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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted the recent Geneva II peace conference to focus on terrorism. He says terrorism is the main problem a...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

More on ex-journalist Robert Fisk's defense of Assad

Yesterday in Where Robert Fisk's defense of Assad falls down, I critiqued Robert Fisk's thesis, expressed in a recent article in The Independent, that based on new "evidence" from Russia, the M14 rockets used in the 21 August chemical attack weren't sold to Syria and therefore the Assad regime wasn't responsible for the attack.

Near the end of his article he also advances the thesis that Assad couldn't have done it because he would be crazy to do it while the UN inspectors were in town and Assad ain't crazy. This thesis has been advanced so often by the Syrian government, Russian and Iranian diplomats and Assad supporters of all stripes, that I am beginning to believe Assad did do it while the UN inspectors were in town simply because he thought it would make for good cover.

When Robert Fisk advances this thesis, he does it with a flourish worthy of an ex-journalist turned propagandist and he does it in the name of unnamed UN employees:
Nevertheless, it also has to be said that grave doubts are being expressed by the UN and other international organisations in Damascus that the sarin gas missiles were fired by Assad's army. While these international employees cannot be identified, some of them were in Damascus on 21 August and asked a series of questions to which no one has yet supplied an answer. Why, for example, would Syria wait until the UN inspectors were ensconced in Damascus on 18 August before using sarin gas little more than two days later – and only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in? Having thus presented the UN with evidence of the use of sarin – which the inspectors quickly acquired at the scene – the Assad regime, if guilty, would surely have realised that a military attack would be staged by Western nations.
The fundamental problem with this thesis is that regardless of what some people may think would have happened had Assad dared to use chemical weapons "only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in," somebody did use chemical weapons under those conditions and we are now in a position to know exactly what did happen.

In summary what did happen was that, in spite of the fact that the UN inspectors were only 4 miles away, Assad was able to keep them out for four days while he continued to bombard Ghouta, thus destroying evidence and killing witnesses. Then, when he did let them in, he was able to severely restrict the time that they had access to the sites. He had already secured an agreement that they would not find fault even before they were allowed into Syria.

One question that no one who advances this thesis as "evidence" of Assad's innocence has yet to supply an answer to is: If Assad was innocent of this crime, why did he first deny that any chemical attack had even taken place while he continued his conventional bombardment of the sites and kept the UN inspectors at bay? If Assad believed the opposition had staged the attack, wouldn't he rather get the UN inspectors in there ASAP and certainly not take any actions that might destroy evidence?

As far as a Western military attack is concerned, there has been no military attack and the likelihood of such an attack is fading with each passing day.

So history now proves that if Assad had thought that carrying out a chemical attack while the UN inspectors were in town carried no unreasonable risks and some advantages, he would be far from crazy. He would be making an entirely correct assessment of the situation; one that has been born out by subsequent events.

Since things have turned out so favourably for Assad in spite of the proximity of the UN inspectors, we have to ask: Would this have required clairvoyance on Assad's part or were there good reasons why Assad might feel confident that, in spite of Obama's year old threat, he would not face military reprisals for using chemical weapons?

In that regards it is interesting to note the comments of Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, only two days before the 21 August chemical attack:
It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favour. Today, they are not. The crisis in Syria is tragic and complex. It is deeply rooted, long-term conflict among multiple factions, and violent struggles for power will continue after Assad's rule ends. We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context.

We are helping Syria's neighbours contain the spillover effects that would render our allies and partners less secure. We continue to deliver humanitarian and security assistance to Syria's neighbours as well as non-lethal assistance to the opposition.
Now it must be admitted that, if Bashar al-Assad had read into these comments, from America's top general, no appetite for attacking him and concluded that crossing the fabled "red-line" would not have the threatened consequences, he would quite rationally be predicting the future.

Today Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is quoted giving an assessment of Obama that also undermines the thesis that Assad wouldn't dare use sarin gases because of fear of a military response from the West:
The Syrian president also lambasted United States President Barack Obama, saying that he was “a hesitant and unstable person.”

“He is too weak to launch an aggression against Syria.”
This is the dictator that his defenders argue wouldn't dare make a CW attack for fear of Obama's bombs! Maybe he's not crazy, just reckless.

Just as the real history of events since this chemical attack shows that if Assad thought he could get away with it under the noses of the UN inspectors, he would be thinking quite rationally, they also show that any rebel group that thought staging a "false flag" chemical attack to bring a Western military response would be quite delusional.

In short, this "evidence" of Assad's innocence, being advanced by Robert Fisk and so many other Assad supporters, may sound convincing at first glance but it just doesn't bear up under careful examination.

Still, since few people will look at it critically, it does make for good cover.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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