Yesterday’s Guardian features claims that French Intelligence have proof of Assad’s guilt at Idlib. Do read the piece. I have four questions:
- Why would we trust this source, an agency of one of the lead belligerents?
- If we strike out all claims not backed by evidence, how much remains?
- In its impressive – to the impressionable and, let’s be right, that’s most of us when our guards are down – talk of ‘chemical signatures’, does the piece say that when the UN’s OPCW oversaw the 2014 destruction of Syria’s sarin, the last shipment was taken away on a US naval vessel?
- Since (in an inset to the piece) the Guardian belatedly addresses the why would Damascus do this? question – a sign they’ve finally grasped its potency – how detailed and convincing is its answer?
See also the Global Research piece on the French claims
I need to pen another post on the Guardian. Meanwhile, here’s a fifth question. Did you know the Scott Trust is now a limited company, making the Guardian subject to market forces – in a context of ad revenues rising as a proportion of newspaper income while falling in absolute terms – so corrosive of independent reporting? In the case of Syria this is exacerbated by the fact that, through no fault of Damascus, the Guardian has no reporters on the ground so relies on compromised sources: on the one hand the military, intelligence and political voices of the belligerent nations; on the other those (Syrian Observatory, White Helmets) with links to the terrorists.
Moving on, here’s another of the responses to George Monbiot’s April 13 tweet, focus of my recent post, Monbiot on Syria.
UN weapons inspectors Scott Ritter and Hans Blix became household names as Bush and Blair conspired to mislead their governments while bullying their intelligence chiefs. Professor Postol is an expert, where Monbiot’s Eliot Higgins is not, in science, technology and national-security at the MIT. Richard Lloyd is also a former UN weapons inspector. Philip Giraldi, cited and linked in my Debating Syria post, is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer. In fairness I should add he is a director of the Council for the National Interest, which argues (naively in my view) for more even-handed US policy in the Middle East. Jerry Smith led the UN-backed removal of Syria’s chemical weapons in 2013/14. All six have gone public on the ‘evidence’ – calling it meagre is too generous – thus far released as showing Damascus to have authorised chemical weapons at Idlib on April 4.
The kindest explanation for a writer as seasoned as George Monbiot forgetting to source check Higgins’s Bellingcat – active propagandist on another potential nuclear flashpoint, Ukraine – and deem him more reliable than men of this calibre is that stubbornness and vanity cloud his judgment. OK, worse things happen at sea but his failure to respond – to FWHMyers’ question and (honestly and fully: see my April 30 update below) to the Media Lens challenge reported in Monbiot on Syria – is disturbing.
Same day update. Since writing the above, I’ve been alerted to a new post on the blogsite of Jonathan Cook, IMO the most lucid and informed of all middle east commentators. Like me, Cook is disturbed by Monbiot’s behaviour. Where he differs – and he knows Monbiot’s ‘form’ on foreign affairs where I do not – is in siting George’s Idlib comments in a broader context. Where I, too generously perhaps, saw foolish but isolated error, albeit grievously compounded by refusal to defend or retract, Cook sees a pattern.
Update April 30. Instead of using, for transparency and continuity, his April 13 tweet to reply to FWHMyers and others, Monbiot used his blog to publish a ‘Disavowal’. The Cook blog post just cited is a cogent response to it. For my part I’ll add my disappointment as an admirer of much of Monbiot’s writing. In his Disavowal, George casts aspersions on Ted Postol. That’s bad but worse is his ducking, to my mind evasively disingenous, of the challenge Media Lens had put to him, and which his trashing of Postol purports to address. Media Lens, having noted that Hans Blix and Scott Ritter describe as inadequate the ‘evidence’ of Damascus’s guilt at Idlib, asked Monbiot: ‘what do you know that they don’t?’ This is what he signally fails to answer. Invoking Postol the way he did is therefore not only disrespectful of an expert in a highly relevant field. It is also beside the point. Monbiot is an intelligent man, aware of base principles of logical argument, making it hard to explain such irrelevance as other than mendacious obfuscation – driven I suspect by human vanity, though given the Guardian’s pronounced rightward drift we can rule out neither groupthink nor a sense (not necessarily conscious) of career preservation.
Call me naive, but I never thought to see George’s pen dipped in squid ink.