Assad's chemical weapons stockpiles without spreading the poisons over a wide area.
According to this congressman, the vote is almost certain to go against Obama's wishes. Good news, sayeth I.
The AP is skeptical.
The news agency says that the evidence is no "slam dunk,"
which I suspect is a polite way of saying that there's nothing there.
The official conceded there are caveats in the report and there is no proof saying Assad personally ordered the attack. There was no mention in the report of the possibility that a rogue element inside Assad’s government or military could have been responsible, the senior official said.
So while Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that it was “undeniable,” a chemical weapons attack had occurred, and that it was carried out by the Syrian military, U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad’s orders. Some have even talked about the possibility that rebels could have carried out the attack in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war. That suspicion was not included in the official intelligence report, according to the official who described the report.
That's one way to deal with the rebels-did-it scenario: Don't bring it up. In a follow-up report
, AP offers stronger language:
The U.S. government insists it has the intelligence to prove it, but the American public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence — no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications — connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.
Precisely. From the beginning, Obama has refused to "pull an Adlai." I understand the need for discretion, but if enough people question your manhood, eventually you're going to have to unzip.
The Obama administration, searching for support from a divided Congress and skeptical world leaders, says its own assessment is based mainly on satellite and signal intelligence, including indications in the three days prior to the attack that the regime was preparing to use poisonous gas.
But multiple requests to view that satellite imagery have been denied, though the administration produced copious amounts of satellite imagery earlier in the war to show the results of the Syrian regime's military onslaught.
The Obama administration maintains it intercepted communications from a senior Syrian official on the use of chemical weapons, but requests to see that transcript have been denied. So has a request by the AP to see a transcript of communications allegedly ordering Syrian military personnel to prepare for a chemical weapons attack by readying gas masks.
The U.S. administration says its evidence is classified and is only sharing details in closed-door briefings with members of Congress and key allies.
As noted above, Alan Grayson saw that evidence. And he came away saying: Color me unimpressed
Marcy Wheeler is skeptical.
She suspects that either the rebels captured a cache of chemical weapons, or that a rogue officer launched the attack on Ghouta. Here's her analysis of Grayson's report.
In the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Grayson asked that this intercept be declassified. There were reports the Administration would declassify select intercepts, but thus far it hasn’t happened.
In short, the Administration is so sensitive about their case they’re unwilling to allow members of Congress check even the open source parts of it, and any means of tying the attack to Assad relies on assumptions and an intercept that seems to undermine their case.
Which is why the Administration is invoking on a theory it would never apply to itself: that because Assad is Commander in Chief of his military, he must be held accountable for any actions taken by someone in his military, even if done without authorization.
Does that mean we should blame Obama for the massacre in Kandahar, Afghanistan, attributed to Staff Sgt. Robert Bales?
Former spooks say "Nay!"
Former high-ranking CIA officer Ray McGovern heads a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
. VIPS believes that the rebels launched the gas attack.
Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal.
McGovern reminds us that John Clapper -- the Director of National Intelligence who tells us to blame Assad -- had previously lied to Congress about the NSA's domestic surveillance capabilities. I would add this: When Richard Helms lied to Congress
in 1977, he was convicted and given a suspended sentence of two years. Even though Clapper told a much more important lie, today's congressfolk have less concern for accountability.
Now let's get into the meat of things:
In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.
Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria.
At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government
The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive. And they were. A weapons distribution operation unprecedented in scope began in all opposition camps on August 21-23. The weapons were distributed from storehouses controlled by Qatari and Turkish intelligence under the tight supervision of U.S. intelligence officers.
This is significant. If the Turks were given a heads-up, then we can discount the "accident" scenario presented by Mint Press News. We can also dismiss the theory that the attack was launched by a lower-level officer acting without Assad's knowledge.
What do we have left? Conspiracy. Hate to use the word, but what other will do?
And now for the weird stuff.
Global Research published a fascinating report by Yossef Bodansky favoring the thesis that the rebels launched the CW attacks
. This report offers further details about those alleged preparations in Turkey.
The question: Did McGovern draw from Bodansky, or do Bodansky and McGovern share the same source? Perhaps there's a report floating around -- one that you and I are not allowed to read, but which McGovern and Bodansky have
read. (Or have heard summarized.)
True, Bodansky has said some off-the-wall things in the past. True, Bodansky has been endorsed by no less a figure than Rush Limbaugh, leading Kevin Drum to label his work "the next big right-wing conspiracy theory
." But can we truly call it a "right wing" theory if Ray McGovern -- who usually publishes on left-wing sites, and who considers Julian Assange a hero -- is saying the same thing?
Right now, all I know for sure is this: If this be disinformation, it is strikingly detailed
disinformation. Judge for yourself...
On August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major and irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and representatives of Qatari, Turkish, and US Intelligence [“Mukhabarat Amriki”] took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors. Very senior opposition commanders who had arrived from Istanbul briefed the regional commanders of an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development” which would, in turn, lead to a US-led bombing of Syria.
Indeed, unprecedented weapons distribution started in all opposition camps in Hatay Province on August 21-23, 2013. In the Reyhanli area alone, opposition forces received well in excess of 400 tons of weapons, mainly anti-aircraft weaponry from shoulder-fired missiles to ammunition for light-guns and machineguns. The weapons were distributed from store-houses controlled by Qatari and Turkish Intelligence under the tight supervision of US Intelligence.
These weapons were loaded on more than 20 trailer-trucks which crossed into northern Syria and distributed the weapons to several depots. Follow-up weapon shipments, also several hundred tons, took place over the weekend of August 24-25, 2013, and included mainly sophisticated anti-tank guided missiles and rockets. Opposition officials in Hatay said that these weapon shipments were “the biggest” they had received “since the beginning of the turmoil more than two years ago”. The deliveries from Hatay went to all the rebel forces operating in the Idlib-to-Aleppo area, including the al-Qaida affiliated jihadists (who constitute the largest rebel forces in the area).
Apparently, some Assad opponents have come to doubt Assad's culpability.
Most explicit and eloquent is Saleh Muslim, the head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which has been fighting the Syrian Government. Muslim doubts Assad would have used chemical weapons when he was winning the civil war.
“The regime in Syria … has chemical weapons, but they wouldn’t use them around Damascus, five km from the [UN] committee which is investigating chemical weapons. Of course they are not so stupid as to do so,” Muslim told Reuters on August 27, 2013. He believes the attack was “aimed at framing Assad and provoking an international reaction”.
I promised you weirdness, and here it is: Bodansky's piece was reprinted on Pam Geller's site
. This, despite the fact that Geller is radically pro-Israel. This, despite the fact that Israel is radically anti-Assad. Moreover, Global Research, which published the Bodansky piece, is very anti-Israel.
Of course, Bodansky himself is Israeli-born and a former DOD consultant.
Heretofore, Geller (whom I despise) has been known for publishing only material which furthers her agenda. I would have expected her to follow the lead of AIPAC
, which desperately wants the US to strike at Syria. But she did something very different.
What's next? Is the ultra-libertarian Geller going to favor us with a deluxe illustrated edition of Das Kapital