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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. holds Assad to blame for chemical attack in Syria

By Ken Hanly     Apr 4, 2017 in World
While it is still not clear what happened in an apparent chemical attack on the town of Khan Shaykun in the suburbs of Idlib Syria, the United States and other countries are already blaming the event on the Assad regime.
White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said that Trump was extremely alarmed by the attack and had an extensive briefing. Trump suggested it was in the best interests of Syria that Assad not lead the country. He said that the Trump administration was confident in its assessment that Assad was to blame. This confidence occurs before any investigation. It is a clear signal to investigators what they need to establish. Of course there will be objections by the Russians and perhaps even the Chinese but these can be waived off. The Syrian army rejected the claims and blamed the rebels. The stories are being rolled out as one would expect.
At first, Trump had been silent but then he came out and blamed what happened as being a consequence of Obama's Syria policy: “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.” The reason that Obama did nothing is that the Russians and Americans got Assad to agree to shipping his chemical weapons out of the country to be destroyed.
Trump actually tweeted on September 7th 2013: "President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your "powder" for another (and more important day)." After being silent and refusing to answer a reporter's question about the attack, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, released a statement: “While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism. We call upon Russia and Iran, yet again, to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again.” Note that there is not the slightest suggestion that there was any question that Assad is responsible. While there is no mention of future U.S. action, Trump's statement makes it clear that Obama's refusal to act military on the earlier attack that was also blamed on Assad was wrong and a sign of weakness. To be consistent he must act against Assad. Fortunately, consistency is one of many virtues Trump lacks.
The attack comes just after statements from Tillerson and Haley that seemed to signal a change in U.S. policy away from demanding regime change and that Assad step down. Some are even suggesting that the reason that Assad attacked was because of the U.S. change in policy he thought he could get away with it. Basma Kodmani, a member of the Syrian opposition said the attack was a direct consequence of the U.S. decision to relax pressure on Assad: “The first reaction from Syrians is that this is a direct consequence of American statements about Assad not being a priority and giving him time and allowing him to stay in power." Derek Stoffel in a CBC article also suggests that the change in U.S. policy not to demand Assad's removal is part of his confidence that there will be no strong reaction.
To me it makes no sense for Assad to mount such an attack and then apparently attack a hospital in which those attacked were being treated makes no sense. The same results could be achieved without using such weapons. He has already made considerable gains against the rebels. Why should he take the chance of actions that are sure to result in demands for more western intervention and further negative publicity? Why would he even make it worse by the hospital attack that has little military value. Both the gas attack and targeting of the hospital are war crimes. This is not a case of the Houthis being attacked by the Saudis. It is the good guys being attacked by the bad guys.
The attack could be a false flag operation designed to ensure that the west intervenes on the side of the rebels. The eminent Pulitzer Prize winning Seymour Hersh wrote an article ages ago : "On 8 December 2013, the London Review of Books published "Whose Sarin?", in which Hersh argued that President Obama had "omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts" in his assertion during his televised speech of 10 September that the Syrian government had been responsible for the use of sarin gas in the Ghouta chemical attack of 21 August 2013 against a rebel-held district of Damascus. In particular, Hersh wrote of anonymous intelligence sources telling him that the Syrian army was not the only agency with access to sarin, referring to the Al-Nusra Front Jihadist group, and that, during the period before the Ghouta attack, secretly implanted sensors at the country's known bases had not detected suspicious movements suggesting a forthcoming chemical attack " Of course this immediately led to Hersh's demotion to a conspiracy theorist. Another article by Eric Zuesse suggests that the sarin gas was transferred to Syrian rebels from Libya and Hillary Clinton knew about it. Later, Hersh denied he said explicitly that Hillary knew about the transfer but at least he strongly suggested that she did or should have known.
I do not know who is responsible for these atrocious attacks but the idea that Assad was behind them seems to me just as improbable as any conspiracy theory blaming rebels or their supporters. Surely a key question should be whom most benefits from the attacks. Potentially the benefit will be very much to the advantage of the rebels if the west decides to punish Assad by some military action. If there is no punishment the west will be criticized as weak in letting war crimes be committed with impunity. This reasoning of course is not applicable to situations such as Saudi-led attacks on the Houthis in Yemen.
It is not just the U.S. but several other countries have put out statements that blame Assad. This is all before it is even clear exactly what happened let alone who did it. There are calls for an investigation but then if the big powers that count have already created their narratives what will the investigation prove? No doubt as in the earlier attack, the Assad-guilt narrative will prevail and counter-evidence dismissed as a conspiracy theory that of course will be promoted by the bad guys Iran, Russia, and Assad and dupes such as Seymour Hersh.
UPDATE: Sputnik suggests that the gas was from a warehouse storing chemicals that was bombed: Syrian aircraft have conducted an airstrike near the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria’s Idlib province on the warehouse of terrorists’ ammunition and the mass of military equipment, where chemical weapons' ammunition had also been stored and delivered to Iraq, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday. This acknowledges that there was an attack by Syrian aircraft. It does not show the rebels were responsible as earlier claimed. It is more of a tragic accident. It remains to be seen if there is evidence for this explanation.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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