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April 17th 2018 print

Peter Smith

Syria? Russia? God Only Knows

Russia is said to have poisoned a defector with a nerve agent that has Moscow's fingerprints all over it. Why so careless? In Syria, one chemical incident among many prompts a massive air blitz. Again, why now? Only one truth shall can set free the questing, restless mind

“The world ain’t what it seems, and the moment you think you got it figured out, you’re wrong.”
Levon Helm as Mr Rate in the movie Shooter

fog handI often find it hard to be sure that the putative perp did the dirty deed. In the early 1980s I was foreman of a jury in a trial of a young man charged with receiving stolen property. He had plead guilty to a number of other receiving charges, for which he had been given a non-custodial sentence. If he were found guilty this time around he would almost certainly go to jail. It was touch and go in the jury room. But I thought that there was reasonable doubt. He was acquitted.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that exactly the right decision was made. But I know that I would have wrestled much more with a decision to find him guilty rather than ‘innocent’. It comes, I think, from being a sceptic across the whole gamut of life. I look for proof. Sometimes I find it hard to believe anything with that deep and abiding certainty that I see in some others.

Funny, I believe in God, for which physical evidence is unobtainable, but have my suspicions about the completeness of evolutionary theory, for which there is an amount of physical evidence. The latest announced cancer cure, cures for aging, quantum computing, driverless cars, the triumph of artificial intelligence over humankind, all are lapped up by some people as being part of a brave new future world. Not by me. I am consistently cynical. I’ll believe it when I see it, which I won’t because I’ll be dead before it likely doesn’t happen.

I am sceptical about both the fact of and the seriousness of manmade global warming, though I do not entirely dismiss the possibility that the alarmists are right. A lot of the people I know seem absolutely sure one way or the other. I have come under fire from both sides.

This brings me to the Russians and to also to Bashar Al-Assad. First to Russians and Mr Putin. Apparently, the Russian government, Putin himself perhaps, employed a Soviet-made nerve agent Novichok to try to knock off ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in London in March of this year. Thankfully both have recovered. The British foreign secretary Boris Johnson was reported as saying that it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Russia did it. “There can be no doubt what was used and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible…Only Russia has the means, motive and record.”

This is what is called circumstantial evidence. Would the Russians have been silly enough to use a nerve agent which could be easily traced back to them? Perhaps they would as a signal to others who would turn against the motherland. I don’t know, but I do know that I have a problem with describing something of this kind as “overwhelming likely.”

It is overwhelming likely that he is guilty, M’lud. Is that the same as guilty beyond reasonable doubt, which though also imprecise has a long legal history to sustain it? Would we send someone to the gallows who is overwhelmingly likely to have committed the murder? What the heck does it mean? I would like those in positions of power to use more precise language before deciding to expel Russian diplomats and to enjoin other countries to do the same. Precision of language leads to precision of thought which, in turn, lays groundwork for better decision-making. As George Orwell puts it in his essay Politics and the English Language: “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

Now to that “monster” Assad. It is said, constantly and irritatingly, that he kills his own people. Leave aside whether he regards those opposing him in that tribal part of the world as his own people. Is killing one’s own people better or worse than killing foreigners? In a civil war, as Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis discovered, there are few people to kill but one’s own. That is the nature of the beast.

The US, the UK and France have made it clear that they not wish to intervene in the civil war to overthrow Assad. That’s wise. The situation post-Assad might get even messier and they would own it. Apparently, their limited goal is to deter Assad from gassing his, so-called, own people. This makes sense to me; not primarily to deter Assad but to stand against the more widespread use of chemical weapons. We don’t want to find them being used in New York, in London, in Paris or in Sydney.

I am going to assume that Assad used chlorine gas, and perhaps sarin, in attacking the rebel-held town of Douma. But I have to subdue my scepticism. We are told that he used chemical weapons on numbers of previous occasions since the US attacked a Syrian airbase a year ago. Why then act now and not on those previous occasions? Also, I was not convinced by the video of children being hosed down in Douma. It looked contrived to me. I could be wrong.

Then there is this business of bombing a research and development site, a manufacturing site and a storage site all presumably holding chemical weapons. Surely this would have sent poisonous chemicals flying about? When a spokesman for the Pentagon (Gen. Kenneth McKenzie) was asked about this his arcane response (‘plume analysis’) left the mystery extant.

Mind you, both sides would have an interest in hiding collateral casualties. The Americans and their allies would not want to deal with the criticism that would come from gassing civilians – which we are constantly reminded includes men, women and children. D’oh! The Syrians and Russians, for their part, would not want to admit that there are such casualties because that would prove the existence of chemical weapons which they had undertaken to remove. My question remains. How exactly can more than one hundred missiles wreck buildings holding chemical weapons without sending chemicals pluming into surrounding areas?

I have another question. How is it possible that America, the UK and France formed an alliance and delivered a well-orchestrated, coordinated military strike only seven days after the reported gassing in Douma? I’ve got to believe it was pre-planned and waiting for an ostensible rationale.

I tend not to believe anything governments tell me anymore. I also suspect that they seldom know the whole truth. It is just one of the reasons I believe in God. It is overwhelmingly likely that someone must know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. None of us do. Ipso facto that just leaves God.

http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [15]

  1. Geoffrey Luck says:

    Peter: I don’t understand how your jury was aware of this man’s previous non-custodial sentences. In the jurisdictions with which I was familiar, “previous” are not disclosed during a trial and not made available to a jury. They come into play only in the magistrate’s or the judge’s sentencing. It would have been completely wrong for the fact that a guilty verdict by your jury could send him to jail, to have entered into your consideration of the evidence. Have I missed something?

    • Peter says:

      Geoffrey it was the case in England and I assume here – I don’t know whether it still is – but receiving stolen goods was/is the only crime for which past convictions are disclosed to the jury. In this case too, the defence’s case rested heavily on the accused having pleaded guilty to a number of instances of receiving but not to this one. So whether we knew as a matter of course, or because the defence counsel brought it up, I can’t recall.

  2. Macspee says:

    Peter, no doubt others know the answer, but skeptical me would think it likely that the intensity and high temperatures of the bombing would break up gas so that some compounds would break up and chlorine might well combine with other elements and compounds so that there would be at least a reduced risk. Additionally the explosive force would create a massive dispersal upwards and outwards that would reduce effects. But an interesting observation nonetheless.

    • whitelaughter says:

      There’s also the minor matter that anyone in danger of being gassed will have to deal with the more immediate threat of being ground zero for massive explosions. Quick google indicates that Sarin dissipates quickly, presenting an immediate but short-lived threat. Given that you won’t want civilians anywhere near your weapons stores – particularly not when they are constantly being ‘liberated’ by your opponents – I doubt there was anyone in range who wasn’t part of facility.

  3. en passant says:

    Peter,
    Your scepticism is well founded as Assad is innocent of this crime. Your implication that replacing him would be worse is also correct. So what do you prefer: a relatively secular state with 250,000 dead in the current war or 1,000,000 Allawites, Christians and Yazidis dead after the curtain falls post-Assad. Have a look at Libya as an example.

    Assad does not have control of any chemical weapons in Syria. He inherited some from Saddam, but you may remember that in 2012(?) the Al-Nusra Front captured a whole magazine of them north of Aleppo that had belonged to Saddam’s Iraq. They have been used in ‘false flag’ operations by terrorists ever since. Al-Nusra are our sort of ‘good’ terrorists, who just happened to (unfortunately) be caught on tape eating a murdered prisoners heart and beheading a 12-year old ‘spy. If that’s the good guys …

    What chemical weapons stocks tat remain in Syria are controlled by the Russians – and they neither have any need of them, nor would they allow their use as they would like to avoid the type of retaliation that has since occurred. In this case Trump has been badly advised on minimal evidence that could not convict a fox found in a chicken coup.

    The Russians took control of all of the Syrian chemical weapon stocks by 2013-2014, so I doubt they have relinquished that responsibility. The key was Al-Nusra capturing and using some of the mortar fired ones by lobbing them into a Damascus suburb in 2013. Those illegal weapons, banned by the 1927 Geneva Convention were manufactured in France and were sold to Iraq in the 1980’s for use against the Iranians. Explain to me why it is Ok for the French to be manufacturing and selling prohibited weapons …

    These weapons were first used to break up a 100,000 man attack at Basra in July 1982.

    The biggest use of gas since WW1 was in February 1984 when Mustard Gas and Sarin halted a 500,000 man Iranian attack that captured Manjun Island, but failed to take Basra.

    By 1987 the sheer weight of Iranian numbers was overwhelming the Iraqi Army. Then the Kurds rose up in rebellion in the north to add to Saddam’s woes. So, with no Army divisions to spare, Saddam resorted to the heavy use of Sarin, Tabun (another Nerve Gas), Cyanide and Mustard Gas to quell the Kurds. There were more than 40+ attacks (and included the infamous scenes of 2,500 people from the ‘Village of the Dead’ that was splashed across international news outlets).

    Saddam now had the capability to manufacture the latter two gases, but still relied on French, German (can you believe that?) and Turkish suppliers for either the finished products or the ingredients. He also needed to import every shell case and fuze for them, so the governments of the world knew what was going on and some of the more civilised among them were complicit in these crimes. Based on this evidence, surley we should strike paris and Berlin – and Istanbul for good measure? Call it applying ‘the precautionary principle’

    The UN Security Council condemned Iraq’s use of these internationally prohibited weapons but a resolution against Iraq was vetoed by the USA. Ah, ‘Political Hypocrisy’ – my 9th favourite sin.

    The last major use of gas in the Iraqi-Iran War was in April 1988 when Iraq destroyed the defenders of Manjun Island and recaptured it. This opened the Shatt al-Arab to Iraqi oil exports once more. The war ended on 8th August 1988.

    Syria warehoused Iraqi aircraft, chemical weapons and some armoured vehicles that were shipped from Iraq to Syria during the second Gulf War. They became Syrian property after Saddam was overthrown. As the Syrians did not have the expertise to handle them they asked for Russian assistance – which was gladly given as it was just as good as being given the plans and formulae. Unfortunately, before they could ship them to a secure location (or destroy them) our ‘good’ guys captured one of the stockpiles.

    This is similar to what the USA did in Libya, which had no chemical weapons, but did have a terrorists treasure trove of goodies gifted to the baddies by destroying the maniacal, but stable government of Gaddafi. Gaddafi had given up on terrorism, but he had a major rebellion on his hands. He was winning until NATO intervened to protect French oil interests and Italian gas fields. How has that worked out?

    It is a separate issue, but why did Hellarity send the US Ambassador to Benghazi? What was his mission? I have no evidence, but I suspect a dirty arms deal was being brokered that would have made Madame Secretary, Killary, and Brothel Bill very rich … Maybe the US Congress will uncover what went on. I hope so, but it seems powerless to do so.

    As for the nerve gas attack: the Russians did kill Litvinenko with radioactive Polonium (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexander_Litvinenko), so it is possible they did this too. The Bulgarians, with the aid of the Russians, also killed another dissident, Georgi Markov, with a capsule fired into his leg from an umbrella (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgi_Markov).

    So, the Russians ‘have priors’, but were they so ham-fisted as to use agas traceable only to them alone? I think not, M’Lud, as the possibility of another false flag means you cannot convict on the evidence available to date. But just in case, let’s bomb Moscow ….

    • ianl says:

      Interesting.

      Do you have references other than Wiki ? I’m hoping yes.

      • Jody says:

        Less is more, isn’t it!!!:-)

      • en passant says:

        My comments are based on some long articles in some US based magazines I subscribe to, but they are in storage as I am overseas until July. I travelled (and worked) in the M.E. for three years and was in Egypt just weeks before the ‘Arab Spring’ began. I took a close interest on what was going on around me and remain in contact with some people still in different parts. No need for me to list them, but I spent time in 10 x M.E. countries.

        Wikipedia is fine for the two references I gave as examples of ‘Black Ops’.

        • ianl says:

          > “My comments are based on some long articles in some US based magazines I subscribe to …”

          Those would be useful. Wiki not so much, in fact not at all, really.

          • ianl says:

            Your comment above (the longer one) is genuinely interesting but without references more credible than Wiki it is difficult to present the information as reliable in discussion. I can see you suspect I doubt your word – not so, but others will not accept Wiki as reliable (I don’t blame them).

          • en passant says:

            OK, the main magazine I quoted is ‘Modern Warfare’, but there were also articles in ‘Strategy & Tactics’.

  4. PT says:

    I don’t doubt Putin ordered the assassination in England, or his appointees did. Why kill an “ex-spy”? The man had already divulged whatever he knew in all probability. The obvious answer is that it is both a punishment and a warning to others to not attempt it themselves. In particular saying you can’t escape by fleeing to the West! Hence it has to be clear that Moscow is behind it, without it being clear to those who don’t want to see!

    Clearly we have to respond, otherwise we’re giving carte Blanche to the Russians trampling our laws in our countries.

    It’s also different to Assade’s attack.

    To be honest, I don’t have any hatred for Putin, nor do I think Assade is worse than his enemies (he’s actually less worse than many).

  5. Michael Galak says:

    I understand the Shakespearean ‘pox on both your houses’ attitude of many readers and , frankly, share it. There are no good guys there. Instead of bellyaching in the ‘who was it, who did it, let’s punish the culprit” style, methinks, M’lud, let us treat the situation in terms of enlightened self-interest.
    If these guys wish to behave as mad, bad and homicidal – who am I to tell them to stop being what they are? If Putin wishes to become even more of an international outcast by befriending the world’s most toxic dictators, becoming more and more like them in the process – bully for him! Pity the ordinary Russians, though but no compassion for our Vladimir. However, I digress. In the final analysis – it does not matter, whodunit. Any of the actors could’ve. The Russian Government? They certainly have a motive, means and the previously established pattern of deceit, provocation, aggression and contempt for civilised behavior. Assade? The same applies, plus the fear of annihilation in case of the opposition’s victory. Assad’s opponents? The same applies. So – why interfere, ignoring good old Bill’s adage about the both houses and the pox? The answer is frighteningly simple – its better to express our dissatisfaction in Damascus than , for the lucky few survivors, to live in gas masks in London, Melbourne or Paris for the rest of their miserable lives.

  6. Jacob Jonker says:

    As is often the case, the comments here are more interesting than Peter’s piece. For one thing, the matter is well covered in the MSM and alternative media, but the comments add something that the MSM ignores or does nor/cannot cover. Who dunnit? Why, etc. there are many aspects. Geopolitics, domestic politics, EU politics and financial-economic-commercial considerations.
    What is the truth? Better to ask, what is Truth? God knows, but, being a woman, She cannot be trusted to tell everyone of Her supporters the same story. I have a lot of admiration for a lot of God believers, but, other than JWs, I think believers in a, One and Only, God, would be wiser to profess agnosticism. The world would be so much better for it, for believers could do all the good things they do for their beliefs without letting it be known they only do it to please their Lord and hope to get on the eternal gravy train with Him/Her. The ME is in the news a lot. History is repeating itself, but now the whole world is engaged there, or at least, everybody who is anybody. The Globe Theatre now caters to the global audience. Whosoever is writing the play, and directing as they go, it is with many different considerations with a range of priorities in mind. A hierarchy of priorities competing in the minds of the orchestrators of total politics with the many and varied push and pull factors and factoids bringing to bear, in the arena of localised contention, a force or counterforce in the face of some real, as opposed to theatrical, opposition.
    In all likelihood, Mr Putin could be held responsible in geopolitical terms for the nerve gas attack on the Skripovs. However, Mrs May could not pin it on him in any way. What to do?
    I think, domestically, the diplomatic reaction was unwise. Without enough evidence, and only circumstantial at that, Mrs May was wrong to accuse Mr Putin/Russia and act as she did. She ought to have made public such facts as they came to light and asmit there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction, as yet. Next, quietly, reduce the ingress of Russian financial influence in the UK with a view to, eventually, along with other such influences, from within the UK as well as from without, stop the flow of criminally acquired moneys into the UK financial system.
    Then, geopolitically speaking, identify the principals and agents responsible for the mess in the Middle East and refuse to deal with and their cohorts and enablers. Of course, Mrs May cannot do that, because the West is up to its eyeballs into this game of cultivating, fomenting and harvesting the opportunities on offer in this very old-fashioned and very sordid part of the Globe’s theatre. Somehow, God is maintaining a hands-off policy here. Humanity is meant to sort itself out. The death of Europe is on the cards, as has been noted by acute observers and late prophets, karma is as karma does. People get the governments they deserve. In Western Europe, people have no excuse. Their forefathers/mothers had a long struggle to get where people are now. Make it work and survive or live it up until the capital is spent. The Middle East is a mess. So far, the West has meddled wherever on behalf of the globalising corporate interests, using up the resources on which the nominally sovereign democratic nation-states in Europe depend for their survival. In Europe, people are essentially offered a choice of a peaceful descent into a state of servitude with a political-financial-economic hierarchy to match, or a Europe-wide civil war in which the true democrats and sovereign nationalists are up against the globalising geopolitical operators and every bad-ass criminal, privateer and opportunist they can induce to help. The stream of illegal economic migrants under the cover of a few genuine refugees, some of whom went straight back home to bury some relative or one of thier children(so much for the refugee in need of succour, shelter and protection) is one example.
    Without the interfering West, notably the twin showers of imperial drips, the USA and the UK, with the back-up of the EU, things wouldn’t be half as bad as they are, and not a fraction as bad as they will have been overall when things settle down there.