Syria, Sarin, and Casus Belli
By Michael Parenti
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that on August 21
the Assad government slaughtered 1,429 people, including 426
children, in a sarin chemical attack in Ghouta, a Damascus
suburb. (Doctors Without Borders put the
total at about 300.) Secretary Kerry insisted that now the
United States had no choice but to launch U.S. bombing attacks
against President Bashar al-Assad, devolving into another of
America's "humanitarian wars."
The Sarin Mysteries
Following Kerry, President Obama announced that the situation in
Syria had changed irredeemably since August 21. The United
States would have to attack. But, on second thought, Obama
decided to leave the decision up to (a seemingly reluctant)
A few weeks later, Turkish prosecutors issued a lengthy court
indictment charging the Syrian rebels with seeking to use
chemical weapons. The indictment suggested that sarin gas and
other "weapons for a terrorist organization" were utilized by
the opposition and not by the Assad government.
The "Syrian freedom fighters" include men who are not even
Syrian, much like the many mujahedeen who fought the Soviets in
Afghanistan but who were not Afghani. As reported in the Wall
Street Journal (September 19, 2013), the ISIS, an Iraqi al Qaeda
outfit operating in Syria, "has become a magnet for foreign
jihadists" who view the war in Syria not primarily as a means to
overthrow Assad "but rather as a historic battleground for a
larger Sunni holy war. According to centuries-old Islamic
prophecy they espouse, they must establish an Islamic state in
Syria as a step to achieving a global one."
Meanwhile, a Mint Press News story quoted residents in Ghouta
who asserted that Saudi Arabia gave chemical weapons to an al
Qaeda-linked group. Residents blamed this terrorist group for
the deadly explosions of August 21. They claimed that some of
the rebels handled the weapons improperly and thereby set off
the explosions. Anti-government forces, interviewed in the
article, said they had not been informed about the nature of the
weapons nor how to use them. “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives
such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how
to handle them,” complained one rebel militant.
At the same time, the Russian government submitted a 100-page
report to the United Nations in early September, regarding an
attack upon the Syrian city of Aleppo in March 2013. It
concludes that the rebels---not the Syrian government---used the
nerve agent sarin. According to a member of the U.N. independent
commission of inquiry, Carla Del Ponte, there were "strong,
concrete suspicions . . . of the use of sarin gas." Del Ponte
added: "This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels,
not the government authorities." Many of those killed by the gas
attack were Syrian soldiers, according to the report.
If true, then we might wonder why are chemical weapons and other
weaponry and supplies being supplied to various al Qaeda-type
groups? Is not al Qaeda a secret terrorist organization that
delivers death and destruction upon people everywhere? Are we
Americans not locked in a global struggle with the demonic
jihadists who supposedly hate us because we are rich,
successful, and secular, while they are impoverished failures?
That certainly is the scenario the U.S. public has been fed for
over a decade.
The United States claims it provides military assistance only to
"vetted" rebel groups, "free ones" that are friendly toward
America and are not Islamic fanatics. (Although, as Senator
Croker, Republican from Tennessee, admitted: we sometimes make
"mistakes" and give weapons to the wrong rebels.) On September
17, President Obama waived a provision in the federal law that
prohibits supplying arms to terrorist groups. To many of us this
was an unspoken admission that Washington was giving aid to
extremist Islamic groups, of which al Qaeda was only the best
Remember the Casus Belli
It is difficult for me to accept the charge that on August 21
the Syrian government waged a chemical onslaught in Ghouta
against its own people in a situation that was bound to backfire
in the worst possible way---by handing over to the U.S. war
hawks a casus belli, a perfect excuse to wreak retaliatory
"humanitarian" death and destruction upon Syria. This is the
last thing the Assad government wants.
Remember how the Spaniards asked the Americans not to send the
USS Maine to Havana Harbor in 1898. They feared that something
might happen to the ship and the U.S. would use that mishap as a
casus belli, putting the blame on Spain. Sure enough, the Maine
blew up while sitting in the harbor, sending U.S. public opinion
into a jingoistic fury against the Spaniards. But why would
Spaniards perpetrate the very act that would give the Americans
an excuse and an inducement to wage a war that Spain most
certainly did not want and could not win?
And let us not forget the hundreds of imaginary Kuwaiti babies
torn from incubators and dashed upon hospital floors by
snarling, maniacal Iraqi soldiers. And remember the
never-to-be-found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that Saddam
supposedly was preparing to use but never got around to doing
so. And then there's that Serbian general---never identified or
located---who purportedly told his troops (also never
identified) to "go forth and rape." And Qaddafi who reportedly
handed out Viagra to his Libyan troops so they could go forth
and rape with a drug-driven vigor, a story so obviously
fabricated that it was dropped after two days.
Choice: Satellite or Enemy
Why do (some) U.S. leaders seek war against Syria? Like
Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and dozens of other countries that have
felt America's terrible swift sword---Syria has been committing
economic nationalism, trying to chart its own course rather than
putting itself in service to the western plutocracy. Like Iran,
China, Russia and some other nations, Syria has currency
controls and other restrictions on foreign investments. Like
those other nations, Syria lacks the proper submissiveness. It
is not a satellite to the U.S. imperium. And any nation that is
not under the politico-economic sway of the U.S. global
plutocracy is considered an enemy or a potential enemy.
The Assad government had social programs for its people, far
from perfect services but still better than what might be found
in many U.S. satellite countries. When Iraqi refugees fled to
Syria to escape U.S. military destruction, the Assad government
gave them full benefits. So with the Libyan refugees who crossed
over a few years later. Generally Damascus presided over a
multi-ethnic society, relatively free of sectarian intolerance
Syria has been ruled by the Ba'ath Party which has dominated the
country's parliament and military for half a century. The
party's slogan is "Unity, Freedom, Socialism." Socialism? Now
that gets us closer to why the trigger-happy boys in Washington
will continue to pursue a "humanitarian war" of attrition and a
prolonged campaign of demonization against Assad and his
Weapons of Mass Destruction Redux
On September 10, the Syrian government welcomed a Russian
proposal calling for Syria to place all of its chemical weapons
under international control and for the weapons to be destroyed.
Here was a chance to avoid false charges of mass murder by sarin.
If Assad no longer had such an arsenal, no one could accuse him
of using it. (In any case, the Syrian government's campaign
against the rebels was going well enough using just conventional
Instead of winning approval from the humanitarian warriors of
the West, Syria's eager agreement to surrender its chemical
arsenal set off a newly framed barrage of threats from U.S. and
French leaders, with the irrepressible Secretary Kerry leading
the charge. Was this a ploy on Syria's part or a genuine offer?
Kerry asked in a scoffing tone. How can we be certain that Assad
would not sequester its enormous stock of chemical weapons?
Kerry issued a whole barrage of tough-guy threats. Syria will be
treated most harshly if it pursued a path of deception. French
President François Hollande called for a United Nations Security
resolution that would authorize the use of force if Syria failed
to hand over its chemical weapons. One would think that Syria
had refused to do so.
The August charge had been that Syria had used chemical weapons
, a claim that might be refuted. Now the new charge was that
Syria possessed such weapons---which was true. And possession
itself was suddenly being treated as a crime deserving of swift
and severe retaliation.
Now Assad would have to demonstrate the indemonstrable. He would
have to convince the western aggressors that he has handed over
his entire stockpile of chemical weapons. At the same time, he
asserts that a thorough inspection must not come at the expense
of disclosing Syrian military sites or causing a threat to its
Recall how the Saddam government in Iraq, hoping to avoid war,
cooperated fully with U.N. inspectors hunting for WMDs. Every
facility in the country was opened to investigation. Even after
all of Iraq was occupied, the hunt continued. We were told that
the WMDs could be anywhere, maybe out in some remote part of the
desert. It was impossible to be sure.
I fear that the Syrian population is facing more years of
painful attrition. The one faintly positive development is that
the FSA and the ISIS and all the murderous, Allah-is-great
grouplets continue to attack not only the government forces but
each other. Dozens of rebels have been killed in clashes with
each other within the last few months.
Meanwhile young Syrian children, now living in refugee camps in
Lebanon, go every morning to work long days in the fields,
earning the few dollars a day upon which their families depend
for survival. Some are as young as 5. When asked what they miss
most about Syria, the children say, "school."
is the author of "The Face of Imperialism" and "Waiting for
Yesterday:Pages from a Street Kid's Life." See his website for
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