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Commenting on Phyllis Bennis’ Awful Article on Syria

by Stanley Heller

I was enraged after seeing Phyllis Bennis’ article on Common Dreams.  Here are some of her paragraphs and my comments in boldface.  Her piece is called “Trump, Syria, and Chemical Weapons: What We Know, What We Don’t, and the Dangers Ahead”.  She begins:

Let’s start with what we don’t know. Experts remain uncertain what chemical(s) were involved in the horrific chemical attack, almost certainly from the air, on the village of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province in Syria.  The nerve agent sarin, chlorine, and unknown combinations of chemicals have all been identified as possible, but in the first 48 hours nothing has been confirmed. We don’t know for sure yet what it was that killed more than 75 people, many of them children, and injured many more.

No, don’t start here.  How about a bit of outrage for the children we see frozen in a chemical death or the father who lost his twins and 20 members of his extended family?  A little rage is becoming, not an immediate and unseemly rush to a cold-blooded analysis.

Crucially, we also don’t know who was responsible. Western governments, led by the United States, and much of the western press have asserted that the Syrian regime is responsible,

Western governments?  What about Syrians?  What about the Syrians who saw the bombs drop and saw the first responders fall the ground and told the Guardian reporter Kareem Saheen who was the first journalist on the scene.   Why not listen to Syrians?  Why is everything reduced to this geopolitical “he said, she said”?

but there is still no clear evidence. Certainly Damascus has an air force, has been known to use chemical, particularly chlorine, weapons in 2014 and 2015. So that’s certainly possible.

“A US military escalation against Syria (because we must not forget that US Special Forces and US bombers are already fighting there) will not help the victims of this heinous chemical attack, it will not bring the devastating war in Syria to a quicker end, it will not bring back the dead children.”

The Syrian military denies using chemical weapons.  Their international backer, Russia, claims that the Syrian military did drop bombs in the affected area but that the chemical effect was not in the bombs dropped but rather from the explosion of an alleged chemical warehouse under the control of unnamed rebel forces.

So they denied it and Russia had a story prepared about a warehouse filled with chemicals hit by Assad bombs.  So what?  No reporter on the ground has found a warehouse filled with fumes and leaking boxes and beakers.  Here the very careful Eliot Higgins examines the evidence like craters in the street where the bombs hit, in the street not some mythical Islamic chemical weapons factory

The same report by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that found Syrian government responsibility for chlorine attacks also found that ISIS had used another chemical weapon, mustard gas, and investigated at least three other chemical weapons attacks whose perpetrators could not be identified.  So that could be possible as well.

This is just misdirection.  So ISIS used mustard gas.  Does ISIS have an air force?

For a variety of reasons, some of these possibilities don’t hold up so well if the chemical used this week was the sarin nerve agent — but we don’t know yet what it was.

There are some other, perhaps even more important things, that we do know. We know that in 2013, at the time of an earlier, even more deadly chemical weapon attack, similar accusations against the Syrian regime were widely made, assumed to be true, and used as the basis for calls for direct US military intervention in the civil war.  And we know those accusations were never proved, and that it remains uncertain even now, almost four years later, who was actually responsible.

“The accusations were never proved”, she says.  Of course they were.  A full U.N. report on the chemical attack was published on September 16, 2013 and laid out the details.  It’s unmistakable after reading it who carried out the attacks.  Sure there are critics.  Mother Agnes said nobody had been killed and it was all an act.  Seymour Hersh laid out his dobuts, but these were completely refuted.  What amounts to “proof” anyway?  Does every single person have to agree that something took place?  There’s 911 Truthers still talking about “inside jobs” and books still written about the “real” facts on the Kennedy assassination.

Let’s talk about the theories that Ghouta was an “inside job”, that al-Qaeda or unknown Syrians killed hundreds of their own children just so they could get Obama to intervene.  So they had sarin, right?  Why didn’t they ever use them against Assad forces?   And what makes you so sure al-Qaeda types wanted intervention?  Yasser Munif told me that the fundamentalists feared any intervention by the U.S. would be much more directed against them than Assad.  They spread the word that calls for Western intervention would be punished by beheading.

And we know that the bombing of Syria in 2013 was averted, despite President Obama’s “red line” being crossed, because an enormous US and global campaign against such a disastrous escalation made it politically too costly to launch a new US war.  This was a president willing but not eager, or driven, to go to war. When Obama turned decision-making over to Congress, hundreds of thousands of people across the United States called and wrote and emailed their representatives, urging them to prevent a new war. In some offices calls were running six or seven hundred to one against a new bombing campaign.

This is true, but the Left then failed. We didn’t come up with an alternative way of supporting Syrians.  At best it was endless calls for “diplomacy”, talk talk talk.  We didn’t effectively demand acts of solidarity.

And we know that President Obama turned it over to Congress in the first place because the British parliament, facing massive public opposition, made clear that the UK would not join its US ally in going to war against Syria. And eventually, when Congressional opposition became undeniable, Russia provided the US with a way out, arranging for international collection and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Chlorine was not included, and it is certainly possible that Syria didn’t declare all of its weapons, or perhaps the precursor chemicals to make them, and but that claim was never proven. Ultimately, though, a US attack was averted.

and Bennis’ articles goes on saying a U.S. military attack will make things worse.

 Postscript April 6

As I finish this piece the news arrives that Trump is sending cruise missiles into a base where he said Assad housed the planes.  After a moment of emotional satisfaction I come back to ground.  Who appointed Trump dictator?  Last week he was ready to work with Assad.  This week he’s appalled by the pictures of the dead Syrian kids and he starts bombing. What will he do next week?  He continues the shredding of the Constitution that Bush and Obama started.

No to Trump’s bombings.  No to endless talking while Assad murders.  The Left needs an alternative program. First and foremost should be ending the sieges, airdrops of food and supplies to all besieged area. Second, open the doors in the U.S. to Syrian refugees, to hundreds of thousands of people, Third, double U.S. donations to the White Helmets, Fourth, flight data for Assad/Russia planes be publicly released so individual war criminals can be identified, Fifth, popular war crimes tribunals should be established (like Russell tribunals) since officials ones are paralyzed. What else?

One comment

  1. Excellent commentary! Please read my analysis of the Left’s Myopia on the Syrian War at http://www.milestonesjournal.net ,

    Rich Wood
    Port Townsend, WA

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