Syria: what we know and what we don’t

2 May

“Ba’athism promotes a unified Arab state through the leadership of a vanguard party over a revolutionary government and the creation of one-party states, and rejects political pluralism …  it is a secular ideology that supports socialist economics to a varying degree, and public ownership over the heights of the economy … Ba’athists believe socialism is the only way to develop an Arab society which is truly free and united.” wiki entry

Washington has told the world of its cast iron certainty that Syrian forces used sarin at Idlib. Well it would, wouldn’t it? It was never going to say it fired fifty-nine Tomahawks at Homs because Assad’s eyes are too close together. Still less that, Russia be damned, its plans – which predate Daraa 2011 – to rid the region of its sole surviving Ba’athist government far outweigh niceties of guilt and innocence, truth and fabrication. Ignoring the elected status of that government and referring to it unwaveringly as a regime  is one small but telling detail, in a narrative driven by claims repeated till they acquire the status of truths only the deluded contest, by which consent is manufactured in the west for its wars on the middle east and beyond.

Speaking of the west, Washington ‘certainty’ is dutifully echoed in London, Paris and other regimes committed to war, cold for now, on Russia – and continuing control by proxy, by destabilisation and/or by Balkanisation of the middle east. That our rulers can still get away with this after all that’s happened since 2003 is eloquent testament to our credulity and the carte blanche we give them overseas.

‘I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.’ Leonard Cohen

This gushing piece by Elle Hunt, every word echoing the PR-speak of America’s $10 trn for-profit arms sector, speaks volumes on independence lost. Yet again Washington, to cheers in London, shows utter contempt for international law. Yet again the Guardian forgets the duty implied in its name: holding the powerful to account. Worse, it plays to a leitmotif of orientalist demonising: Good Guys with ‘surgically’ precise weaponry versus Bad Guys and their indiscriminate butchery.

* * *

Hence to the dismaying ease with which a state displeasing Wall Street (metonym for western capital) can be so vilified that many on the left – with Monbiot of the 99% certainty a case in point – fail in that most elementary of internationalist duties: defending such a state from the aggression of their own imperialisms.

But let’s set aside claims of certainty; whether of the one hundred or merely ninety-nine percent kind. They have no objective value and can be likened to the way religious believers ‘know’ God exists. What is being voiced is not knowledge in any epistemological or jurisprudential sense of the word. Rather, what is being voiced – in good faith or bad, or likely as not that self-serving blend of the two our species excels at – is a belief.  How can I say this with such confidence of my own? Because it’s a fundamental of justice that we presume innocence until guilt is proved, and guilt has not been proved. Worse yet, the accuser in chief has at best done nothing to initiate and at worst actively blocked impartial investigation of the claims against Damascus.

The entire US operation in Iraq and Syria is not being investigated properly. How can you liberate people from oppression when you are killing them by the thousands? But every request for an investigation, including the event in Idlib, is being completely ignored by a UN that is cowed by US pressure. Daniel McAdams, Executive Director, Ron Paul Institute

In fact the starkest certainty about Idlib is that we can’t know who released sarin on April 4. You don’t know. I don’t. George doesn’t. My strong sense is it wasn’t Assad. If I overstated this in a recent post putting the odds at a modest three million to one, I trust sensible readers to detect a modicum of tongue-in. Let me put it more safely: (a) we don’t know Damascus used sarin at Idlib (or Ghouta, 2013); (b) we don’t know it did not; (c) despite The Guardian’s putative motive (offered, with unsubstantiated claims of faltering progress by the Syrian Army, as an inset to a piece on the French ‘evidence’) it is more likely, on grounds of motive and risk of embarrassing Moscow, that it did not.

So what do  we know? Quite a lot, actually. These things for instance:

  1. Led by Washington, western governments play up or fabricate factors supportive of, and disregard those counter to, the demonising of Assad. This prepares us for unlawful aggression in the name of humanitarianism, following the pattern laid down in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya of stable if repressive governance replaced by terror; prosperity and welfare by chaos and poverty.
  2. The west has strong material  motives, discussed elsewhere, for overthrowing Ba’athism in Syria. In sum they include: privatisation, securing its preferred oil pipeline, locking out Russia and China, preserving and expanding Zionism as regional policeman for the west.
  3. Syria – like Ukraine, Korea and South China Sea – is a potential flashpoint for thermonuclear confrontation.
  4. Western mainstream media (owned by big money or, like the Guardian and BBC, subject indirectly to market forces) have done little to raise awareness of, and a great deal to divert our attention from, point 2. Moreover, as any content analysis of those media will show, they have consistently, Guardian hardly less than Mail, eschewed impartiality – not to say jurisprudence – in favour of backing “our side”. Taken with point 3 it all adds up – yes, I’m moving here from fact to opinion! – to a damning indictment of those media.
  5. No credible ‘third way’ has ever been put forward as capable of replacing Syria’s elected government without plunging that multi-faith country into sectarian violence on a scale even greater than that already inflicted by the overseas funded ‘moderate Islamists’.

In a future post I’ll focus on univeralism, a principle invoked by two broad left figures, George Monbiot and Owen Jones, to justify positions which, while not overtly endorsing imperialist narratives on demonised states, have the doubtless unintended effect of aiding and abetting them.




8 Replies to “Syria: what we know and what we don’t

  1. Good piece. And btw I did read a suggestion somewhere in the fb floods of ‘info’, that those missiles didn’t do the business, many didn’t even hit the airfield. And that jets were flying in and out next day, as usual.

    • I heard that too Mike. I considered including it but (a) didn’t want to distract from the main thrust and (b) wanted to stick with what we know – including knowledge of what we don’t know. (Far be it from me to defend Dick Cheney but his widely ridiculed words on “known knowns” made perfect sense.)

      That said, the ‘beauty of our weapons’ is an important sub-text of the imperialist narrative, hence my sidebar on Elle Hunt’s Guardian piece.

  2. Mike,

    An interesting piece on the failure of most of those missiles can be found here:

    Notwithstanding Phil’s point about the certainty or otherwise of a sarin nerve gas attack it seems reasonable to begin with the question was there an actual ‘attack’ in the common understanding of the word in the terms portrayed?

    Leaving aside the issue that within hours of whatever event took place every usual suspect throughout the West from corporate whore politicians to the fifth column media were pronouncing with absolute certainty a version of events with no effort to investigate and therefore no empirical evidence that could stand scrutiny let’s just consider one fact.

    One fact which can be claimed with certainty about the evidence presented right at the start to sell this narrative version of an event is that it is likely to represent the best available evidence. Point being that this was the evidence which justified the conclusion with no investigation of the veracity of the claims. It is hardly credible that anyone should attempt to sell such a conclusion with the worst evidence available.

    A number of sources, including offguardian, have run pieces by experienced intelligence experts casting credible and serious doubt on some of the evidence used to arrive at this conclusion. One example being the photographic ‘evidence’ of ordnance supposedly dropped from the sky which experts have dismissed, arguing that the scientific evidence from the photograph shows the opposite of an air based attack.

    One of the other key pieces of ‘evidence’ shows White Helmets supposedly helping victims of this attack in situ – ie in the nerve gas hot zone. There is no number big enough to illustrate how incongruent with reality this supposed evidence of a sarin gas attack and it’s aftermath actually is.

    Having served in the forces and therefore undertaken not only training and instruction in NBC protocols but also having been a test subject at Porton Down one inescapable fact presents itself. That so called evidence is nothing of the sort. There is no way on ( diety of choice)’s green earth that evidence was shot in a nerve gas hot zone. If it was every single White Helmet would be dead. Not only were they supposedly handling bodies and the clothing of victims from an alleged nerve gas ‘attack’ inside the hot zone without a proper gas mask and no gloves they were also without a full NBC suit. You could see exposed skin around the neck and face, exposed hair, and no shoe/boot protection.

    This is a requirement of the protocols for working in such conditions not only in hot zone but also in decontamination and hospital zones outside the Hot Zone when dealing with nerve gas victims/bodies – because with nerve gas you have seven seconds. Then you are dead. Period.

    Consequently, whatever happened may or may not have involved sarin nerve gas, whether neat or degraded to a degree. What it certainly did not involve was an attack from the air using workable non degraded sarin nerve gas. That fact is on a par with the sun will rise again tomorrow morning.

    • Thanks for the ex squaddie input, Dave. Much food for thought. On a tangential note, and granting there are bigger considerations here, I can’t help wondering whether George Clooney will want to go ahead with his film glorifying the White Helmets.

  3. One thing I did forget on the general rather than the specific level is today’s Daily Mirror has a headline to the effect that May is planning a snap vote on bombing Syria.

    Normally under these circumstances, Parliament having already been dissolved yesterday, it would seem reasonable to put this down to yet another piece of fact free bullshit from what passes for the news media these days. However, given that May, those around her and the unthinking brain dead drones acting as cheerleaders (and not just from within the Tory Party), are clearly not even from this dimension never mind this galaxy, it is not inconceivable that the ‘vote’ referred to in this headline, even though it alludes to Parliament, could well be the Executive.

    Which, should it be the case, puts those so called Labour MP’s and candidates standing under the objective not of a Labour Government but of holding the Tory Government to account (do they think they are involved in a by election one wonders?) in a somewhat difficult position. You cannot hold a Government to account when the Executive is he’ll bent on by passing Parliament.

    Strange times.

    • Strange times. I particularly like “not even from this dimension never mind this galaxy …”

    • Thanks Liam. The media – very much including Beeb, Graun and Indi – constantly beef up fact-lite but influential Syria coverage with claims from such as White Helmets. Once or twice could be attributed to lazy journalism but that excuse no longer flies. Given the extensive and evidenced criticisms of these people (and different but equally evidenced criticisms of Syrian Observatory on Human Rights) it’s hard not to draw darker conclusions. I don’t call those writers and editors outright liars; there’s really no need to assume that. Ego, self serving bias and careerism suffice.

      I note for example that George Monbiot’s now infamous Disavowal cites as evidence of Assad’s guilt this piece by Guardian colleague, Kareem Shaheen. Monbiot uses it to back his claim that ‘the survivors of the chemical weapons attack are among the key witnesses to the fact that the weapons were delivered by air – it is their testimony as well as that of investigators that is being dismissed’. To the unwary the piece does seem impressive; stacked with eyewitness accounts. Look more closely, however, and you see few named witnesses and no details on how they were selected; leaving open the possibility – given Shaheen’s record of uncritical hostility to Assad, and so much proven disinformation by the terrorists, that they – like the Abdel Hameed al-Yusef of the post you link to – may not be all they seem.

      Speaking of Monbiot, Media Lens have in the last few minutes published an excellent response to his ‘Disavowal’.

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