The Government that Cried ‘War’


Re: Chemical weapons in Syria: I have no doubt they were used, but it isn’t clear who used them. Now that should be the kind of thing that can be supported with evidence. Our intelligence services should be able to identify who is responsible for using them and provide a wide range of evidence for that — undercover agents in the Syrian government, intercepted communications, and so forth.

But here’s the thing: Why would we believe them? Almost to the day that the allegations were made that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons outside Damascus, Foreign Policy magazine published a report that included declassified CIA documents that showed that our government had helped Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons against Iran in 1988 and had then launched a propaganda campaign to blame it on Iran (a mostly successful campaign, by the way). The Vietnam War was justified by LBJ by the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was completely fabricated. So our government has a history of lying to justify going to war and a history of lying specifically about who is responsible for using chemical weapons. So even if it’s true that Assad used the chemical weapons, and even if the evidence actually did support that, we have absolutely no reason to believe them when they say they have that evidence.

For much the same reason, we have no reason to believe the government when it says it has to take military action in order to support democracy, liberty or human rights. Their track record of supporting brutal dictatorships and propping them up with weapons and our tax dollars has made it impossible to ever believe them when they say that. Every war is sold either as a moral crusade or a response to an imminent threat, but those excuses have turned out to be lies so many times that, just like the boy who cried “wolf,” there’s no reason why anyone should take them seriously.

And if you accept all of the above as true but think this time it wouldn’t happen because Obama’s different and wouldn’t do that, I have to seriously question your judgment and naivete.

Comments

  1. psweet says

    Would you consider the UN inspectors to have the same credibility issues? I haven’t heard what they found, but the US intelligence community isn’t the only group looking into it.

  2. raven says

    So what if the Syrian government used chemical weapons? It’s reprehensible but a lot of things are. The Iraq war, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and on and on.

    It wouldn’t be the first time. In my lfietime they’ve been used at least 5 times.

    Vietnam where we used incredible quantities of tear gas and the agent Orange herbicide mixture. IIRC, agent Orange was a mixture of 2,4 D and 2,4,5 T with dioxin as a contaminant. Then the Iraqis used them against the Kurds, and later the Iranians. Someone gassed Yemenis during one of their civil wars. Now Syria.

    What bothers me about Syria is that it isn’t our war. And neither side is worth supporting. It’s all lose-lose.

  3. eric says

    it isn’t clear who used them… But here’s the thing: Why would we believe them [our intelligence services, about who used them]?

    The beauty of clear, limited objectives is that you don’t have to believe anyone’s story about who used them. Focus on the objective of preventing future CW use. Destroy any identified depots and factories – regardless of whether they are government or rebel. After all, if this is really about CWs and not about regime change, then we should be just as concerned with rebel capability and use as we are with the regime’s capability and use.

    Now yes, we do eventually have to trust someone to identify those facilities correctly. And that’s a job our IC would normally get. But if we don’t think they are a credible source for this job, I think we could then more credibly trust the French and British and other NATO countries. That would also make the strikes more international and less unilateral.

  4. raven says

    I don’t have much of an idea about Syria. No matter what we do, even if it is nothing, is all a lose-lose situation.

    My best current idea would be to just give the rebels some chemical weapons. And let them go at it on a game theory tit for tat basis. This is what kept all of us from using nerve gas during WWII. The understanding that if one side uses them, the other side will use them back.

    Of course, there are problems with this as well. For one thing, we don’t have any, any more. They’ve all been destroyed. Plus problems with diversion. We gave the Afghans stingers during their first civil war. And some of them ended up with the Taliban and we had to worry about stingers shooting down our planes.

    Oh well, this seems to be one time when thinking outside the box would be worthwhile. How about a blockade?

  5. says

    I doubt that this is about Syria for the GOP, or even for Obama. This is a test of resolve on whether we have the stomach to bomb Iran when Israel tell us to. The scenario being if we won’t act when we have evidence of chemical weapons being possessed and used, why would we if we only suspect that Iran has a nuke?

    http://bit.ly/pbJ25C

  6. Howard Bannister says

    psweet@1

    The fact that the UN inspectors have been adamant that they cannot figure out who used the weapons is, in fact, part of the reason many of us are giving the US government a very hard look right now.

    If you listen closely to the people with boots on the ground, they paint a very different picture than the US.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-dismisses-un-inspections-in-syria-of-alleged-chemical-weapons-sites/2013/09/04/2b1cf3c4-14e3-11e3-880b-7503237cc69d_story.html

    And the US is anxious not to let them speak at all.

  7. raven says

    @Raven,

    You really think the US doesn’t have chemical weapons anymore?

    Go me. Obama doesn’t tell me everything!!!

    Do we? And how do you know that?

  8. says

    If you look at the 1997 treaty that I think raven is talking about, the statement was that as of Feb 2012, the US had destroyed “90% of the nerve and mustard agents declared in 1997“. I would think it very, very unlikely that the US declared all of its nerve and mustard agents in 1997, by any of several quasi-legal interpretations of ‘agents’ vs ‘precursors’, which are often completely innocent substances, or other little quibbles with the terminology or the temporary storage of such agents and precursors. At least, that’s what they’ll point to when they’re eventually found to have had plenty more for the purpose tucked away.

    Come on, folks, how many times do you have to see that the US has been keeping BIG secrets for a long time about a huge number of things, and not reckon they’d be likely to tell a few wee porkies about some little ol’ stocks of chemical agents? They’ve lied consistently about much, much less important things, things they wouldn’t be thought even less of by the international community for. No way they’ve played it straight on this one. You don’t even need to get to conspiracy levels on it, just notice that they specified two types of dangerous gas, but leave open plenty of doors for developments of other ones, et c., et c..

    They’re not going to get rid of them any time soon. They’ll reduce stocks, or update, or store a more concentrated form, or develop new ones, or store them offshore, or a hundred other ways they could find to keep enough around to be a threat to anyone whom they perceive as an imminent threat (a very variable term these days from a USan politician or military spokesperson).

  9. says

    From the preliminary reading that I’ve done, based on the preliminary reports coming in and on my understanding of the situation, the most probable explanation is that the Syrian government used the weapons. So while I agree with you that it isn’t proof exactly, I think that the stronger case and point that need to be made is something like: “So what if they did? That doesn’t affect the anti-war case (among other things, that the likelihood of a positive outcome is essentially nil) in the least.”

  10. eric says

    Do we? And how do you know that?

    We do, because as Caitie points out in her first paragraph, the U.S. publishes info on how much of its old CW stockpile it’s destroyed…and that number is not yet 100%. This report says the job will be completed in about 2023, and cites DOD itself as giving that number.

    Also, DHS and the FBI look at ways to conduct forensics on CW as a means of determining its origin. See here for a fairly terse description. To do that, I would assume that they need CW samples to analyze. Given that one of Ed’s big complaints is that we don’t know who used the stuff in Syria, this is exactly the sort of program we should support. It takes questions like “who produced it” out of the realm of intelligence analyst opinion and makes it a scientific, emprically-based question.

    Lastly, Caitie alludes to the fact that we may have kept an offensive program. Maybe. I’m skeptical but have no real data on it. Woludn’t be surprised either way, but if I had to lay money on one side or the other, I’d lay it on the “don’t.” Just a couple of theoretical arguments: first, in the last 20 years our military has been obsessed with getting smarter guidance and more controlled ordinance; neither BW nor CW fit that bill. They run in the opposite direction, actually, being very messy. Second, it’s actually militarily self-serving to eliminate them globally, because we have such a huge advantage in traditional ordinance and traditional defense. If some weapon threatens you more than your enemy, you want to get it off the table. Thirdly, we actually aren’t that shy about not-signing weapons treaties if we want to keep some weapon. Classic example: land mines. Another example: while we’ve signed the BWC, I believe we have refused to sign up for the ‘challenge inspection’ part of it because we don’t like the rules for it. So I think there is some diplomatic evidence that if we wanted to keep these things or objected to some part of the CWC, we’d just say so (because we’ve said so on other, similar occasions).

  11. Doug Little says

    Our intelligence services should be able to identify who is responsible for using them and provide a wide range of evidence for that — undercover agents in the Syrian government, intercepted communications, and so forth.

    Well to be fair they are not US citizens so the the intelligence might be a little thin.

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    Kerry has said that “we” know exactly where and when the shells were fired, and where and when they landed. I am curious to find out what technology is alleged to verify this.

  13. Nick Gotts says

    Focus on the objective of preventing future CW use. Destroy any identified depots and factories – eric

    Could this be reliably done without the risk of releasing the agents over populated areas? I doubt it.

  14. Nick Gotts says

    Kerry has said that “we” know exactly where and when the shells were fired, and where and when they landed. – Reginald Selkirk

    Well one possible explanation is that “we” know because “we”, or “our” allies, were actually the ones responsible, directly or indirectly (e.g. by bribing a subordinate commander to do it). It is, after all, a highly irrational thing for Assad to do when his forces appear to be gaining ground, and there are UN inspectors nearby. And while Assad is undoubtedly evil, he does not appear obviously irrational.

  15. laurentweppe says

    For Fuck’s sake: could you for five seconds stop with the american insularism?

    Might I, for the umpteenth time, remind you that some governments that didn’t lie to their citizenry about Iraq during the 2000s also say that by their own intelligence services work, it was established that
    1. Chemical weapons were fired from zones under the Assad regime’s control
    2. Intercepted communications between the regimes military units mentionned that they were using chemical weapons.
    You know that the US is not the only country with spies, right? You also know that despite its bloated budget the US intelligence is far from being the most reliable on the planet. So you’re whole “I can’t trust the US government argument” stop being relevant when more competent intelligences services come and confirm what NGOs and journalists present on the ground have been saying for a long time already: this is not Powell wasting his credibility to bullshitting the UN on his own anymore.

    And how the fuck would the insurrection which has been underarmed from the beginning of the conflict be the likelier suspect instead of the regime which has an avowed stockpile of chemical weapons, why would they target their own people instead of, I don’t now some neighbourhood where ministers or high ranking regime officials live? I thought that you were allergic to the whole false flag conspiracy bullshit?

  16. daved says

    It is, after all, a highly irrational thing for Assad to do when his forces appear to be gaining ground, and there are UN inspectors nearby.

    Putin has made the same point, and I’ve wondered about it myself. If you’re already winning, why do something like this? This is not to say that Assad (or perhaps one of his commanders) didn’t do it — I think there’s a good chance that he did — I just don’t see how it’s to their advantage.

  17. colnago80 says

    Re daved @ #17

    The notion that Assad is “winning” is vastly overblown. As things stand now, he controls about 1/2 the country with the opposition and the Kurds controlling the rest. He has been doing somewhat better lately due to the impact of several thousand fighters from Hizbollah who have firmed up his ranks.

    Re laurentweppe

    Apparently, the French Deuxieme Bureau has some assets in Syria, along with the Mossad so there is some confirmation that, at the least, there was a serious chemical attack that killed some 1500 people in a suburb of Damascus.

    There was a report in the Israeli online newspaper, The Times of Israel, in which an Arab family in Nazareth reported that 21 members of their extended family living in that suburb had been killed in the attack and a photograph of the bodies was included. A cursory examination of the photograph fails to detect any obvious wounds, which one would expect if they were killed by shell fire.

  18. francesc says

    @4 “My best current idea would be to just give the rebels some chemical weapons. And let them go at it on a game theory tit for tat basis”
    Well… rebels include people close to Al Qaeda. Of course, much better than the government forces who include people close to Iran government. That strategy could work if both sides didn’t count on his ranks with a bunch of crazy people fighting in a foreign country.
    Also, you couldn’t be sure that those weapons don’t travel the borders to.. palestine?
    Seems pretty risky

  19. iangould says

    ah, yes, the climate denialist position: “I’m not saying it isn’t happening and isn;t being caused by the factors you describe, I just “have doubts” and no matter how much evidence you find I’ll keep having doubts.’

    Let’s face it the Syrians wanted Americans to give a shit what happened to them they shouldn’t have been born poor and brown in a Muslim country, especially one with no oil.

    Maybe if someone threatens a Syrian atheist blogger Ed’ll start to give a shit.

  20. dingojack says

    OK Ian enlighten us poor shmucks –

    a) Show us the hard evidence chemical weapons have been used.
    b) Show us that it was the Assad regime that used them
    AND
    c) Show us the evidence that the colour of the victims’ skin has anything to do with Ed’s (and others) doubts.
    d) Show that the religion of the victims has got anything to do with the aforementioned doubts.
    e) Show that that a lack of Syrian oil is a key factor in the aforementioned doubts*.

    Your excellent sources in Syria should be able to prove the first two points with absolute ease, better than most European countries’ secret services who lack your certainty on the issue. (I don’t know why they don’t just hire you).
    And surely by using your magic decoder ring on Ed’s leader you can find the evidence to prove (even to the level of reasonable doubt) the latter points with equal ease.

    We await you wise prognostications with all eagerness.

    Dingo
    ——–
    * rather than the cause actually stated – all those previous cases when the ‘truths’ told to drum up war turned out to be flat-out, down-right, absolute, no-doubt-about-it lies.
    Remember the Maine, Ian..

  21. dingojack says

    And, bearing in mind my footnote above, is it not reasonable to demand a higher standard of proof before doing something that could have unforeseen, and possibly disastrous, consequences?
    Or would you prefer to cross your fingers, shut your eyes tight and hope like hell it all works out exactly as we wish?
    Dingo

  22. says

    Bashir Assad is essentially the king of Syria. He is killing is own citizens. Dumping him would be a wonderful idea, if there was a free and genuine elective process that might work. Putin’s talk of a “diplomatic solution” is cynical and laughable. Assad will leave the throne when life leaves his body–unless his military can no longer control the country to the point where he and his ruling caste are able to live nice lives.

    Bombing Syria is the wrong thing to do–not for moral reasons alone. Sending an assassin to separate Assad’s head from his shoulders works just fine for me. He’s demonstrably evil and needs to die.

  23. dingojack says

    The story goes that during the Battle of the Nile (1806) a gunner’s mate was aquatinted of charges of deserting their post during battle because the midwife confirmed she was busy giving birth at the time*.
    How times have changed (or not?)
    Dingo
    ——–
    * file this under “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” or somesuch

  24. iangould says

    “Or would you prefer to cross your fingers, shut your eyes tight and hope like hell it all works out exactly as we wish?”

    Yeah, let’s take the brave, noble and principled decision to sit on our arses and do nothing but it’s no like that could lead to disaster too.

    Well. not to anyone who matters.

  25. jenniferabel says

    I suspect the people banging the drums for war in Syria are the same ones who, upon reading the fable of the boy who cried wolf, concluded that the moral was “Shame on those nasty suspicious shepherds for discounting the boy’s warning.”

    If we do drone-bomb the Syrians to save them, I’m sure it’ll work as well as the time we saved the Branch Davidian children of Waco from alleged molestation via tear-gassing them and then transforming them into little charred corpses. Or the time we brought freedom and democracy to Iraq via killing or displacing a buttload of Iraqis and letting another sleazy government fill the power vacuum we created. Or the time we made Iran safe for western oil interests by overthrowing their democratically elected president and replacing him with a dictatorial monarch so vile, the Iranians eventually revolted and replaced him with an Ayatollah. Or the time we used Agent Orange and napalm to fail to prevent Vietnam from going Communist. Or … hell, we’ve racked up so damned many successes in mine and my parents’ lifetimes, I’m hard-pressed to tell which one will best reflect what will happen in Syria.

  26. eric says

    Nick Gotts:

    Could this be reliably done without the risk of releasing the agents over populated areas?

    No, of course not. Could it be done in a way that the risk of civilian casualties from CW would be less than the risk of civilian casualties if we let the Assad regime keep them and use them? I have to say yes on that one. Bomb them, and the areas and people most affected are the weapon-users and weapon-builders. Don’t bomb them, and the areas and people affected are the ones targeted by the weapon-users. Which group deserves our protection most?

  27. longstreet63 says

    @27 “the Battle of the Nile (1806)”
    Oh, Dingo! Was that the one fought by the year dead corpse of Horation Nelson, or the one fought in 1798 when he was alive?

    …and the Maine, of course, was a Second Class Battleship (predreadnought, 4×10-inch rifles).

    You can see I have a problem…

  28. laurentweppe says

    I suspect the people banging the drums for war in Syria are the same ones who, upon reading the fable of the boy who cried wolf

    No: they noticed that the neigbour who said “The kid is bullshiting you” the first time said “There’s really a wolf this time, in fact I just caught it on camera

  29. says

    “I suspect the people banging the drums for war in Syria are the same ones who, upon reading the fable of the boy who cried wolf”

    If that includes everybody who thinks some sort of military action is preferable to watching Assad become another Saddam Hussein with regime which preys on its citizens to the exclusion of civic governance, well, that’s a pretty wide net.

    “The story goes that during the Battle of the Nile (1806) a gunner’s mate was aquatinted of charges of deserting their post…”

    Good thing he had a decent barrister or he might have been monotyped or, horror of horrors, sepiatoned!

  30. freehand says

    The only recent times our interference has improved people’s lots are limited success in Bosnia and the first Gulf War. both times we went in as part of a UN mission, and stuck pretty much to the agenda. No boots on the ground, either. Even then, I’m pretty sure that The first Gulf War was about saving our oil, and Saddam attacked at least partly because we had encouraged him and propped him up previously.

    I’m sick of jumping into someone else’s bar fights and shooting wildly. I do not trust our government to tell the truth, to stick to an avowed agenda, to act efficiently, minimally, or humanely. We had a chance, I think, to help Afghanistan. Are they better off now? This is far more complex and unpredictable.

    There are 18 year-olds in the Near East who do not remember when Yanks were not invaders blowing up weddings with drones. Shall we start working on a second generation?

    Let’s scale back our saber rattling, and take half our military money and manpower to rebuild our cities and infrastructure. We’re soon going to wish we had

  31. freehand says

    laurentweppe I suspect the people banging the drums for war in Syria are the same ones who, upon reading the fable of the boy who cried wolf

    No: they noticed that the neigbour who said “The kid is bullshiting you” the first time said “There’s really a wolf this time, in fact I just caught it on camera“

    I believe you. But I do not believe the US government is honest, united, or has anybody’s best interests at heart, Among other considerations, there is subtle damage from relentless warfare; damage of the heart and mind, palpable in politics and economics, but also shaping our view of the world and our responses to conflict. I have studied martial arts most of my life, I am a student of the End Game, as it were, the last dance when negotiations fail. But I am appalled at my fellow citizens who so easily see violence as the preferred weapon for problems solving – e.g. “The second amendment solution”. Most here don’t think like that, I know, but I wonder if these costs are being considered? A weariness of the soul, a coarsening of civility, a harshness in political discourse. Just because they are difficult to measure doesn’t mean their cost may not be substantial.

Leave a Reply