April 21, 2017

Facts, allegations and strawmen on Syria

Bashar al-Assad
As the dispute continues over who was behind a sarin attack earlier this month, what form that attack took and more, and as I've gotten more involved with some question-answering on Quora, all three of the items in the header are coming into play.

There's three — and only three — incontrovertible facts related to this issue at the most macro level, although surely there's many lower-level facts we could state. Those three biggies are:

1. Syria is in a civil war;
2. One or more parties in that war have used sarin on one or more occasion.
3. Identifying a "signature" for a particular sample of sarin in order to trace its origin is pretty damned hard.

With that, let's get to those allegations and strawmen.

Allegations, or assertions?
1. That Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been behind all sarin attacks.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Reality on this? Obama's "red line" attack of 2013 was very likely done by rebels, rebels backed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It took a couple of weeks for this to start being questioned, a couple of months for good evidence, and deduction from it, to weigh against the "Assad did it" line, and several months for that all to be pieced together to point a fairly solid finger toward somebody else. See this recent post of mine for details. See also the link at Fact No. 3.

Strawman
1. Claiming that it's likely Erdogan did it is the same as "he did it," on the 2013 incident. I've tried to be careful on that, although I have occasionally slipped, I'm sure.

Allegation or assertion
2. That on the attack earlier this month, "this time," "we" (whoever "we" is) have the goods on Assad.

Strawmen?
2. Claiming that offering multiple different possible objections to that is weaker than offering one objection. (It's not; try learning modern logic.) Claiming that "we" have the goods on Assad when that was exactly what was what was claimed after that 2013 Ghouta attack, per my blog post linked above. Or, per Atlantic, the UN itself backtracking after a May 2013 attack.

Assertion or allegation
3. Claiming that raising objections to "Assad did it" is defending Assad.

Actually, of course, that is ...

Strawman
4. Claiming that raising objections to "Assad did it" is defending Assad.

Assertion or allegation
4. Claiming that attacking those raised objections to "Assad did it" is not acting as defense for all the various rebel units.

Actually, of course, that is ...

Strawman
4. Claiming that attacking those raised objections to "Assad did it" is not acting as defense for all the various rebel units.

Assertion or allegation
5. Assad has used chlorine, barrel bombs, torture, and more as well as sarin.

Strawman?
5. The unspoken (and highly untrue) idea that ONLY Assad has done all this.*

Assertion or allegation
6. It's sarin, so it had to have been Assad.

Strawman
6. Independent actors can't make sarin. In reality, also per SciAm, like the issue on the difficulty of tracing a sarin signature, it's not that hard.

Assertion or allegation
7. The rebels have managed to take control of the majority of Syria and inflict major losses on Assad's force while causing minimal civilian casualties.

Strawman
7. This is of course a strawman to booster the "purity" of at least some rebels in the hopes that this will pass ill-informed Americans' smell test. Mondoweiss crushes it. Via Mondoweiss, N+1 has more detail on how there have been mistakes galore, starting with Assad but about equally by the fractious oppositions, that have led to today's point.

Assertion or allegation
8. That one can talk about how bad Assad is while ignoring the issue of, "if he's that bad, then don't we need to take him out"?

Strawmen
8. Such questions and issues don't exist in vacuums — despite at least one person on Quora trying to pretend they do.
8A. Presumes Assad is the worst option to rule Syria that's currently out there and reasonably attainable.

Assertion or allegation
9. That, on the issue of "cui bono," Assad benefits from launching such attacks more than anybody else.

Strawman
9. Making that claim without analyzing other actors, as I did with Erdogan.

Assertion or allegation
10. That you have to have followed the Syrian Civil War 24/7 for six years.

Strawman
10. That if you haven't, you're an uninformed idiot, who needs to defer to smug, asserted national-security establishment defenders.

Assertion or allegation
11. (Tacit, from No. 8) Really, air strikes can take him out, just like Libya.

Strawman
11. The idea that this will work; the idea that this will put someone better in his place. (See "Libya" and "slave markets therein.")

Assertion or allegation
12. (Tacit, from No. 8) That, if we do take him out, we'll have somebody better lined up, and this will be easy. Also tacit from No. 8 — that "we" have learned from Libya or Iraq.

Strawman
12. The idea that President Donald Trump and his national security establishment could do anything that sane.

The real issue here?

Are neocons, on one side of the coin, and liberal hawk interventionists, on the other side of the same warhawk coin, hoping they can manipulate a mercurial President Trump into a greater degree of intervention?

Survey says yes.

Anyway, when presented with these strawmen, whether tacit or spoken, demand that the hawks put up or shut up on what they actually want to do with Assad and how.

* This also ignores that if barrel bombs are terror weapons, then Israel and the US (shock me) are the first terrorist nations to use them. (That said, I have no good evidence that Syria's army wasn't first on this.)

==

Update, July 2: We have even more reason to slow-walk Syria after Trump's lies about Khan Sheikhoun, as reported by Sy Hersh.


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