Trump’s Rush to Judgment on Syria Chemical Attack, by Scott Ritter, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.
The pronouncements of imminent military action by the United States are not made in a vacuum. Russia, which has considerable military forces deployed inside Syria, including advanced military aircraft and anti-aircraft missile batteries, has rejected the allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria as a “fabrication,” and promised that any attack on Syria would result in “serious repercussions.” Russian forces inside Syria have reportedly been placed on “full alert” as American naval vessels capable of launching cruise missiles have arrived off the Syrian coast.
The United States and Russia appear to be heading toward a direct military confrontation that, depending on the level of force used and the number, if any, casualties incurred by either side, carries with it the risk of a broader conflict.
While Russian (and Syrian) claims of innocence regarding the alleged chemical weapons attack cannot be accepted at face value, the fact that the United States has not backed up its own claims with anything other than a recitation of accusations made by rebel groups opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad is problematic insofar as it shows a rush to judgement on matters of war. Given the potentially devastating consequences of any U.S.-Russian military clash over Syria, it would be better for all parties involved to wait for a full and thorough investigation of the alleged attack before any final decision on the use of force in response is made. …
There are two versions of events at Douma, a suburb of Damascus and part of Eastern Ghouta. The first:
The one relied upon by the United States is provided by rebel forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a non-profit organization comprised of various Syrian opposition groups funded by the Asfari Foundation and George Soros’ Open Societies Foundation, at approximately 12 p.m. the Syrian Air Force attacked the vicinity of the Saada Bakery using munitions believed to contain “poisonous gas.” The VDC cited eyewitness accounts from members of the Syrian Civil Defense, or “White Helmets,” who described the smell of chlorine and the presence of numerous bodies assessed to have succumbed from gas sourced to a Syrian “rocket.” Later, at 7 p.m., a second air strike struck an area near Martyr’s Square, again using munitions assessed by eyewitnesses to contain “poisonous gas.” …
Only Douma held out [against the joint Syrian-Russian offensive], where Salafist fighters from the “Army of Islam” (Jaish al-Islam) refused to surrender. On April 5, the situation had deteriorated inside Douma to the point that the rebel defenders had agreed to negotiations that would lead to their evacuation of Douma; the very next day, however, these discussions had broken down, and the Syrian military resumed its offensive. The air attacks described by the VDC occurred on the second day of the resumption of hostilities.
There is a competing narrative, however, provided by the Russian government and those sympathetic to its position. After the breakdown of negotiations between the Douma rebels and the Russian government on April 6, the story goes, the Syrian government offensive to liberate Douma resumed. The Douma rebels, faced with imminent defeat, fabricated the allegations of a chemical attack. Russia had warned of such a provocation back in March 2018, claiming the rebels were working in coordination with the United States to create the conditions for a massive American air attack against Syrian government infrastructure. …
Neither side are exactly impeccable in a credibility contest. It’s like arriving on the scene to find two kids are squabbling — who to believe about who started it?
Russia has offered to open up Douma to inspectors from the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, for a full investigation. This offer was echoed by the Syrian government … One major drawback to any OPCW investigation is its inability to assess responsibility for the presence of any banned substances detected.
The United States has submitted a resolution to the Security Council demanding that a new investigatory body be formed that would be able to provide attribution for any chemical weapons attack inside Syria; whether Russia would veto such a resolution or allow it to be passed has yet to be seen. …
The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided.
hat-tip Stephen Neil