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Op-Ed: Changing the question on coverage of the Syrian attack

Wikipedia says of the fallacy that the question involved “contains a controversial or unjustified assumption”. As a rhetorical device the complex question can be used to avoid discussion of the truth or falsity of one question while introducing another question whose relevance depends upon the answer to the first question being true.

In this case, the first question is whether Assad committed the apparent chemical attack in northern Syria that caused many casualties. As a recent article in the Digital Journal pointed out many countries such as the U.S. immediately came out and pinned the blame on Assad even though it would seem he had little to gain and much to lose by such an attack. Indeed some such as Ron Paul in spite of the U.S., Turkey, and other countries being confident that Assad is responsible says: “It makes no sense, even if you were totally separate from this and take no sides of this and you were just an analyst, it doesn’t make sense for Assad under these conditions to all of the sudden use poison gasses, I think it’s zero chance that he would have done this deliberately.”
That statement is rather extreme but it surely is premature to assess blame before we know exactly what happened the details of what gas it was and its source etc. Turkey’s president Erdogan had already decided that Assad was guilty when a Turkish autopsy revealed that it was probably a chemical attack. According to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag: “Autopsies were carried out on three of the bodies after they were brought from Idlib. The results of the autopsy confirms that chemical weapons were used.” Bozdag said that the scientific investigation also confirmed that Assad used chemical weapons. Bozdag’s boss will be pleased at Bozdag’s findings. There are no details. We do not even know if it was sarin or of what grade. The area is controlled by groups linked to Al-Qaeda. Many seem suddenly very impressed by the reports of such people.

I really have no idea what happened except obviously something that it is so serious that it is a war crime, but there has been no investigation yet and while Assad might have had the means of carrying out such an attack it would seem an act of supreme stupidity with little military advantage while eliciting a response that could very well lead the U.S. and others to punish him severely and in the case of the U.S. again commit itself to his removal. We really do not know precisely what happened let alone who is responsible. The Russians claim that it was the result of bombing a rebel chemical warehouse. However, it is not explained how exactly that could release sarin gas nor does it explain an apparent attack on a hospital. We do not even know for sure yet if it was sarin gas. The Turkish autopsy did not claim this. However, the Russian explanation fits in with the info in the CNN video which CNN just takes as definite prove of Assad’s guilt. My point is that the question who is responsible for whatever happened has not yet been determined. Yet much of the media coverage now is about another question: “How can Assad be punished for what he has done?” Changing to this question simply assumes we already know that Assad is responsible so there is no longer any need to discuss that.

The Guardian features an article in which it discusses the Pentagon with options for a military strike on Assad. Trump will meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattison and national security adviser HR McMaster late Thursday at Mar-a-Lago where Trump is holding a summit with Xi Jinping. The military options are an answer to the question: “How can we punish Assad for what he has done?” It assumes that Assad is responsible. In fact this changes the topic of the discourse away from finding out exactly what has happened and who is responsible. A crucially relevant issue now becomes irrelevant because it is already clear what is the case. Of course it isn’t at all clear. However, many are already convinced and don’t expect media to question this since Assad is a bad guy.

Trump’s reaction assumes Assad is guilty: “I think what Assad did is terrible. I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity and he’s there, and I guess he’s running things, so something should happen.” The question is not of his guilt but of how he should be punished. U.S. Secretary State, Rex Tillerson follows the same line: “Assad’s role in the future is uncertain, clearly, and with the acts that he has taken it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.” As one would expect the question of Assad’s guilt is also settled one hundred percent as far as Israel is concerned. In more and more media coverage the complex question will not even be noticed since most powerful countries in the west believe that Assad is guilty and the press will not question that assumption just report on what the options are for punishment. The images of the attack are so jarring even Hillary Clinton has come out and suggested that Assad’s airfields should be taken out. However, there is already an advanced Russian-provided defense system that could cause problems to put it mildly.

UPDATE: The U.S. has already fired missiles at Homs airbase. Russians at the base were warned ahead of time. Unless there was a deal made with Russia beforehand, there could be trouble. So much for the UN and an investigation. Will Trump ratings soar? Hillary Clinton’s?

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