Monday, 7 April 2014

Poison gas politics

Last August, a horrific poison gas attack occurred in the outskirts of Damascus, killing hundreds of civilians. The images were appalling, even for Syria, as whole families choked to death, and the logical culprit to blame was one of the planet’s most despicable humanoids, Bashir al-Assad, who already had slaughtered thousands of his citizens in many of the more traditional ways. That’s when Obama came close to ordering an attack on the Syrian government’s positions, which could have turned the tide in that country’s civil war.

As we know, the British parliament balked at the idea, and Obama eventually went to Congress for approval, which was promptly denied. The whole operation had an air of amateurish ill-preparation and improvising, but what seemed fairly certain amidst all the maneuvering was that Assad, despite the predictable denials, had used sarin gas. A few dissidents claimed that the anti-Assad rebels might have done it, but that suggestion was dismissed as far-fetched theorizing by knee-jerk leftists who automatically rush to oppose any U.S. action on general principles.

I confess to assuming the worst about Assad myself and dismissing the doubts. But the indefatigable Seymour Hersh, writing in the London Review of Books, reports that the conspiracy theorists probably were right—that it was indeed the rebels who staged the poison gas attack with the help of Turkey for the purpose of drawing the U.S. into the war and ousting Assad. It’s an incredible story and a must-read.

Hersh’s account makes sense for a number of reasons: it explains why Obama went to Congress for permission instead of just launching the attack on his own. If Hersh is right, Obama knew the case against Assad was flimsy or even false but couldn’t say so in public for fear of undermining a NATO ally (Turkey), not to mention his own credibility. Even John Kerry’s apparent public goof about Assad getting rid of his poison gas weapons may have been a calculated or even pre-arranged signal, rather than a flub.

We know from subsequent revelations that Turkish officials have been actively considering how to stage a provocation that would give them the pretext for intervening in the Syrian civil war. The appearance on YouTube of a tape recording of a high-level security meeting outlining exactly how it might work led to the shutdown of that Web service in Turkey just last month.

Hersh reports an even more amazing detail involving a joint U.S.-U.K.-Turkey-Qatar-Saudi Arabia weapons pipeline channeling arms from the old Qaddafi stash to the Syrian rebels. He alleges that the entire operation was run out of the Benghazi CIA station, no less, which would be the real reason for the attack on it that resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador and the subsequent Fox News celebration known as Benghazi-gate.

There’s so much in this piece that it’s hard to digest it all and figure out what it might mean. Hersh says that after Benghazi the U.S. lost control of the situation to the Turks, who now support the worst Islamic extremist factions in Syria while Assad’s government seems to be stabilizing somewhat. The Saudis are pissed, and the Syrian refugee crisis keeps getting worse. Lebanon is, as usual, destabilized, and meanwhile the Israelis gleefully gobble up more of the occupied territories since no one can stop them. This is not going to end well.

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