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No Bombing of Syria

August 31, 2013

The main point about an attack on Syria: it will kill people for no good reason. Syria is densely populated, and even the US administration has admitted that innocent civilians will be part of the death toll. So we are going to kill innocents in order to send a message that killing innocents is wrong? If we want to send a message, I’m pretty sure Assad has email. If you are a US resident, or a US citizen, please call your Senators and Congresscritter to ask them not to approve bombing Syria.

 The entire reason for making this a “limited” punitive strike is that even the US administration admits that long term involvement in Syria can only make things worse for both Syria and the US. The arms the West already gives to the rebel have just prolonged the conflict, made it more bloody, and shifted the balance of power within the opposition from secularists to Al Qaeda. Every escalation from the West is matched by more support for Assad by Russia. Between NATO and Russia, Syria has been turned from bloody brutal dictatorship to an unstable chaotic living hell in which a brutal dictator fights a bloody civil war against brutal would be dictators. Democratic and secular forces are still allowed in the alliance to beg for more support from NATO nations, and do public relations, but in the current war, they will lose no matter who wins, or for that matter if the civil war continues.

 Sometimes there are no good choices. But when that is true, very seldom is bombing the shit out of someone the lesser evil. The US government is not even pretending that bombing Syria will improve the situation of the Syrian people in any way, or weaken the Assad regime. It is supposed to serve as punishment, but will in no meaningful way punish Syrian elites. It will hurt innocents, and carries real risk of the US being draw further in the Syrian civil war. If the US and France and Turkey want to do something permanent for Syria, they could allow long term immigration by Syrian refugees, and provide long term funding to help them settle in. In the long run, they should engage in diplomacy with Iran and Russia to help create an arms embargo to keep additional foreign arms out of Syria. If they don’t want to do either of those things, they could shut up, cause doing nothing beats making things worse.

Another point: even if the Syrian government did use chemical weapons, that does not justify the bombing under international law. The US is a signatory of the UN charter. Under that charter there are only two legal justifications for a military attack. One self-defense against an imminent attack. There have been zero official claims that Syria is about to attack the US. The other is military intervention approved by the UN security council. That has not happened,. Given the Russian veto, that authorization will not happen.

Although use of chemical weapons by Assad would not justify the bombing nor make it anything but counterproductive from a humanitarian viewpoint, it is worth noting that we still do not know that chemical weapons were used by the regime.

The US claims to that there is “no doubt” the Syrian regime used chemical weapons. A complete list of false claims used to justify US military actions would make this already long post unnecessarily longer, but it is worth including a few examples. “Yellow Rain”, a claimed chemical agent used by Vietnam was proven to consist of nothing but bee shit dropped by wild swarms. Claims that Iraq dumped premature babies in Kuwait to steal the incubators that kept them alive, which help mobilize US public opinion for the first Gulf war, proved to be fabrications by a Kuwait public relations firm. The WMDs used as justification for the second Gulf war turned out to have been destroyed by Saddam in 1998.

 The evidence itself is not convincing. First there is the claim of intercepted phone conversations provided by Israel that prove use of chemical agents. Since we have no transcripts and those speaking are not even identified, we are being asked to show a lot of faith in the truthfulness and competence of US and Israeli intelligence agencies. . Even if the conversations exist, how do we know they are not faked? Static filled cell phone or radio conversations are not exactly the hardest kind of evidence to create. If the conversations are real, how do we know they have not been deceptively edited or deceptively translated to make them sound much more damning than they are? Juan Cole has pointed out many cases over the years in which English translations of Iranian or Arab statements were mangled to make official enemies look worse than they were.

 The other evidence is equally unconvincing. What it comes down to is more charges without evidence. Syria engaged in preparations for chemical warfare before the attack? That is the US claim, but it refuses to release actual evidence, or even detailed descriptions of what those preparations were. Also if the preparations were so clear why did the US not warn anybody? If they knew and did not tell, what the hell were they thinking? If they only connected the dots after the attack, maybe it is time that some of the resources devoted to seducing unstable losers into joining Rube Goldberg terrorist plots were devoted to analyzing the information we already rather more thoroughly and more quickly.

 Another reason to be suspicious was the unsuccessful US attempt to stop the UN investigation. The claimed reason was that it was too late. The evidence is volatile and has already dissipated. But a July 27th NY Times article pointed that this is untrue.  According to most experts, Sarin gas and other nerve agents last in soil and clothing for years, and in blood and tissue of the survivors for up to two weeks. So the UN team arrived in plenty of time to perform an investigation. Why oppose it then?  Why is the US anxious to begin bombing before the investigation is complete? The obvious suspicion is that the US is NOT certain that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack, and does not want a real investigation that might find inconvenient evidence. It is worth remembering that the invasion of Iraq terminated a UN inspection that inconveniently was not finding evidence to justify the attack. In the end it was proven that the inspectors failed to find evidence because the WMDs no longer existed.

What is the alternative explanation?

 Well there is a Mint Press story out there that Saudi backed factions were behind the attack. Mint Press is normally pretty reliable, but in this case in seems likely their reporting has gone beyond what the evidence supports. The report itself admits that key facts in the story can’t be confirmed. And this line is something Russia, which backs the current Syrian government has been claiming for years.

 Either of these narratives could be true. Much of the support for both stories come from known liars with strong self-interest in the version they are spreading. Believing either version without waiting for more evidence would be a mistake. Regardless of which version proves true, regardless of whether we ever know the truth, bombing Syria will accomplish nothing. Regardless, bombing Syria will kill innocents in the short run, will likely worsen the viciousness of the Syrian civil war in the medium run, and carries a real of risk drawing the US further into the conflict over the long term.




By WILLIAM J. BROAD. August 27, 2013. “Chemical Attack Evidence Lasts Years, Experts Say.”

 EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack  Rebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaida linked rebel group.

By Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh | August 29, 2013

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