April 11, 2017

Once again, let's slow-walk Syria

In my blogging about the 2013 chemical attacks in Syria, the ones that allegedly crossed President Obama's red line, only for him to do nothing, I at first signed off on the UN report, proclaimed loudly by American mainstream media, that Assad — or at least, Assad's military — were pretty red-handedly guilty.

Well, not so fast.

By spring of 2014, Sy Hersh was pretty much demolishing that claim, as well as exposing the whole geopolitical and military background behind it. (In the current geopolitical climate, it's worth noting that someone from Russian intelligence gave British intelligence the chemical samples that led the Brits to tell Obama — "Assad did NOT do it.")

Also claiming "Assad did NOT do it"? The country's most interesting sub-5-foot politician, Denny the Dwarf, also known as Dennis Kucinich.

Denny has one other good point — there's a difference between Assad having chemical weapons, and Assad using them, whether sarin, or the relatively mild raw chlorine gas. (ISIS, by the way, has been accused of using mustard gas, scourge of WWI battlefields.)

And, even before the end of 2013, the Old Gray Lady had backed off its initial claims based on vector analysis of the rockets' paths, mainly because they had too short of a range to be traced back to Syrian army units. On the other hand, at least one could be traced, on the same vector, to a rebel unit that was within range to have used them. (And, the cheapness of the rocket warhead also is an indirect argument against Syrian military firing.

Robert Parry, a recognized former investigative reporter for the AP, has further analysis of both the NYT and Hersh pieces.

His conclusion? Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan was behind whichever group of rebels — and he believes it was rebels — who launched the 2013 attack.

Also claiming Assad did NOT do it? Erm, the UN itself over an earlier 2013 strike.

As for the current airstrike, it seems ever more clear that this was the Syrian Air Force attacking a rebel ground site that had the sarin. (Ted Postol, a weapons expert in academia is now claiming another option — that this was a false flag by rebels. That, I doubt. First, I'm not an explosives expert, but I think it would be hard to tell, under current Syrian situation, the difference between a deliberately set explosion in the ground, on the one hand, or an impact explosion by a bomblet or a rocket, on the other. Second, I'm not a conspiracy theorist in general. I know Theodore Postol was among those who refuted "Assad did it" in 2013. But, there's a more conventional refutation of "Assad did it" for this attack already out there. And all Postol says is "more likely," in contrasting this to the MSM option of aerial Syrian gas attack; he doesn't even consider the option of Syrian rockets hitting buried sarin. On the other hand, the UN backed up his earlier claims about Eastern Ghouta.)

That said, there's other contra-indications to "Assad did it."

Some people note the alleged difficulty of producing or storing sarin. I counter with Aum Shinrikyo and the Toyko subway attack. And, no, contra the "Assad did it" crowd, sarin, if in a relatively crude state, is not that hard to produce. (This ignores the possibility of government-produced sarin stolen by one group of rebels or another.)

Some talk about the claims of the White Helmets about what they've allegedly seen Assad done, and how they're apolitical. First, most White Helmets claims have not been verified. Second, they're not apolitical.

Next: torture and extra-judicial murder have all been documented by most players in the war. Use of chemical weapons has been alleged of most. Don't let neocons or liberal warhawks claim any of this is unique to Assad. Don't let them claim that pointing this out makes you an Assad defender.

Finally, if they truly believe in regime change, ask them what they think the reasonable price is in "boots on the ground" — not reasonable for US public support first and foremost, but reasonable for getting the job done, not just to replace Assad, but replace him with someone better.

The strawmanning from the mix of neocons and liberal hawks has gotten bad enough that I created a new blog post about it.

Make to the main thread.

If Parry et al are right on 2013, given Erdogan's own lurch toward authoritarianism having increased over the last four years, this makes Syria dangerous indeed. Yes, Erdogan has cuddled up more to Vladimir Putin's Russia in the past four years. At the same time, while not a full-blown Islamic fundamentalist, he has certainly exploited Islamic fundamentalism for his own political ends, and his personal inclinations surely tilt that way to some degree. In other words, Putin is feathering his bed with an asp.

That said, in Erdogan's case, cui bono? I don't have an immediate answer, and any potential angle may be at least as tangled as Syrian ethnic and religious political issues. In general, though, if he can limit the flow of refugees to his country, he can shake down the EU for more financial support, keep Syria destabilized enough to be weak, shake down the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf for money to do that, and cozy up with Putin enough by offering him help against more extremist Islamicist movements inside Russia.

And, that is 11-dimensional chess indeed.

(That said, this all sets aside who was behind the production of the chemicals that Assad's air force bombed in the recent issue. It also sets aside whether or not Assad, or Russia, or other players knew these rebels, whomever their backers are, knew that they had sarin, etc. That, in turn, makes Syria even more dangerous.)

For more on this issue, not only on how Erdogan stands to benefit, but on how Bashar al-Assad and Syria 2017 are similar to Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2013, pre-Bush invasion, read below the fold.

Meanwhile, Europe appears not to fully agree with us. The G7 refused to sanction Russia over this.

And, Europeans on the ground in Syria, like this Flemish priest, go so far as to claim the whole "Syrian civil war" is as much a construct — of the US and the Sunni Gulf monarchies — as it is reality. He's written about that particular aspect before. (That said, vis-a-vis Trump, the good father appears to have spoken two months too soon.)

Such claims may be overstated. Or may not be. Look at Christians in Iraq before and after Saddam Hussein.

And, that's probably a good comparison in general. Both are authoritarian presidents-for-life trying to lead religiously and ethnically (for the Middle East) diverse nations. The pie chart at left, from Wiki's article on Religion in Syria, is illustrative.

And, with that in mind, I don't totally believe the good father, or other Syrian Christians, that Assad is universally beloved. I don't believe he's universally beloved by Syrian Christians. After all, they've emigrated from the country at a far more rapid rate than Syrian Muslims. (Syria was 25 percent Christian in 1920; it's 12 percent today, through a mix of higher emigration rates and lower birth rates than Muslims.)

Syria is theoretically a secular state, with the exception of a requirement the president be Muslim, and also theoretically has freedom of religion. Bashar and his father probably honor both about as much as Saddam Hussein in the past.

Syria does allow foreign missionaries of various Christian backgrounds. They generally operate quietly. Native Syrian Christians do not generally proselytize Muslims. Conversions are not prohibited by law, though.

That alone makes Syria more secular than Turkey, arguably.


So, why wouldn't anybody call out Erdogan?

Well, for the US, he's doing the bidding of the Gulf monarchies just as we are in Yemen.  The Obama Administration had bought into the idea of a "moderate" opposition among the rebels, or a "secular" opposition, and though it wasn't playing that tape as much by the end of Dear Leader's presidency, it never explicitly disavowed it.

"Hey, US? Remember that Incirlik air base, that I locked down and away from you after last summer's coup? You can't use it as part of bombing Yemen. (Oh, and I've already told this to Riyadh.)"

He's also the leader of a fellow NATO member country, which largely silences other NATO members.

In other words, in his voice:

"Hey, NATO members? Remember that Incirlik air base, that I locked down and away from the US after last summer's coup? You can't use it."

For EU members, whether also NATO members or not, most likely, they fear a flood of new refugees if they don't appease Erdogan. Given that Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel has been on tenterhooks with Erdogan in the past, and she remains on tenterhooks with a large swath of her own people over refugees, the issue is certainly acute there.

In other words, in his voice:

"Hey, EU members? Have 500,000 new refugees, courtesy of Erdogan!"

Assad is just focused on winning a civil war. He's not a puppet of Putin, but, given that Putin's invited Erdogan into his own bed, there's only so mush Assad can say before Moscow starts pulling strings.

And, there you are.

Erdogan's ham-handedness in the Turkish diaspora in Western Europe leading up to a Turkish referendum that would all but make him president for life is an added concern.

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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