Cornel West – Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment

The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto

Nancy Pelosi
‘The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The distinctive feature of these bleak times is the lack of institutional capacity on the left – the absence of a political party that swings free of Wall Street and speaks to the dire circumstances of poor and working people. As the first 100 days of the plutocratic and militaristic Trump administration draw to a close, one truth has been crystal clear: the Democratic party lacks the vision, discipline and leadership to guide progressives in these turbulent times.

The neoliberal vision of the Democratic party has run its course. The corporate wing has made it clear that the populist wing has little power or place in its future. The discipline of the party is strong on self-preservation and weak on embracing new voices. And party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.

The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders was but the peak of the iceberg. In the face of a cardboard Republican candidate equipped with pseudo-populist rhetoric and ugly xenophobic plans, the Democratic party put forward a Wall Street-connected and openly militaristic candidate with little charisma.

The crucial issues of a $15 minimum wage and saying no to fracking, no to TPP, no to Israeli occupation and yes to single-payer healthcare were pushed aside by the corporate wing and the populist wing was told to quit whining or take responsibility for the improbable loss.

The monumental collapse of the Democratic party – on the federal, state and local levels – has not yielded any serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts among its leadership. Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party – and even he admits that seeking first-class seats on the Titanic is self-deceptive and self-destructive.

We progressives need new leadership and institutional capacity that provides strong resistance to Trump’s vicious policies, concrete alternatives that matter to ordinary citizens and credible visions that go beyond Wall Street priorities and militaristic policies. And appealing to young people is a good testing ground.

Even as we forge a united front against Trump’s neofascist efforts, we must admit the Democratic party has failed us and we have to move on. Where? To what? When brother Nick Brana, a former Bernie campaign staffer, told me about the emerging progressive populist or social democratic party – the People’s party – that builds on the ruins of a dying Democratic party and creates new constituencies in this moment of transition and liquidation, I said count me in.

And if a class-conscious multi-racial party attuned to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-militaristic issues and grounded in ecological commitments can reconfigure our citizenship, maybe our decaying democracy has a chance. And if brother Bernie Sanders decides to join us – with many others, including sister Jill Stein and activists from Black Lives Matter and brown immigrant groups and Standing Rock freedom fighters and betrayed working people – we may build something for the near future after Trump implodes.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointment

Separating fact from fake news

Danny Katch, author of Socialism…Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, considers how the left can analyze the world in the Trumpian era of “alternative facts.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

ALL GOVERNMENTS lie, as the independent journalist I.F. Stone once said. But not all governments lie as proudly as those led by Donald Trump.

This guy started his presidency issuing an easily disprovable falsehood about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, a typically Trumpish blend of silly and creepy, like a dictator declaring that from this day forward the sky is officially orange (or climate change is a hoax). He lies so often that a whole category of his lies are denials of previous lies.

Corporate-owned media outlets generally obey the unwritten rule that the spokespeople for government sources should be treated as credible–regardless of how many times they’ve been caught lying–but the new president’s obvious disdain for the truth pushed many of them to adopt a more Stone-like stance of skepticism.

But Trump only needed to lob some missiles and bombs in enemy lands to restore the press back to its natural state of blind trust in authority. The Pentagon announced that it dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” in eastern Afghanistan, and there was little mainstream questioning of the government’s claim that this monstrosity with a mile-wide blast radius managed to only kill bad guys.

Clearly the left has to take a different approach, and treat the word of the U.S. government as we would that of any individual with a similarly long history of murder and mendacity.

But if we don’t trust the government–and, by extension, many of the mainstream news reports that simply repeat government talking points–then how do we get our information?

The left doesn’t have the resources to replicate all of the bureaus and investigative reporting of media corporations. Progressive media like Democracy Now! and Truthout (or even your humble correspondents at SocialistWorker.org) can sometimes deliver important scoops, but radicals have no choice but to rely on larger outlets for much of our information.

The defining difference between the left and the corporate media is not that we have different facts–because we often don’t–but that we have different frameworks for interpreting and drawing conclusions from those facts. That’s important to keep in mind at a time when “alternative facts” are becoming a growing problem on the left as well as the right.

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OUR STARTING point at SocialistWorker.org is that, as mentioned, we don’t trust “our” government.

But we should be consistent like I.F. Stone and be suspicious of all governments–especially those like the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which has tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of people and lied about its crimes with a boldness that would make Sean Spicer bow down in admiration.

This is unfortunately not a universal method across the left. Like the closed circuit of right-wing websites passing the same fabrications back and forth about disease-spreading immigrants and “black-on-black crime,” there are a growing number of websites recycling dubious speculations about “false flag” operations in Syria designed to discredit the Assad government.

These conspiracy theories not only suck a few people down the “truther” rabbit hole, but they also create a deliberately muddled atmosphere on the left that can make new activists think they need to read detailed studies of the property of sarin gas just to have an opinion on something that couldn’t be more clear: the Assad government is monstrous.

SocialistWorker.org has drawn that conclusion not because the U.S. government says so, but because millions of Syrians have said so–including those who have been killed, jailed and exiled in the process.

That gets to the next element of our framework for evaluating facts and understanding the world. We may not trust governments, but we listen closely to ordinary people, particularly when they are organized in large-scale protest movements.

Protesters can lie, of course, and protest movements are subject to manipulation, whether by foreign agents or homegrown opportunists. But our starting assumption when hundreds of thousands or millions of people take to the streets is that they are not mere puppets of a foreign power.

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HERE’S THE thing about government lies: They’re usually not very effective–and in reality, they don’t need to be.

When the cops kill another unarmed African American and claim he was charging at all five of them with a pair of scissors, they don’t get away with it because we all believe them–certainly not those of us who live in the neighborhood. They get away with it because cops are allowed to murder unarmed Black people. The lie is just a formality.

Or take the lies that the Bush administration told about Iraq having “weapons of mass destruction,” which some now cite as “precedent” for the U.S. lying about Assad using chemical weapons.

There are two false assumptions that have developed in recent years about the big WMD lie.

The first is that most people were tricked by the lie into supporting the war. In fact, the U.S. population was pretty much split down the middle, and the protests against the Iraq invasion before it happened were some of the largest in U.S. history. Like killer cops, the Bush administration went to war with Iraq not because they were able to fool us, but because they had the power to disregard popular will.

The second myth is that the WMD lie was essential for the war. In fact, it wasn’t necessarily the belief in WMDs that led people to support the invasion, but the other way around. Just as people who want to drill for more oil find a way to not believe in climate change, people who wanted the invasion to happen convinced themselves that Saddam Hussein had his finger on the button of an arsenal of WMDs.

As for our side, while we certainly didn’t believe the Bush’s lies–especially when they were contradicted by the person charged with inspecting Iraq for WMDs–many of us wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Iraq did indeed hide chemical or biological weapons. After all, the U.S. had considered Saddam Hussein an ally until he became an enemy.

Our opposition to the war wasn’t based on believing that Iraq didn’t have WMDs, but on the anti-imperialist understanding that the United States isn’t a force that would protect the world from those weapons.

Similarly today, opposing the U.S. waging war on the Syrian government doesn’t require us to believe the Assad regime didn’t carry out the recent poison gas attack (which it almost certainly did)–any more than protesting the Ferguson police murder of Mike Brown required us to know that Brown hadn’t first robbed cigarillos from a convenience store (which he almost certainly didn’t.)

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THE LEFT that needs to grow into a force that can challenge Donald Trump has to be one that doesn’t create its own alternative facts to fit into our alternative politics. On the contrary, we have to do our best to gather and interpret new information from all available sources in order to keep up our understanding of a constantly changing world.

This dynamism is another element of our political framework, and it’s admittedly more complicated than simply trusting what the leaders of protest movements say more than governments. Assessing the changes in inter-imperial rivalries and the competing political tendencies inside opposition movements is not an exact science, and it requires a willingness to debate and change one’s mind.

But there’s a basic outline for understanding the U.S. role in the Middle East that’s clear. For years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. goal was regime change to install puppet governments across the region. Those plans were laid to waste, first by the failed occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and then by the 2011 Arab Spring rebellions, which turned “regime change” into a revolutionary demand that the U.S. government instinctively opposed.

That’s why the Obama administration was very cautious about backing rebels in Syria even as Assad turned the country into a killing field that sprouted both ISIS and a mass exodus of refugees to the surrounding region and some to Europe. And it’s why Trump came into office talking even more openly about working with and not against the Syrian regime.

Yes, the U.S. government has lied to go to war, and it will undoubtedly do so in the future. But we can assume that it isn’t lying about Assad’s sarin attack, not because Trump of all people is a trustworthy president, but because he didn’t want to go to war against Syria.

(Of course, reports like this New York Times article make it unclear if the Trump administration is even competent enough to know whether or not it’s lying.)

Fifteen years ago, the 9/11 conspiracy cult did damage, not good, to the antiwar cause, and more than a few decent leftists were sucked into the abyss of all-night Internet sleuthing and “you must be in on it, too” paranoia.

Their problem wasn’t that they were wrong that the U.S. government was probably hiding details about 9/11–like the involvement of Saudi Arabia. The problem was the illusion that if only they could uncover the “truth” and bring the conspiracy to light, we could get back to the normal decency of American capitalism and empire.

Today, it’s critical that the left exposes Trump’s lies, rather than counter them with our own. Otherwise, instead of winning millions of new people to our side, we’ll just add to the general cynicism that you can’t trust anything you read anywhere.

http://socialistworker.org/2017/04/20/separating-fact-from-fake-news

What Happened to Russiagate?

Posted on Apr 18, 2017

By Robert Parry / Consortiumnews

Democrats, liberals and some progressives might be feeling a little perplexed over what has happened to Russiagate, the story that pounded Donald Trump every day since his election last November—until April 4, that is.

On April 4, Trump fully capitulated to the neoconservative bash-Russia narrative amid dubious claims about a chemical attack in Syria. On April 6, Trump fired off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase; he also restored the neocon demand for “regime change” in Syria; and he alleged that Russia was possibly complicit in the supposed chemical attack.

Since Trump took those actions—in accordance with the neocon desires for more “regime change” in the Middle East and a costly New Cold War with Russia—Russiagate has almost vanished from the news.

I did find a little story in the lower right-hand corner of page A12 of Saturday’s New York Times about a still-eager Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley of Illinois, who spent a couple of days in Cyprus which attracted his interest because it is a known site for Russian money-laundering, but he seemed to leave more baffled than when he arrived.

“The more I learn, the more complex, layered and textured I see the Russia issue is—and that reinforces the need for professional full-time investigators,” Quigley said, suggesting that the investigation’s failure to strike oil is not that the holes are dry but that he needs better drill bits.Yet, given all the hype and hullabaloo over Russiagate, the folks who were led to believe that the vague and amorphous allegations were “bigger than Watergate” might now be feeling a little used. It appears they may have been sucked into a conspiracy frenzy in which the Establishment exploited their enthusiasm over the “scandal” in a clever maneuver to bludgeon an out-of-step new President back into line.

If that’s indeed the case, perhaps the most significant success of the Russiagate ploy was the ouster of Trump’s original National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was seen as a key proponent of a New Détente with Russia, and his replacement by General H.R. McMaster, a protégé of neocon favorite, retired Gen. David Petraeus.

McMaster was viewed as the key player in arranging the April 6 missile strike on Syria and in preparing a questionable “intelligence assessment” on April 11 to justify the rush to judgment. Although McMaster’s four-page white paper has been accepted as gospel by the mainstream U.S. news media, its many weaknesses have been noted by actual experts, such as MIT national security and technology professor Theodore Postol.

How Washington Works

But the way Official Washington works is that Trump was made to look weak when he argued for a more cooperative and peaceful relationship with Russia. Hillary Clinton dubbed him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” and “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Trump as in thrall to a bare-chested Putin. More significantly, front-page stories every morning and cable news segments every night created the impression of a compromised U.S. President in Putin’s pocket.

Conversely, Trump was made to look strong when he fired off missiles against a Syrian airbase and talked tough about Russian guilt. Neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer praised Trump’s shift as demonstrating that “America is back.”

Trump further enhanced his image for toughness when his military dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” on some caves in Afghanistan. While the number of casualties inflicted by the blast was unclear, Trump benefited from the admiring TV and op-ed commentaries about him finally acting “presidential.”

But the real test of political courage is to go against the grain in a way that may be unpopular in the short term but is in the best interests of the United States and the world community in the longer term.

In that sense, Trump seeking peaceful cooperation with Russia—even amid the intense anti-Russian propaganda of the past several years—required actual courage, while launching missiles and dropping bombs might win praise but actually make the U.S. position in the world weaker.

Trump, however, saw his fledgling presidency crumbling under the daily barrage of Russiagate, even though there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election and there wasn’t even clear evidence that Russia was behind the disclosure of Democratic emails, via WikiLeaks, during the campaign.

Still, the combined assault from the Democrats, the neocons and the mainstream media forced Trump to surrender his campaign goal of achieving a more positive relationship with Russia and greater big-power collaboration in the fight against terrorism.

For Trump, the incessant chatter about Russiagate was like a dripping water torture. The thin-skinned Trump fumed at his staff and twittered messages aimed at changing the narrative, such as accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” Trump Tower. But nothing worked.

However, once Trump waved the white flag by placing his foreign policy under the preferred banner of the neoconservatives, the Russiagate pressure stopped. The op-ed pages suddenly were hailing his “decisiveness.” If you were a neocon, you might say about Russiagate: Mission accomplished!

Russiagate’s Achievements

Besides whipping Trump into becoming a more compliant politician, Russiagate could claim some other notable achievements. For instance, it spared the national Democrats from having to confront their own failures in Campaign 2016 by diverting responsibility for the calamity of Trump’s election.

Instead of Democratic leaders taking responsibility for picking a dreadful candidate, ignoring the nation’s anti-establishment mood, and failing to offer any kind of inspiring message, the national Democrats could palm off the blame on “Russia! Russia! Russia!”

Thus, rather than looking in the mirror and trying to figure out how to correct their deep-seated problems, the national Democrats could instead focus on a quixotic tilting at Trump’s impeachment.

Many on the Left joined in this fantasy because they have been so long without a Movement that the huge post-inaugural “pussy hat” marches were a temptation that they couldn’t resist. Russiagate became the fuel to keep the “Movement” bandwagon rolling. #Resistance!

It didn’t matter that the “scandal”—the belief that Russia somehow conspired with Trump to rig the U.S. presidential election—amounted to a bunch of informational dots that didn’t connect.

Russiagate also taught the American “left” to learn to love McCarthyism since “proof” of guilt pretty much amounted to having had contact with a Russian—and anyone who questioned the dubious factual basis of the “scandal” was dismissed as a “Russian propagandist” or a “Moscow stooge” or a purveyor of “fake news.”

Another Russiagate winner was the mainstream news media which got a lot of mileage—and loads of new subscription money—by pushing the convoluted conspiracy. The New York Times positioned itself as the great protector of “truth” and The Washington Post adopted a melodramatic new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page article touting an anonymous Internet group called PropOrNot that identified some 200 Internet news sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other major sources of independent journalism, as guilty of “Russian propaganda.” Facts weren’t needed; the accused had no chance for rebuttal; the accusers even got to hide in the shadows; the smear was the thing.

The Post and the Times also conflated news outlets that dared to express skepticism toward claims from the U.S. State Department with some entrepreneurial sites that trafficked in intentionally made-up stories or “fake news” to make money.

To the Post and Times, there appeared to be no difference between questioning the official U.S. narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis and knowingly fabricating pretend news articles to get lots of clicks. Behind the smokescreen of Russiagate, the mainstream U.S. news media took the position that there was only one side to a story, what Official Washington chose to believe.

While it’s likely that there will be some revival of Russiagate to avoid the appearance of a completely manufactured scandal, the conspiracy theory’s more significant near-term consequence could be that it has taught Donald Trump a dangerous lesson.

If he finds himself in a tight spot, the way out is to start bombing some “enemy” halfway around the world. The next time, however, the target might not be so willing to turn the other cheek. If, say, Trump launches a preemptive strike against North Korea, the result could be a retaliatory nuclear attack against South Korea or Japan.

Or, if the neocons push ahead with their ultimate “regime change” strategy of staging a “color revolution” in Moscow to overthrow Putin, the outcome might be—not the pliable new leader that the neocons would want—but an unstable Russian nationalist who might see a nuclear attack on the U.S. as the only way to protect the honor of Mother Russia.

For all his faults, Trump did offer a more temperate approach toward U.S.-Russian relations, which also could have tamped down spending for nuclear and other strategic weapons and freed up some of that money for infrastructure and other needs at home. But that was before Russiagate.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, “America’s Stolen Narrative,” either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

How Trump and Obama are Exactly Alike

Not until faithfulness turns to betrayal
And betrayal into trust
Can any human being become part of the truth.

— Rumi

Trump won the 2016 nomination and election largely because he was able to pose as a populist and anti-interventionist “America Firster”.

Similarly, Obama won the 2008 election in good part because he promised “hope and change” and because he had given a speech years earlier against the then-impending invasion of Iraq.

Short of disclosure of diaries or other documents from these politicians, we can’t know for certain if they planned on reversing much of what they promised or if the political establishment compelled them to change, but they both eventually perpetrated a massive fraud.

What is perhaps most striking is actually how quickly each of them backtracked on their alleged purpose. Particular since they were both proclaimed as representing “movements”.

Even before he took office, Obama stacked his administration with pro-war people: He incredibly kept Bush’s head of the Pentagon, Robert Gates; nominated Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, who he beat largely because she voted for giving Bush authorization to invade Iraq. Other prominent Iraq War backers atop the administration included VP Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Richard Holbrooke. Before he was sworn in, Obama backed the 2008 Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. See from 2008: “Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?

Predictably, the Obama years saw a dramatic escalation of the U.S. global assassination program using drones. Obama intentionally bombed more countries than any other president since World War II: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Obama talked about a nuclear weapons free world, but geared up to spent $1 trillion in upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. At the end of his administration, attempts at the UN to work toward banning nuclear weapons were sabotaged, efforts that the Trump administration continues. At his first news conference as president, Helen Thomas asked Obama if he know of any country in the Mideast that had nuclear weapons. Obama passed on the opportunity to start unraveling the mountain of deceits that constitutes U.S. foreign policy by simply saying “Israel” and instead said that he didn’t want to “speculate” about the matter.

As many have noted recently, Trump seemingly reversed himself on Syria and launched a barrage of cruise missiles targeting the Assad regime. It’s part of a whole host of what’s called “flip-flops” — Ex-Im Bank, NATO, China, Russia, Federal Reserve — but which are in fact the unraveling of campaign deceits.

Fundamentally, Obama and Trump ran against the establishment and then helped rebrand it — further entrenching it.

And of course it’s not just foreign policy. Obama brought in pro-Wall Street apparatchiks Tim Geithner and others around Robert Rubin, like Larry Summers. Some were connected to Goldman Sachs, including Rahm Emanuel, Gary Gensler and Elena Kagan and Obama would back the Wall Street bailout. Trump campaigned as a populist and brought in a litany of Goldman Sachs tools, most prominently Steven Mnuchin at Treasury Secretary and Gary Cohn as chief economic advisor.

The nature of their deception is different. Obama is lawyerly and, like jello, hard to pin to the wall. Many of his broken promises are actually violations of the spirit of what he said, not the letter. He can promise to withdraw “all combat troops” from Iraq — but doesn’t inform voters that “combat troops” in his parlance is not the same as “troops”. And most certainly many of his backers were utterly infatuated with him and seemed incapable of parsing out his deceitful misimpressions. Obama did however outright violate some promises, most obviously to close the the gulag at Guantanamo Bay in his first 100 days.

Trump triangulates by being an electron. He can say X and not-X in the span of a minute. Like an electron, he can be in two places at the same time. Trump is just an extreme example of what should be evident: It’s largely meaningless if a politician declares a position, especially during a campaign. The question is: What have they done? How have they demonstrated their commitment to, say, ending perpetual wars or taking on Wall Street?

These people are largely salesmen.

Nor are these patterns totally new. George W. Bush campaigned against “nation building” (sic: nation destroying); Bill Clinton campaigned as the “man from Hope” for the little guy; George H. W. Bush claimed he was a compassionate conservative. All backed corporate power and finance. All waged aggressive war.

In both the cases of Obama and Trump, the “opposition” party put forward a ridiculous critique that pushed them to be more militaristic. Obama as a “secret Muslim” — which gave him more licence to bomb more Muslim countries while still having a ridiculous image of being some sort of pacifist. Much of the “liberal” and “progressive” critique of Trump has been focusing on Russia, in effect pushing Trump to be more militaristic against the other major nuclear state on the planet.

One thing that’s needed is citizens aided by media that adroitly and accessibly pierce through the substantial deceptions in real time.

Another thing that’s needed is that people from what we call the “left” and “right” need to join together and pursue polices that undermine the grip of Wall Street and the war makers. They should not be draw into loving or hating personalities or take satisfaction from principleless partisan barbs.

Only when there’s adherence to real values and when solidarity is acted upon will the cycles of betrayal be broken.

Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

COUNTERPUNCH

A Critique of ‘False and Misleading’ White House Claims About Syria’s Use of Lethal Gas

Posted on Apr 14, 2017

By Theodore A. Postol

A worker in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, shown in an April 5 video frame next to the crater where sarin supposedly was released. A White House Intelligence Report (WHR) asserts that it reviewed commercial video evidence and concluded that sarin came from the crater. Other video frames at the end of the article below show unprotected workers in the crater displaying no signs of sarin poisoning at the same time dead birds are being packaged. (SMART News Agency / YouTube)

Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist in weapons issue. At the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he advised on missile basing, and he later was a scientific consultant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. He is a recipient of the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society and the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he was awarded the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.

This is my third report assessing the White House intelligence Report (WHR) of April 11. My first report was titled “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria,” and my second report was an addendum to the first report.

This report provides unambiguous evidence that the White House Intelligence Report contains false and misleading claims that could not possibly have been accepted in any professional review by impartial intelligence experts. The WHR was produced by the National Security Council under the oversight of national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

The evidence presented herein is from two selected videos that are part of a larger cache of videos that are available on YouTube. These videos were uploaded to YouTube by the SMART News Agency between April 5 and April 7. Analysis of the videos shows that all the scenes taken at the site the WHR claims was the location of a sarin release indicate significant tampering with the site. Since these videos were available roughly one week before the WHR was issued April 11, this indicates that the office of the WHR made no attempt to utilize the professional intelligence community to obtain accurate data in support of the findings in the report.The video evidence shows workers at the site roughly 30 hours after the alleged attack who were wearing clothing with the logo “Idlib Health Directorate.” These individuals were photographed putting dead birds from a birdcage into plastic bags. The implication of these actions was that the birds had died after being placed in the alleged sarin crater. However, the video also shows the same workers inside and around the same crater with no protection of any kind against sarin poisoning.

These individuals were wearing honeycomb facemasks and medical exam gloves. They were otherwise dressed in normal streetwear and had no protective clothing of any kind.

The honeycomb facemasks would provide absolutely no protection against either sarin vapors or sarin aerosols. The masks are only designed to filter small particles from the air. If sarin vapor was present, it would be inhaled without attenuation by these individuals. If sarin was present in an aerosol form, the aerosol would have condensed into the pores in the masks and evaporated into a highly lethal gas as the individuals inhaled through the masks. It is difficult to believe that health workers, if they were health workers, would be so ignorant of these basic facts.

In addition, other people dressed as health workers were standing around the crater without any protection at all.

As noted in my earlier reports, the assumption in the WHR that the site of the alleged sarin release had not been tampered with was totally unjustified, and no competent intelligence analyst would have agreed that this assumption was valid. The implication of this observation is clear—the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence experts unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report.

The WHR also makes claims about “communications intercepts” that supposedly provide high confidence that the Syrian government was the source of the alleged attack. There is no reason to believe that the veracity of this claim is any different from the now-verified-false claim that there was unambiguous evidence of a sarin release at the cited crater.

The relevant quotes [emphasis added] from the WHR are collected below for purposes of reference:

The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.

We have confidence in our assessment because we have signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence, laboratory analysis of physiological samples collected from multiple victims, as well as a significant body of credible open source reporting.

We cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods, but the following includes an unclassified summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s analysis of this attack.

By 12:15 PM [April 4, 2017] local time, broadcasted local videos included images of dead children of varying ages.

… at 1:10 PM [April 4, 2017] local … follow-on videos showing the bombing of a nearby hospital. …

Commercial satellite imagery from April 6 showed impact craters around the hospital that are consistent with open source reports of a conventional attack on the hospital after the chemical attack.

Moscow has since claimed that the release of chemicals was caused by a regime airstrike on a terrorist ammunition depot in the eastern suburbs of Khan Shaykhun.

An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.

Observed munition remnants at the crater and staining around the impact point are consistent with a munition that functioned, but structures nearest to the impact crater did not sustain damage that would be expected from a conventional high-explosive payload. Instead, the damage is more consistent with a chemical munition.

Russia’s allegations fit with a pattern of deflecting blame from the regime and attempting to undermine the credibility of its opponents.

Summary and Conclusions

It is now clear from video evidence that the WHR report was fabricated without input from the professional intelligence community.

The press reported April 4 that a nerve agent attack had occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, during the early morning hours locally on that day. On April 7, the United States carried out a cruise missile attack on Syria ordered by President Trump. It now appears that the president ordered this cruise missile attack without any valid intelligence to support it.

In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to support the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report on April 11, four days later. The individual responsible for this report was Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser. The McMaster report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the U.S. cruise missile attack, which unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR could not possibly be true. This cannot be explained as a simple error.

The National Security Council Intelligence Report clearly refers to evidence that it claims was obtained from commercial and open sources shortly after the alleged nerve agent attack (on April 5 and April 6). If such a collection of commercial evidence was done, it would have surely uncovered the videos contained herein.

This unambiguously indicates a dedicated attempt to manufacture a false claim that intelligence actually supported the president’s decision to attack Syria, and of far more importance, to accuse Russia of being either complicit or a participant in an alleged atrocity.

The attack on the Syrian government threatened to undermine the relationship between Russia and the United States. Cooperation between Russia and the United States is critical to the defeat of Islamic State. In addition, the false accusation that Russia knowingly engaged in an atrocity raises the most serious questions about a willful attempt to do damage to relations with Russia for domestic political purposes.

We repeat here a quote from the WHR:

An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun [emphasis added]. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.

The data provided in these videos make it clear that the WHR made no good-faith attempt to collect data that could have supported its “confident assessment” that the Syrian government executed a sarin attack as indicated by the location and characteristics of the crater.

This very disturbing event is not a unique situation. President George W. Bush argued that he was misinformed about unambiguous evidence that Iraq was hiding a substantial store of weapons of mass destruction. This false intelligence led to a U.S. attack on Iraq that started a process that ultimately led to the political disintegration in the Middle East, which through a series of unpredicted events then led to the rise of the Islamic State.

On Aug. 30, 2013, the White House produced a similarly false report about the nerve agent attack on Aug. 21, 2013, in Damascus. This report also contained numerous intelligence claims that could not be true. An interview with President Barack Obama published in The Atlantic in April 2016 indicates that Obama was initially told that there was solid intelligence that the Syrian government was responsible for the nerve agent attack of Aug. 21, 2013, in Ghouta, Syria. Obama reported that he was later told that the intelligence was not solid by the then-director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Equally serious questions are raised about the abuse of intelligence findings by the incident in 2013. Questions that have not been answered about that incident is how the White House produced a false intelligence report with false claims that could obviously be identified by experts outside the White House and without access to classified information. There also needs to be an explanation of why this 2013 false report was not corrected. Secretary of State John Kerry emphatically testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee repeating information in this so-called unequivocating report.

On Aug. 30, 2013, Kerry made the following statement from the Treaty Room in the State Department:

Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack [emphasis added], and I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves.

It is now obvious that this incident produced by the WHR, while just as serious in terms of the dangers it created for U.S. security, was a clumsy and outright fabrication of a report that was certainly not supported by the intelligence community.

In this case, the president, supported by his staff, made a decision to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. This action was accompanied by serious risks of creating a confrontation with Russia, and also undermining cooperative efforts to win the war against the Islamic State.

I therefore conclude that there needs to be a comprehensive investigation of these events that have either misled people in the White House, or worse yet, been perpetrated by people to protect themselves from domestic political criticisms for uninformed and ill-considered actions.

Here is the video evidence that reveals the White House Intelligence Report issued on April 11 contains demonstrably false claims about a sarin dispersal crater allegedly created in the April 4 attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.

Video 1: Dead Birds

Video 2: Idlib Health Directorate Tampering with Alleged Sarin Dispersal Site

Theodore A. Postol can be reached at postol@mit.edu.

59 Tomahawks and 5,900 years of slaughter: A brief history of Syria

Trump is leading us into another buzz saw war and, once again, we are not prepared to win the fight or the peace

59 Tomahawks and 5,900 years of slaughter: A brief history of Syria

A Kurdish Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of the town of Kobane (Credit: Getty/Yasin Akgul)

 

I visited the killing grounds in December of the third year of the 60th century.

It was back in 2003, and I was staying with the Bastogne Bulldogs, the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division out at Q-West, an Iraqi air force airfield west of Qayyarah, a town of about 15,000 souls sitting on top of a field holding an estimated 800 million barrels of oil along the Tigris River south of Mosul. There is so much oil under Qayyarah, it comes bubbling up out of the ground in the middle of the oil refinery there, so you have to walk on carefully laid out paths in order to not get stuck and it’s bubbling up alongside the roads and it’s bubbling up down by the Tigris River, that’s how much oil there is. But the Qayyarah oil field had nothing to do with the presence of the 5,000 or so heavily armed paratroopers of the 1st Brigade exactly 10 miles west at the airfield. No sir, as we shall see, they were just out there sightseeing, visiting the ruins at Hatra, stuff like that.

One chilly morning as the sun rose over the sands of Nineveh governorate, the brigade commander sent a Spec 4 to my bunk with the news that we would be flying into town for a big meeting of all the sheikhs in the region. The commander of the 101st Airborne Division, (then) Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, already somewhat famous by virtue of his quote in The New York Times asking, “Someone tell me how this ends?” would be chairing the meeting. So a bunch of us piled into a pair of Blackhawk helicopters and flew over to Qayyarah and landed in a field near the town hall and joined a large roomful of sheikhs in various tribal attire.

Up on a low dais, Petraeus and several Iraqi men in suits sat at a table along with a guy who translated Petraeus’ remarks to the gathered sheikhs. The place was packed, standing room only, but a young Iraqi guy made room for me to join him on a bench at the very back of the room. He was grinning ear to ear, and I had no idea why. Nothing funny seemed to be going on. The room, in fact, fairly crackled with tension. Sheikh after sheikh rose to his feet and yelled at the men on the dais, including Petraeus, something to which I had to assume the general was unaccustomed.

It had been advertised as a meeting where the region’s leaders could air their concerns. Petraeus had flown down to Qayyarah from his headquarters in a Saddam summer palace up in east Mosul as part of a listening tour around the region occupied by the 101st. It was an area stretching from just north of Tikrit to the south all the way up to the Turkish border in the north, from the Syrian border in the west, to a line between Irbil and Kirkuk in Kurdistan to the east. Petraeus and his 30,000 soldiers of the 101st occupied a landmass about the size of Connecticut, which was by any sane military measure absolutely ridiculous. New York City has a police force of 34,000 to take care of 304 square miles. The area the 101st was assigned to police was about 5,500 square miles. Absurd, right?

Well, Petraeus had come up with an answer that had more or less worked for the past six months — making up for what he lacked in soldiers by liberally spreading money around, most of which had been glommed up when his troops had blown away Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay and seized millions in cash from the house in Mosul in which they were hiding. But now the money had dried up and the sheikhs were restless. Some guy with a big mustache in a suit was trying his best to calm them, but the sheikhs kept jumping up one after another yelling at the guys on the dais and at one another.

The young Iraqi I was sitting next to kept cracking up, and I asked him what he was laughing at. “These fucking guys — they are all from different tribes and they all hate each other, but they hate the guys up there even more!” he exclaimed, pointing to Petraeus and his officials on the dais. I kept asking him questions, so he started translating for me — and not only translating, but telling me who was who, which sheikh led which tribe, what tribes hated which other tribes, the few that were allies, which sheikhs had been colonels and generals in Saddam’s army, who had been in the now-outlawed Baath party and who hadn’t.

My new friend was giving me a short course in local politics Iraqi-style. It wasn’t merely confusing. It was bewildering, and this was just the Qayyarah region, a tiny slice of greater Iraq. The best part of the whole thing to him was that four of the five guys on the dais with Petraeus, who had been elected to some sort of regional council some months previously, had all been prominent in the outlawed Baath party, and Petraeus didn’t know it. “Baath party guys weren’t supposed to be eligible to be on the regional council,” he told me. “They were banned from politics! But look up there! Four of them were Baath party leaders! The whole place is full of Baath party guys!”

One of the older sheikhs, a gray-haired guy with a long gray beard, stood up and suddenly the rest of them fell silent. “This guy is a big leader,” the young Iraqi whispered. “And he is pissed.” The old sheikh didn’t yell, but you could hear the anger in his words. My friend translated: The Americans had screwed everything up. They banned the Baath party. They disbanded the Iraqi military and fired all of its officers. There was no one in Mosul to run any of the departments in the Nineveh governorate because all of the bureaucrats had been in the Baath party. No one working in the department of power knew anything because the professionals were gone. There was no one competent to run the water system. There was no one in charge of sanitation. The police had all been in the Baath party, and now a bunch of idiots were walking around in police uniforms doing nothing. Traffic was crazy. Crime was everywhere. The courts were broken because the judges and prosecutors had been in the Baath party. Everything had fallen apart.

There were murmurs of assent as he made each of his points. “You know what he’s saying?” asked my new friend. “He is saying, What is wrong with you Americans? You came in here and you beat us and now look what you’re doing! You’re fucking everything up! When you are conquerors, you are supposed to co-opt the power structure, not disband it! He is asking, What’s going on? Are you crazy!”

The answer then was yes, and looking back from the perspective of 14 years, it’s hell yes. We did something very, very crazy when we invaded Iraq. And then we did something even crazier when we didn’t have any idea what to do once we owned the place. The reason these Iraqi sheikhs couldn’t understand what we had done to their country was because they were inheritors of a long, long history of conquering or being conquered and collaborating with the winners until they could drive them out. This had to be the first time that their ancient history had not repeated itself, the first time the conquerors, instead of acting like any sane conqueror was supposed to — kicking ass and taking names and ruling the roost and ordering people to do stuff — were instead spazzing around and making things up on the fly.

The old sheikh was exactly right. The Americans were crazy. Petraeus was standing up there representing a country that had not only lost its way, but lost its mind, and from the looks of him, his mind was going, too. He’s not a big guy. He has a slight frame, and even his custom-made BDUs looked a little big on him, and his head seemed to be sinking down a little further into his collar with each verbal blow. You could see on his face that he couldn’t wait for January, only a month away, when orders would arrive to pick up the whole 101st Airborne Division and get out of the Nineveh governorate and go home. Which is exactly what he and the 101st did.

They took all their Humvees and howitzers and M240 and .50-caliber machine guns and Blackhawks and Apache gunships and they loaded them up and they went back to Kentucky’s Fort Campbell, where they could drive down the road a few miles and find not an oil field but a Burger King, where they could order a Whopper or they could hie themselves over to the O-Club and slap back a double shot of Jack or they could stop off at the local Clarksville Gentleman’s Club and ogle a few pairs of inflatable boobs. Yessir, heaven on earth, and fuck all those sheikhs back there in Qayyarah in their weird head wraps and shower clogs yelling and complaining and shit. We’re out of there.

And now here we go again. Fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles without a military strategy, without a plan for what comes next, without really even knowing who the hell we fired the damn things at.

Wouldn’t it be useful to know who those sheikhs were back in Qayyarah? What makes them tick? Why do they do stuff like chop enemy heads off and gas their own people? You think a little down and dirty history might help? Iraq? Mosul? Nineveh Governorate? Syria? Idlib, the town Bashar al-Assad gassed? Anybody know anything around here? No? Well, pay attention because it’s time you learned what the hell has been going on over there for the last 5,900 years.

First, however, we’re going to travel back to that day in December of 2003 when I visited the big meeting between Petraeus and the sheikhs in Qayyarah because that wasn’t all we did.

Later that day we loaded back into the Blackhawks and flew out to Hatra, in the desert about 30 miles west of Qayyarah. The ruins at Hatra are famous as the site of the archaeological dig shown in the first few moments of that classic horror movie “The Exorcist.” Remember? They’re digging around in these stone ruins and somebody comes up with a little amulet depicting the devil himself, a rendering of the Numero Uno evil one, which becomes important later in the movie. Anyway, Hatra was an ancient city that was probably built sometime in the second or third century B.C. surrounded by a wall about a half mile in diameter that once had temples and holy buildings supported by some 160 columns. The Great Temple of Hatra had walls nearly 100 feet tall, one of which was used when night fell as a stone screen on which soldiers from the 101st’s public affairs office projected a slideshow of photos telling the story of the division’s six-month stay in the Nineveh governorate.

To say it was a bizarre scene is to do the word “bizarre” an incalculable injustice. Images of tanks and Humvees and soldiers handing candy bars to Iraqi children and helicopters landing in huge clouds of dust, all of it playing to Phil Collins singing “In the Air Tonight.” I mean, this is going on with about a hundred Iraqis standing around watching and another gathering of even more sheikhs from other towns, and some younger Iraqi men and even a few women in long, ankle-length black garb, and moving through all of them, Maj. Gen. Petraeus with a coterie of aides and a translator, shaking hands and greeting sheikhs and assuring everyone that all they had to do was be patient because the month before, in November, the Congress of the United States had passed an enormous supplemental appropriations bill of $70 billion for the Iraq War and only one month hence, in January, the money would begin to flow into northern Iraq and All Would Be Well.

Before the sun set, I set up my camera on a little tripod and climbed up on the wall around Hatra and took a picture of myself surrounded by all that ancientness — columns and stone walls and stone steps leading down through narrow tunnels to hidden vaults. It all seemed so old that nothing could be more ancient, more historic, more beginning of it all than Hatra.

But that’s how stupid I was because it had all begun about 4,000 years before Hatra 300 miles south in Lower Mesopotamia in the Uruk IV period, which refers to the truly ancient city of Ur, way back at the time the first known historical writings were scratched in sandstone in pictographs. It would be another thousand years before the words and deeds of dynastic kings would be recorded in an actual early language on cuneiform tablets. But even back then, even in the land of Ur, they were drawing pictures of wars on the wall because that’s pretty much what they did. They went to war and they either won or they got beaten, and then they went to war again.

Sometime in the third millennium, about 500 miles north and west of Ur around the city now known as Idlib but then known as Ebla, a long war was fought with Mari. Now listen up: We’ve got Sargon of Akkad and some goddamned grandson of his called Naram-Sin, and they pounded Ebla over and over again in the 23rd century B.C. until they could make Ebla a part of Mesopotamia under the Akkadian Empire. And man, they were off and running. One century after another, one ruler after another, one war after another. By 21 B.C., some guys called the Hurrians moved into the northeast part of Syria and the town of Mari — remember Mari? conquered by Ebla? — made a comeback until it was conquered by a ruler known as Hammurabi of Babylon.

Then along came Yamhad — now better known as the destroyed city of Aleppo — which controlled northern Syria around the 19th and 18th centuries B.C., when eastern Syria was ruled by Shamshi-Adad I, king of the Old Assyrian Empire, which was then taken over by the Babylonian Empire. You following me? Yamhad was famous for having even more slaves than Babylon, and those dudes in Yamhad ruled the roost up in Syria until it was conquered, along with Ebla, by the Hittites around 1600 B.C. Idlib and Aleppo couldn’t catch a break even back then.

So here we are, we’re only halfway to A.D., and we’re already waist deep in blood and kings and wars and cities and conquered peoples and up comes the Assyrian Empire, and it’s a goddamn battleground for the Mitanni, the Egyptians, something called the Middle Assyrians, and up comes Babylonia again! Around 900 B.C., along came Adad-nirari II and he took Assyria into Anatolia, the Levant, ancient Iran and back down to goddamned Babylonia again, and he was followed by some butcher called Ashur-nasir-pal II in the mid-800s B.C., who pushed even further south into Mesopotamia and got himself into Asia Minor until Shalmaneser III came along a couple of decades later and unsatisfied with how much land that lazy Ashur-nasir-pal II conquered, cranked up his armies and marched right into Israel, Damascus, Canaan and the goddamned foothills of the Caucasus.

And then along cams a real mother whomper, Adad-nirari III, son of Queen Shammuramat, and this guy started slaughtering Phoenicians, Philistines, Neo-Hittites, Persians, Israelites, Medes and Manneans, and he was just getting started. He went down to Babylon and beat the shit out of the people there, and he basically enslaved all of eastern Mesopotamia. Then about 700 B.C., the Egyptians and a whole bunch of locals got together and decided to teach the Assyrians a lesson. So King Lule and King Hezekiah and King Sidka and the king of Ekron teamed up with the Egyptians, and they took on this new Assyrian King Sennacherib, who had relocated to Nineveh (Mosul). That pissed off Sennacherib, who slashed his way through the lot of them and kept on going for Jerusalem, taking out 46 towns and villages along the way. Then he turned east and took out Babylon again. Then a couple of Babylonian guys took it back until King Sennacherib got pissed enough to go after Babylon one final time, this time diverting the canals around the city and flooding Babylon, turning it into a swamp.

You with me? No? Well, who we have been talking about all this time are the murdering, thieving, slave driving butchers who ran Syria when modern butcher Assad wasn’t even a quark in some future molecule. Before we come within a few centuries of the birth of Christ, the ancestors of today’s Syrians had conquered and basically enslaved 28 nation-states and occupied all of what is now Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Cyprus and large parts of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, Armenia, Libya, Azerbaijan and Georgia. They still had to face Alexander the Great and the Romans and then the Byzantines and then came the Aramaeans and the Jews and the Christians and then the invasion of Duma by Muhammad and then came the Arabs followed by the Crusades and occupation by Germans, French, Italian armies and then some Turco-Mongol dude called Timur-Lenk took over and then came the Ottoman Empire and a period of comparative peace until the Ottomans made the mistake of taking the side of the Germans in World War I.

After the war, a couple of the winners, England and France, in the persons of Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot secretly agreed to divvy up the Ottoman Empire and drew the infamous Picot-Sykes line creating the modern Middle East and present-day Syria, including, of course, the descendants of the murdering, thieving, enslaving monsters we’ve been talking about.

So my pals, the sheikhs over in Qayyarah and Hatra and the ancestors of all the various tribes and religious factions and ethnic minorities and majorities in northern Iraq and all over Syria and the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Kurds and the Yazidis and the Turkmen and the goddamned Persians of Iran and the Turks of Turkey for crying out loud have been at one another’s throats for 5,900 years and we’re going to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at some deserted airbase in the middle of a Syrian desert that has seen more bloodshed than a goddamned Kansas City slaughterhouse and we expect these fuckers to pay attention?

I keep thinking of Petraeus up there on that little dais in Qayyarah listening to those sheikhs yelling at him and he’s looking all confused and then when he got out of there and was heading over to his Blackhawk that already had its rotors turning he looked positively giddy with the thought that in about two months he would have his ass and the asses of all 30,000 of his soldiers in the 101st out of that sandy hell and back on the heavenly clay soil of Kentucky, and I keep thinking, Who the hell do we think we’re fooling? We sent a few hundred thousand troops over there in rotating shifts of one-year deployments and then we shipped them right back home, which is where they remain today — all but the 5,000 troops we’ve got over there slogging through the wastelands and looking around and wondering what they’re doing.

We’ve got the Iraqis around Mosul, which is rapidly on its way to being in ruins, and the Syrians over there around Aleppo which is a maze of heartbreak and rubble, and Idlib which just got hit by poison gas killing 100 of its citizens, and their ancestors have been slaughtering each other and various invading armies using everything from rocks to sticks to knives to swords to spears to bows and arrows to muskets to AK-47s to RPGs to mortars to Russian-made jet fighters and high explosive and gas bombs. And they’ve been doing it pretty much around the clock for almost 6,000 years, and you know what they haven’t been doing? They haven’t been out on the hustings campaigning and running political ads, and they haven’t been voting, and they haven’t been doing shit like going on shows like “The Apprentice” and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and they haven’t been playing “Naked and Afraid” and “Survivor.”

What they have been doing is just hoping to survive, and as usual, their ruler of the moment has been killing them by the hundreds of thousands without pausing for breath and that’s who we’re supposed to impress with 59 Tomahawks and three talking heads on “Morning Joe” babbling about freedom and our national credibility and how we’re the bulwark of liberty?

God help us, for we know not what the fuck we do.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. He can be followed on Facebook at The Rabbit Hole and on Twitter @LucianKTruscott.

US claims of Syria nerve gas attack: The anatomy of a lie

By Patrick Martin
13 April 2017

The claims by the US government that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun, in southern Idlib province on April 4, have been backed by a week of nonstop media propaganda, as well as uncritical support, across the official political spectrum, for the missile strike ordered by President Trump against a Syrian base.

The charges against the Syrian government are absurd and unbelievable. The campaign mounted by the Trump administration, the intelligence agencies, the Pentagon and the Democratic Party demonstrates complete contempt for the intelligence of the people, and a belief that they can lie with impunity, because nothing they say will be challenged by the servile American media.

No lie is too great. If the US intelligence agencies declared tomorrow that Putin was responsible for an outbreak of tornadoes or a hurricane striking the US Gulf Coast, by means of a secret Russian program to alter the weather, their claims would be presented as the gospel truth by NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox, while the New York Times would publish a four-page “investigative” report, complete with maps and charts provided by the CIA.

When a policeman shoots down a working-class youth, it takes months, sometimes years, to complete the investigation. In the case of the Syrian events, it required only minutes for the US government to affix blame and three days to carry out the punishment, firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

In analyzing a crime, there are three factors to investigate: motive, means and opportunity. In relation to the nerve gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, neither the Russians nor the Syrians had any reason to carry out the attack. The Assad regime had nothing to gain from the use of nerve gas on a town that was not a significant military target. Moreover, carrying out such an attack would inevitably provoke US military retaliation, something that Assad, on the brink of complete victory in the protracted civil war, would hardly want to risk.

The Syrian rebels and the US government, on the contrary, had motive, means and opportunity. The rebels would view any loss of life as a small price to pay to bring about US intervention in the civil war which they were losing. They have stockpiles of nerve gas and have shown before, in the staged attack on Ghouta in 2013 which killed many more people, a willingness and ability to carry out such a provocation.

Just as importantly, the rebels and their CIA sponsors had opportunity. According to a detailed analysis of the Khan Sheikhoun attack by the respected US physicist and missile expert Theodore Postol, emeritus professor at MIT, the physical evidence strongly suggests that the delivery system for the nerve gas was a mortar shell placed on the ground, not a bomb dropped from a warplane. That means the attack was almost certainly carried out by those who controlled the ground around Khan Sheikhoun, the rebel forces linked to Al Qaeda.

Postol’s analysis is in reply to the four-page document issued Tuesday by the National Security Council, the White House body that coordinates US foreign and military policy, purporting to prove the Syrian government’s responsibility for the alleged sarin gas attack.

The American media described the NSC document as an unusually detailed and factual account, making use of US intelligence material that was declassified for that purpose. The Washington Post said the US government was “unveiling intelligence discrediting Russia’s attempts to shield its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, from blame in last week’s deadly chemical attack.”

The Post went on to characterize the “declassified findings” as “part of a coordinated broadside against Russia” that was supplemented by “new detail of what U.S. officials believe they know about the chemical weapons strike on Khan Sheikhoun,” offered by White House officials who briefed the press on the document.

The New York Times said the document “contains declassified United States intelligence on the attack and a rebuttal of Moscow’s claim that insurgents unleashed the gas to frame the Syrian government.” There were similar reports in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the television and cable news networks, all of them presenting the intelligence agency accounts as unchallengeable fact.

These media reports are not only demonstrably false, they are absurd. Any serious examination of the NSC document reveals it to be a series of bare assertions without any supporting evidence.

The White House document closely resembles the assessment issued by the US intelligence “community”—the 17 agencies that comprise the massive apparatus of spying, political provocation and assassination for American imperialism—on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

It is filled with phrases like “The United States is confident” … “We have confidence in our assessment” … “We assess” … “Our information indicates” … “It is clear” … and so on. In other words, “this is the US government speaking, trust us.”

There is one reference to “signals intelligence,” without any elaboration. This is followed by the declaration, standard in all official statements citing information allegedly supplied by the spy agencies: “We cannot publicly release all available intelligence on this attack due to the need to protect sources and methods …” Once again, “trust us.”

The NSC report makes the first attempt by the US government to attribute a motive to the alleged Syrian gas attack, claiming, “We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure. Senior regime military leaders were probably involved in planning the attack.”

No evidence is cited to back these bare assertions, which raise obvious questions. Why should the Syrian government suddenly resort to sarin gas in a town of no obvious military significance, when it did not use nerve gas—and was never accused of doing so—during the critical battles of the past year in Aleppo? Government forces reconquered the rebel-held portions of that city, the country’s largest population and business center before the civil war, in a bloody struggle conducted without the use of chemical weapons.

Even when the forces of President Bashar al-Assad were under attack in his home province of Latakia, where the local population, from the Alawite religious minority which is his main base of support, faced the threat of extermination if the Sunni Islamists were victorious, they did not resort to chemical weapons to beat back the rebel offensive.

The New York Times sought to address this problem by citing “senior White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the declassified intelligence report.” These officials “asserted that the Syrian government, under pressure from opposition forces around the country and lacking enough troops to respond, used the lethal nerve agent sarin to target rebels who were threatening government-held territory.”

This account makes even less sense than the NSC report, since the alleged nerve gas attack did not “target rebels who were threatening government-held territory,” but civilians in a town in rebel territory, including, as media reporters and Trump administration officials have repeatedly emphasized, large numbers of women and children. In other words, the American media is simply piling lie upon lie, without even taking the time to make the new lies consistent with the old ones.

From a military standpoint, the resort to chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun is pointless. From a political standpoint, it is counterproductive, to say the least, for the Assad regime. For the US-backed Islamist “rebels,” however, such an atrocity is a political goldmine, potentially providing a pretext for US and eventually NATO intervention into a civil war that the rebels are losing badly.

The NSC document makes no attempt to address, let alone rebut, such arguments. Its four-page document includes only one page of supposedly factual “findings” by the U.S. intelligence agencies, consisting of vague and unsupported assertions, and then a page disputing the claims of Putin and Assad that no gas attack occurred.

In the course of this, the NSC document cites video and eyewitness testimony about the impact of a chemical agent, as well as medical reports from Turkish doctors, but none of this evidence indicates the source of the nerve gas, if it was indeed a factor in the deaths at Khan Sheikhoun.

Criticizing Russian claims of fabrication, the NSC document declares, “It is clear, however, that the Syrian opposition could not manufacture this quantity and variety of video and other reporting from both the attack site and medical facilities in Syria and Turkey while deceiving both media observers and intelligence agencies.”

Why should anyone believe that the “media observers and intelligence agencies” were among the deceived? Far more likely that the US intelligence agencies and the “media observers,” particularly those employed by the New York Times, Washington Post, and other conduits for the US government, were active participants in the deception.

The CIA has ample experience in the creation of provocations and fabrication of “evidence,” which is then supplied to its favored press outlets to create the impression of “objective” reporting. Absolutely nothing that is reported on such a basis deserves the slightest credibility.

It is noteworthy that the Russian government has repeatedly called for an objective, authoritative international investigation into what happened at Khan Sheikhoun. This is in sharp contrast to the conduct of the Trump administration, which has acted as judge, jury and executioner rolled into one—claiming to determine the facts, identify the perpetrators and carry out the punishment in a three-day period. This is the method, not of justice or the enforcement of “international law,” but the law of the jungle, in which the most powerful imperialist military power simply does what it wants.

There is every reason to believe that the poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun was staged by the CIA and its rebel stooges to force a reversal of policy by the Trump administration and pave the way for US military intervention. It follows the pattern of the last previous alleged chemical weapons attack, in August 2013, when the rebels were seeking to gain direct American support, and US Secretary of State John Kerry told them that something needed to happen. Soon after, more than a thousand people were killed by nerve gas in Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

The political beneficiaries of this attack were the Syrian rebels. Seymour Hersh, one of a handful of real journalists still practicing his profession and not in jail or exile, conducted a meticulous exposure of the Ghouta attack, demonstrating that it had likely been carried out by the al-Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, with chemical weapons supplied by Turkey. The al-Nusra Front, under a new name, is the dominant force on the ground today in Khan Sheikhoun.

The Ghouta attack did not have the expected effect. After the British parliament voted against joining an attack on Syria, and in view of sharp divisions within the Pentagon over whether to intervene, President Obama pulled back, to the enormous frustration of the CIA, and of leading Democrats like his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

If Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election, there is no doubt there would have been an immediate and dramatic escalation in the American involvement in the Syrian civil war. Following Trump’s surprise victory, a ferocious conflict has ensued, centering on bogus allegations of Russian manipulation of the election to assist Trump, aimed at shifting the Trump administration’s policy towards Russia and Syria.

This has now culminated in the apparent victory of the US intelligence agencies and the Democrats in this internecine struggle within the US ruling elite, and Trump’s embarking on a course that threatens to produce full-scale US military intervention in the Syrian civil war, and poses the danger of direct confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia.

WSWS