Deja vu in Syria

9 Apr

Writing on Sunday, April 8 in What’s Left, Stephen Gowans offers eight reasons for extreme scepticism about yet another allegation of Damascus having used, for reasons inexplicable, chemical weapons on its own citizens late on April 7. See his full text here.

Below is a summary of his points, but first a warning. Claims of war crimes are routinely made against Damascus and form casus belli  – as had their equivalents in Libya and (once the WMD pretext was given the lie) as post hoc justifier for the million murdered in our name in Iraq.

Moreover, if responsibility lies with the terrorists who, unlike the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), have a potent motive – as well as access to sarin – the uncritical but widespread acceptance of such claims by a slumbering public increases the likelihood not only of further Western aggression but of further false flag attacks.

In sum, those who propagate such claims without due investigation bear a heavy responsibility: some might even say blood on their hands. Nuff said. Here are Gowans’ points:

  1. The reports from Homs are “unverified”, according to Wall Street Journal and British Foreign Office, “unconfirmed” according to the US State Department.
  2. Wall Street Journal says it isn’t “clear who carried out the attack” (if there was one).
  3. The “unverified photos and videos” come from White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society, both funded (though White Helmets lied about this) by Western states seeking regime change in Syria. Both too are active only in ‘rebel’ areas.
  4. Deep state pressure on Trump? The New York Times notes that “A new confirmed chemical attack in Syria would pose a dilemma for President Trump, who … recently said he wants to get the United States out of Syria.”
  5. Such an attack would be politically senseless. The SAA is on the verge of victory in Eastern Ghouta. Why hand the US a pretext to prolong its unlawful occupation?
  6. Such an attack would be militarily senseless. The SAA has weapons more lethal than chemical agents, whose effects are unpredictable and small scale. In every alleged chemical attack in Syria, claimed body counts are smaller than those of air strikes.
  7. Syria cooperated with the UN’s OPCW to eliminate them five years ago.1
  8. Allegations of chemical warfare are routinely made.2 Through sheer repetition, and at best muted reporting of their subsequent failure to meet evidential standards, they assume the status of incontestable truth in the eyes of a duped Western public.


  1. On this point I part company with Gowans. In 2013 Damascus, to the satisfaction of the UN’s OPCW, did indeed destroy its chemical weapons to leave Israel as the only regional power still in possession of them. But sarin is not as difficult to make as dull-witted journalists have parroted. While this leaves open the possibility of Damascus – again, for reasons inexplicable – having manufactured more since 2013, it also opens a barn door on the more plausible scenario of Daesh doing so.
  2. In my reply to Caroline’s comment below, I cite Caitlin Johnston on why chemical weapons might be the allegation of choice by a West seeking regime change.

8 Replies to “Deja vu in Syria

  1. Yes. There is one source for this ‘report’ of gas being used by the SAA. And that single source is an agency of the Foreign Office and the CIA.
    So the Foreign Office tells the media “Our White Helmets inform us that they are dealing with a sarin gas attack by the Syrian army.”
    Then the media, without making either the smallest effort to verify the reports, or to ask the alleged culprits for explanation and without explaining that the White Helmets were founded and are funded by the governments involved in sponsoring militias fighting the SAA, not only print the ‘news’ but surround it with calls for immediate military action to ‘punish’ the wholly innocent alleged culprits.
    How do we know that Syria’s government is innocent?
    Because its entire stock of chemical weapons, and means of delivery was destroyed, under international supervision, less than five years ago.
    The real significance of this story may be, ominously, to allow the surveillance apparatus to update its lists of those using the internet who show persistent signs of cynicism towards imperial claims. Or perhaps merely to provide the information needed to tailor future propaganda for greater effectiveness.

    • Good points all bevin, those last two especially. My sense is of a small but growing minority no longer willing to have its intelligence insulted – whether on evil-for-evil’s-sake chemical ‘warfare’ by Damascus, or SMERSH style poisonings with much littering (helpful if heavyhanded) of clues of Putin’s direct involvement.

  2. As steel city scribe has pointed out, one of the arguments against the earlier alleged Sarin gas attack having been ordered by Assad’s government was that it would have made no sense: Syrian government forces were having quite a lot of success at the time – as they are now – so why perpetrate an ‘atrocity’ that would have gained little military advantage but that would be a pretext for increased US attacks? I don’t believe it is paranoia (or apophenia) to suspect that there MIGHT be a pattern here: The Syrian army looks like winning, so the government obligingly does something militarily useless (though spectacularly horrible and ‘illegal’) that is bound to arouse US-led international condemnation and provide an excuse for more (equally illegal) US intervention. Why? Because Assad is EVIL and “gasses his own people” from time to time just for the hell of it? Really?

    • Thanks Caroline. I agree of course, though I did have to look up apophenia!

      I think the extent to which liberal media like the Guardian are prepared to risk what remains of their reputations over Syria (and Russia) suggests not just the usual mix of journalist credulity (call me naive but I still deem most of them more dim than vile) and contempt for our intelligence, but also how high the stakes are. Liberal media like to show their colours as feisty watchdogs over the powers that be. When they cease to do that, as in wartime, it means the issues are too critical to ruling class interests to allow significant dissent. It’s telling that as Freedman, Tisdall and others bay for war on Syria – and Monbiot, Mason and Jones promote or weakly accept narratives carefully crafted by those who wish to see it happen – the only mainstream journalist truly sceptical is the Mail’s right wing maverick, Peter Hitchens.

      Meanwhile, neat commentary by the ever readable Caitlin Johnston. Writing yesterday on the Medium site, she says:

      In my opinion, the US and its allies preference chemical weapons false flags because there’s not much else they can accuse a disobedient government of doing that they themselves don’t do constantly. They can’t accuse Assad of simply using conventional munitions to kill civilians, because the US kills civilians with conventional munitions every day. It’s got to be a reviled and internationally banned weapon that makes for gruesome photographs to plaster on screens throughout the world.

      Nobody was ever punished for the Iraq invasion. A million people dead over lies, and nobody responsible for it suffered any consequences at all. No changes whatsoever were made to prevent such a great evil from being inflicted upon our world again. This is because the western empire never had any intention of changing, and has every intention of repeating those same evils in any way it can.

      When a known compulsive liar asks you to place your faith in him on a very important matter, you tell him to piss off. When war propagandists for the western empire tell you Assad is using chemical weapons for no discernible reason, you take it with an Iraq-sized grain of salt.

      Stay skeptical.

  3. Many thanks Philip, have already blogged Steven Gowans article. Hope you enjoyed your holiday. Have also to inform you that not only did Corbyn denounce Russia with his “We all know Putin is evil”, but has further requested that the Magnitsky Law be applied in the Skripal’s case. I know the WSWS condemned the use of the law because it really only ever applied to everyone except the US/UK club, so Corbyn jumping on it is at best a mystery at worst a betrayal of his stated goals and people like myself who joined Momentum.
    Look forward to your next scribblings,

    • Thanks Susan. I didn’t know about Corbyn but am unsurprised. I see this as a reminder of the limitations of parliamentary socialism. In his position it’s political suicide not to go, however reluctantly and with whatever expressions of caution, with the belligerence our ruling classes are promoting on an insufficiently compliant Putin. In Westminster the so-called national interest always trumps class analysis when push comes to shove.

    • Thanks Dave. I edited your comment to have the link open a new window rather than leave this site. Hope that’s OK with you.

      In these matters we want in the interests of credibility to say less rather than more than we can substantiate or validly speculate. It’s a striking sign of our times that so many renegade voices are willing to speak out on the levels of deception put out by our leaders and media. Former ambassadors Craig Murray (UK) and Roland Dumas (France) spring to mind, as do Reagan appointees Stephen Cohen and Paul Craig Roberts, and ex CIA chief Philip Giraldi.

      In this context the board of Veterans Today is impressive – these are neither hotheads nor dyed in the wool conspiracists. I take seriously therefore the claim, in the piece you cite, that:

      The Syrian Arab Army with the help of Russia captured a shipment of chemical weapons destined for the Eastern Ghouta. These were British weapons produced at Porton Down in Salisbury. Russia suspects that the Skripal incident is related as by their records, Skiripal was working at Porton Down as a chemical weapons trafficker in partnership with a Ukrainian firm. Russia denies attacking Skripal but admits he was under surveillance for his activities involving support of terrorism in Syria and arms trafficking.

      Russia also confirms that there are British, American, Israeli and Saudi intelligence officers who were caught by the Syrian army in one of the heavily fortified operations rooms during the invasion of the Syrian army and its allies of the East Ghouta.

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