Three Analyses Condemning the US attack on Syria in April 2017

As the international community struggles to make sense of Donald Trump’s reckless Tomohawk missile assault on Syria, it has also had to deal with the shocking and awesome idiocy of the American media’s reaction to it. Nothing could top television “journalist” Brian Williams' ignorant, out-of-context citation of a Leonard Cohen song to remark on how he was “guided by the beauty of our weapons” as they flew toward their targets. He, along with millions of other citizens and political leaders in Western countries will fail to recall another Cohen song which came after First We Take Manhattan, the source for Williams' awe. The Future:

When they said repent, repent,
I wonder what they meant...
Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ
or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby:
it is murder

Few Western media outlets report on the news conferences of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the statements made the Russian representatives at the UN, and they also fail to make the logical analyses of the situation and raise the obvious questions that can be found in many excellent blogs and alternative media sites. The three excerpted below cover the main points that have appeared in the many excellent analyses that are available to anyone with an interest in looking beyond the willful ignorance that is being sold on the pages of the New York Times and other leading journals.

1. Excerpts of an analysis by retired US Col. Patrick LANG

Donald Trump's decision to launch cruise missile strikes on a Syrian Air Force Base was based on a lie. In the coming days the American people will learn that the Intelligence Community knew that Syria did not drop a military chemical weapon on innocent civilians in Idlib. Here is what happened:

The Russians briefed the United States on the proposed target. The United States was fully briefed on the fact that there was a target in Idlib that the Russians believes was a weapons/explosives depot for Islamic rebels. The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians. There was a strong wind blowing that day and the cloud was driven to a nearby village and caused casualties.

We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called "first responders" handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through "Live Agent" training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

The base the United States hit was something of a backwater. Donald Trump gets to pretend that he is a tough guy. He is not. He is a fool... This attack was violation of international law. Donald Trump authorized an unjustified attack on a sovereign country. What is even more disturbing is that people like Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and NSA Director General McMaster went along with this charade... It should also alarm American taxpayers that we launched $100 million dollars of missiles to blow up sand and camel shit... Whatever hope I had that Donald Trump would be a new kind of President, that hope is extinguished. He is a child and a moron. He committed an act of war without justification. But the fault is not his alone. Those who sit atop the NSC, the DOD, the CIA, the Department of State should have resigned in protest. They did not. They are complicit in a war crime.

2. Excerpts from
Peter Hitchens, “It's WMD all over again. Why don't you see it?,” Mail Online, April 5, 2017

And then there is this simple point. Why would the Syrian government use gas at this stage in a war it has recently begun to win with conventional munitions? You don’t have to believe that the Assad state is saintly to ask this question, and I don’t believe that... Wicked and brutal they may well be, but they would have to be stupid and possibly mad to do such a thing, just as an important conference convenes in Brussels to discuss the future of Syria... The military advantages would be tiny. Chemical weapons have not been widely used since the 1914-18 war not because soldiers have been especially tender, but because, though very nasty, they are not an especially effective weapon of war.

3. The entire transcript of an interview with Lawrence Wilkerson Wilkerson: Trump Attack on Syria Driven by Domestic Politics, The Real News Network, April 7, 2017/04/09

Former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, tells Paul Jay that the Syrian Government may not be responsible for the chemical attack and that Trump's response was motivated by domestic politics and was a violation of international law.

Paul Jay: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

The response to the American attack on the air force base in Syria, amongst the broad section of the American political leadership and elite, has been generally applause. Leadership of the Democratic Party, Republican Party, most of the mainstream media, even supposedly progressive media, for example, Rachel Maddow, have all been encouraging and supportive of this attack, vilifying, of course, the Syrians for committing this heinous crime against humanity of dropping sarin gas on a populated area. The question of who actually dropped it is barely raised. We’re told by the American government that the Assad government did it. One wonders how they know so quickly. The one person that actually raised this question rather seriously and straightforwardly was in the United Nations meeting of the Security Council Friday morning. And here’s what the Russian ambassador to the UN had to say:

Those who undertook this attack are in no way into interested in an impartial investigation by the competent international authority to find out exactly what took place in Khan Sheikhoun, and I will say more: you are afraid of such an investigation. You are afraid of a real, genuine, independent investigation. What would happen if the outcome of this investigation contradicted your anti-government paradigm?

So is the accusation of the Russian—I should say deputy ambassador to the United Nations—is his accusation correct? Why did United States act so quickly? Now joining us to discuss this issue is Larry Wilkerson. Larry joins us from Falls Church, Virginia. He was former chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary and a regular contributor at the Real News. Thanks for joining us Larry.

Larry Wilkerson: Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul Jay: So what do you make of the ambassador’s accusation? But the bigger question is why did why did the Trump administration act so quickly? How could the intelligence be so definitive so fast?

Larry Wilkerson: Oh, I don’t think they cared. I think they were looking for a provocation. This one was suitable and so they acted. I think the reason for their act, if I can attribute any rationality to it at all, was this: They wanted to use US force in a very guarded—and it was a very limited way—70 million dollars-worth of [Tomohawk missiles]—but still that’s a very limited way, given the circumstances—to gain thereby some leverage in the coming talks because, after all, we have not done anything against the Assad regime, not really directly like this, and so this is a Trump-like move. This is a move to gain a higher ground, if you will, when the talks come along, to give us more leverage. I think personally that the provocation was a Tonkin Gulf [type of] incident or [like the] Iraq failure-to-disarm by February 5th, 2003 [ultimatum] at the United Nations Security Council. In other words, it was not exactly good intelligence. In fact, 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—and this intelligence, by the way, was shared with the United States by Russia in accordance with the de-confliction agreement we have with Russia—that they hit a warehouse that they intended to hit, and had told both sides, Russia and the United States, that they were going to hit. This is the Syrian Air Force, of course, and this warehouse was alleged to have Isis supplies in it, and indeed it probably did, and some of those supplies were precursors for chemicals, or possibly an alternative [theory is] they were phosphates for the cotton growing, fertilizing the cotton region that’s adjacent to this area. And these conventional bombs hit the warehouse and because of a very strong wind and because of the explosive power of the bombs, they dispersed these ingredients and killed some people.

And incidentally, as […] pointed out in a good article that I just read, we have killed more people incidentally in our strikes, and Assad has a number that were killed in this incident and Assad has a number of ways, including his artillery, which, by the way, a no-fly zone would not stop, of killing people, and killing people in much greater numbers than this, as he has demonstrated over the past years. So this is nonsense to call this the kind of provocation of what we did, unless one considers the rationale that I just suggested.

Paul Jay: Now there are journalists on the ground that have gone there, Western journalists who’ve been looking for the warehouse that’s been spoken of. One, I think from The Guardian, had photographs of what was supposed to have been the warehouse and it looked empty. There’s apparently another story that this is all supposed to have happened in some barn and they went in there and found only a mule. Wouldn’t there be some evidence of such a warehouse?

Larry Wilkerson: Yes, there would be, but I think this is probably the kind of speculation that takes place when something like this happens, and I agree with the Russian ambassador that it would be good if we had an internationally-sponsored and hosted, UN for example, investigation and a forensic team that would accompany that, but I don’t think we’re going to get that. And by and large I would think that the people who perpetrated this shall we say hoax would have the area cleaned up as much as possible before such a team got there, so I’m not sure that would do anything.

As I said, in the bigger scheme of things, Paul, we kill more people with our airstrikes, incidental collateral damage, if you will, than this did. We did in Mosul recently, and Assad has killed tens of thousands of people with his barrel bombs and his artillery and so forth, so this is really not that significant an incident.

And yet look what we did, Paul. We made it a Tonkin Gulf. We made it Iraq WMD so that we could make our strike. We had no concern with whether it was a genuine provocation or not. We just wanted something on which we could base our strike and we got it.

Paul Jay: Well here’s another clip from the Russian ambassador because they’re saying that this was a violation of international law, that these strikes are illegal. Let’s roll that clip:

We describe that attack as a fragrant violation of international law, and an act of aggression. We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the US. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.

Paul Jay: So what do you make of that, that this was illegal? 

Larry Wilkerson: He’s right. But let’s look at what he’s talking about. We did the same thing to Iraq. Iraq was a sovereign state that we recognized as such, and we attacked it in 2003. Let’s look at what we’re doing with drones right now. My information tells me, and I think it’s pretty accurate, that we are flying drones right now across the borders of seven countries, six of whom we are not at war with, even under the AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force], and we’re killing people across those borders in those countries. So when you talk about violation of international law, we’re leading the world in that respect.

Paul Jay: The report comes to Donald Trump. I’m speculating here. The intelligence agencies come to him and they say that they have evidence that the Syrian government has attacked. In the normal course of things one would think you would take your evidence and you’d go to the Security Council, and even if you think that the Russians are likely to veto and so on, that you would at least create a world moral stage where you would show your evidence. They didn’t do any of that.

You’re suggesting the reason to go ahead and just strike is really for political objectives. It has nothing to do with really being concerned about the chemical attack or the deaths of people, but there’s more to the politics, too. There are these coming talks you’re referring to. At some point there will be these talks to discuss the political outcome of the Syrian situation, one assumes, at some point, but in the shorter term, isn’t it more even just [about] domestic politics? Now all of a sudden Trump has stood up to Russia. Trump is taking on Assad. Trump gets to shut down the whole conversation in Washington, which is all about his connections with Putin and Russia, and now he has stood up against them. I mean it seems so obvious that it’s unbelievable it isn’t more of a talking point on corporate media.

Larry Wilkerson: Thank you. Do you want to come teach my seminar? That’s what I teach every Monday for three hours: domestic political context in international circumstances. Those are all elements of my framework: how those things impact fateful decision-making, decisions to send young men and young women to die for state purposes. They do affect that decision-making. Anybody who thinks they don’t is naive as hell, and they’re affecting Trump’s decision-making in many of the ways you just suggested.

Paul Jay: [Let’s talk about] the things you have heard from some of your connections within the intelligence community and some of the agencies that look into these issues. This had to have been presented to the Trump administration as well, that there is the possibility that this [gas attack] was created by the anti-Assad opposition and certainly in terms of the political gain. It’s just days after Trump announced that Assad would not be the target. The US was not trying to overthrow Assad. There should be a broad front to fight against Isis. Several days later, this happens. The whole thing gets turned around. I mean it almost makes you wonder if it is an extension of his war with the US intelligence community, that, in fact, he was kind of cornered into doing this rather than it being his plan.

Larry Wilkerson: I wouldn’t be surprised if there were an element of that, but I do see an element of Trump in this too. I see an element of Trump taking advantage of the moment, and that is to say [there were] pressures on him from a number of different directions which you’ve suggested. And all of a sudden there comes this provocation and he can go on TV and show pictures of babies and he can lament the fact that this is a horrible way to die and everything. I would suggest for him that any way is a horrible way to die, whether it’s an artillery round or a chemical weapon. And he can use it, and this is what this guy’s principal forte is: using the moment, reality TV, if you will, in order to impact for a moment the political landscape. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s good at.

Paul Jay: It’s also a kind of curious coincidence perhaps, perhaps not, that Steve Bannon leaves the National Security Council two days before this happens. I wonder: was there some kind of fight over this issue, or were they getting rid of him so that he wasn’t part of the decision-making process that led to this?

Larry Wilkerson: I think we’re seeing probably some of HR McMaster’s influence in trying to settle down the situation in the White House and get it to be a little more cerebral, a little more rational. I don’t know why Bannon left, but I have heard, and this sounds rather odd, I think, from what we heard before that Bannon’s influence, at least with regard to the use of force, it might have been positive rather than negative, and having him leave left that use and its determination mainly to the military types.

Paul Jay: Now I’m told that there was a somewhat parallel apparatus set up under Eisenhower in the White House. I’m not sure of the name of it, but it was something to do with a strategic planning group, which had to deal with the same kind of issues that the National Security Council deals with, and that group continues to report to Bannon, and Bannon has talked often about how we’re in the beginnings of a global war against what he calls Islamic fascism, and he said over and over this is going to be bloody. Is this bombing a part of an increased presence of US troops in Syria and part of this strategy of unfolding this war against what he’s calling Islamic fascism.

Larry Wilkerson: I certainly hope not, but you talk about something that I think others, who know them better than I do, are fearful of, particularly the group that has this kind of Islamophobia as its mantra —the Frank Gaffneys of the world and some of the neoconservatives. I don’t think that John Kelly, Jim Mattis, HR McMaster, or any of those people who might be more sane, more sober, particularly with regard to the use of military force, are in that group, however. But I do think—and this worries me—I do think that all of those people, HR included, are exponents of our imperial power, and of the military instrument as a necessary component, even maybe a first component of that imperial power, and especially right now that particularly Southwest Asia is so roiled. Russia looks like a threat. North Korea looks like a threat, and China as well. It concerns me that these military men and people associated with them, and others as you’ve suggested, have this much influence on national security decision-making at this crucial point in time because the last thing we need is another war, especially one with a peer power. We might be putting the end to this imperial reign if we start something like that. And I’d rather see us go out a little more slowly, if you will, than precipitously.

Paul Jay: Nikki Haley at the UN, the US representative at the United Nations…

Larry Wilkerson: An individual from my home state. I’m embarrassed to have her there. Of all the Trump appointees, and all the people who are wandering around pronouncing on behalf of my country, she embarrasses me the most. She went out of her way at this UN meeting Friday morning to connect Iran to these events—that Assad can only do such a horrible things because Iran enables Assad.

Paul Jay: Yesterday on CNN James Woolsey, the former CIA director, who’s now apparently an advisor to Trump—Woolsey was on saying that we should use this moment to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and while we’re at it, and I quote, “on the way back we’ll take out the Syrian armed forces” or infrastructure, something to that effect. I mean, are these guys outliers or is this part of the real thinking going on there?

Larry Wilkerson: Woolsey left the CIA directorship, you may recall, because President Clinton wouldn’t see him. He had a real good reason, Clinton, for not wanting to see Woolsey. Woolsey was a dyed-in-the-wool Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney [kind of] neoconservative. I wouldn’t pay any attention to Woolsey if he was telling me to get out of the way of a proceeding Mack truck. Woolsey is an idiot.

Paul Jay: Well, there may be others that are advising this policy. OK, Larry, sorry go ahead.

Larry Wilkerson: We’re talking about people like Michael Ledeen and Richard Perle and Frank Gaffney and Douglas Pipe and a host of these other people dictating these...

Paul Jay: Dick Cheney.

Larry Wilkerson: Dick Cheney. These people lie, cheat, steal. They will do anything to get what they think is necessary, and at the at the bottom of most of what they think is necessary is protecting Israel. Now I got news for them. They are setting up... we are setting up... we are creating in the Middle East, and I’ve said this, and I’ll say it again until I go to my grave, and that won’t be a short time away, we are setting up a condition where Israel is going to cease to exist. We are creating the most dangerous situation —along with Netanyahu—he’s giving us a lot of help—we are creating the most dangerous possible situation for Israel in that region of the world because at the end of the day when Israel is sinking, we’re not going to her rescue because we will be in the process of sinking ourselves.

Paul Jay: All right, thanks for joining us, Larry.

Larry Wilkerson: Thank you, Paul.

Paul Jay: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

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