Syria and Chemical Weapons: Debating the Regime-Change War in Syria
by Roger Annis - A Socialist In Canada
April 24, 2018
Like the rest of Canada’s corporate media, the state-run CBC is virulently anti-Russia and a constant voice favouring the regime-change war in Syria. So it was something of a surprise to hear its national radio news report on April 22 provide evidence that counters the claims of a chemical weapons attack against the town of Douma, Syria in the region east of Damascus on April 7.
The CBC reported some of the information first reported by Robert Fisk of the UK Independent on April 17. Fisk spoke to medical personnel who treated what were later claimed by Western media to be victims of a chemical attack.
Photo provided to Western media by the
Western-funded ‘White Helmets’ agency
purporting to show victims of a chemical
weapons attack in Douma, Syria on April 7, 2018
They explained to Fisk that the victims treated that day were suffering from respiratory ailments caused by the dust, debris and concussion symptoms of explosions. The medical personnel were interviewed separately and broadcast on a YouTube channel in Syria; you can view the video here.
Military clashes were still taking place on April 7 between the Syrian government and the right-wing militias in control of Douma since 2012. A ceasefire agreement has since provided for the withdrawal of the militias and re-assertion of control of Douma by the Syrian government.
As Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook reported on April 18, Fisk’s reporting has been ignored or downplayed by Western media. The CBC reporting makes no specific mention of Fisk or his original reporting.
There is, of course, a long history of chemical weapons usage by the Western imperialist powers going back more than 100 years. The famed UK prime minister Winston Churchill was a firm proponent of chemical weapons usage during World War One and also in Britain’s colonial wars of the same era in the Middle East, Africa and India.
Britain also used chemical weapons in its military intervention into northern Russia in 1919. That intervention sought the overthrow of the revolutionary government which came to power in Russia and neighbouring republics during and after November 2017.
Chemical weapons were used with a vengeance by the U.S. and its allies during their brutal wars against the peoples of Korea and Vietnam. They have been used by NATO and allied countries as recently as in Iraq in 2003 (white phosphorus and depleted uranium) and in Gaza against Palestinians by Israel (white phosphorus).
In contrast to its one-off radio report on April 22, the CBC’s website continues to publish standard-fare Western news reports consisting of a mix of some news along with half truths and falsehoods. In this example on April 21, citations are provided from the Western-funded and promoted ‘White Helmets’ agency which mixes civil defense initiatives with propaganda favouring the violent overthrow of the Syrian government.
An April 10 report by U.S. antiwar activist and writer Rick Sterling provides a good overview of this latest chemical weapons accusation against the Syrian government. Sterling’s report was first published on Mint Press News and was then reprinted on Monthly Review‘s MR Online. Also on MR Online is an article reviewing the history of chemical weapons accusations against Syria.
The ‘World news’ page on my A Socialist In Canada website is following closely the unfolding situation in Syria. It contains headlines and weblinks to vital news and analysis of Syria, including of late by Gregory Shupak in Jacobin and Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting and by Scott Taylor, who writes a weekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
I view the broad outlines of the situation in Syria as follows:
* The Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies are retaking control much of the western parts of the country which have been under the control of right-wing militias supported by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
* At the same time, the U.S. and its NATO allies, including Turkey, are laying the groundwork for partitioning large parts of Syria, notably the northern strip along the border with Turkey and vast stretches of the eastern part of the country (where, coincidentally, most of Syria’s oil and gas reserves lie). This is the new and latest variant of their longstanding regime-change war in Syria.
* Syrian Kurdish political leaders are willing participants in the U.S. partition plans. (Kurds comprise some 2.5 million of Syria’s population of 18.5 million.)
* The supposed conflict between the U.S. and Turkey over Syria is typical theatre of the Trump era of U.S. politics designed to obscure and distract what is truly taking place in U.S. and NATO foreign policy. The two NATO allies see eye to eye in plans to weaken and divide the country and people of Syria. Their purported disputes are theatrics. Inside Turkey, a drive to an authoritarian state continues, accompanied by brutal crackdown against the rights of Turkey’s large Kurdish population. A particular target is the left wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest party in the Turkish Parliament.
Debating the regime-change war in Syria
An April 24 commentary on Syria by writer Sonali Kolhaktar is published on CounterPunch: ‘The left, Syria and fake news‘. The commentary is re-posted from Truthdig, where it originally appeared on April 19 under the title ‘Why are some on the left falling for fake news on Syria?‘. Many such commentaries are being published by ostensible leftists condemning the antiwar and left wing voices in the West that are defending Syria’s national sovereignty in the face of the determined drive by U.S.-led imperialism to overthrow the Syrian government. Common to all the condemnations, including this latest one by Kolhatkar, is that they say and propose absolutely nothing by way of how the war in Syria could end. That’s because they favour the violent overthrow of the Syrian government and president. The rest is talk.
On April 23, Truthdig published a reply by U.S. writer and journalist Max Blumenthal to Kolhatkar’s original article. His reply is here: ‘Syria controversy: Don’t believe the official narrative‘. Truthdig published a brief rejoinder by Kolhatkar to Blumenthal on the same date.
Kolhatkar wrote in her rejoinder, “We need to get beyond the battle over Assad’s crimes to unite against U.S. militarism, but unfortunately, pro-Assad sentiment undermines the left’s credibility on this issue.” But we get no hint of how an antiwar left could “unite against U.S. militarism”.
An antiwar movement certainly should not “unite” in turning a blind eye to the U.S. regime change war in Syria. The same turning a blind eye is taking place over the civil war being waged for the past four years in eastern Ukraine by the extreme-right government in Ukraine with NATO backing.
Nor should an antiwar movement make abstract calls for Russia to withdraw its military support to the Syrian government. A political agreement is required to end the war in Syria. This can open a process of national reconstruction, complete with political discussion and debate over the past and future paths of economic development for Syria. Certainly, the Syrian government’s past policies favouring the spread of globalized capitalism into the country should come under sharp scrutiny.
Presently, there is a dearth across the board of discussion in the West as to how a movement of solidarity with the Syrian people can assist a process of national ceasefire, dialogue and reconstruction. For example, nothing is known in the West of Russia’s longstanding proposals to the Syrian government and people that they modify the Syrian constitution in order to provide recognition to the country’s national minorities, notably the Syrian Kurds.
In the absence of a political agreement for ceasefire and peace, calls for withdrawal of Russian and Iranian support to Syria amount to calls for the people of Syria to surrender their sovereignty to imperialism. Thankfully, the people of Syria are not about to follow such counsel.
 The pro-NATO Atlantic Council recently published an article expressing unease over the continued ascendance of a violent, extreme-right movement in Ukraine and the decline in legitimacy of the governing regime in Kyiv. Russia analyst Mark Ames commented on Twitter on April 23 on the Atlantic Council article: “Now even NATO’s front group [the Atlantic Council] is worried about Ukraine’s Nazi problem. Until recently, these same hacks smeared anyone worried about Ukraine’s Nazi problem as ‘Russian disinformation’, ‘Putinist’, ‘Kremlin bot’ etc.”
Related: The tragic fall of Afrin to NATO-member Turkey’s military intervention, and the dangerous aftermath, by Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, March 24, 2018
1. Deception in plain sight: Douma, part one, report on Media Lens (UK), April 25, 2018
[This report on Media Lens examines the near-to universal, pro-war reaction of mainstream media in Britain to the false news that a chemical weapons attack was perpetrated by the Syrian government against the people of the town of Douma on April 7, 2018. The report also looks at Glenn Greenwald’s retractions and flounderings following his claim on Democracy Now! on April 9 that the Syrian government was responsible for the alleged attack. He told program host Amy Goodman, “I think that it’s—the evidence is quite overwhelming that the perpetrators of this chemical weapons attack, as well as previous ones, is the Assad government…”
[Media Lens explains to its readers that part two of this report will be published soon. From the ‘About’ page of the online publication: “Since 2001, we have been describing how mainstream newspapers and broadcasters operate as a propaganda system for the elite interests that dominate modern society…”]
2. ‘It just doesn’t ring true’, Douma part two, report on Media Lens (UK), April 26, 2018
3. The eclectic CounterPunch ups the ante on anti-Russia reporting
[CounterPunch has published a commentary on April 25 which accepts the unproven claim of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on the town of Douma on April 7. Worse, it ups the ante by saying that Russian president Vladimir Putin schemed with the Donald Trump regime in Washington as the latter prepared its missile attacks launched together with Britain against Syria during the night of April 13/14. The CounterPunch commentary begins:
Not once, but twice, Donald Trump seized upon the specter of alleged chemical use, by Bashar al-Assad, to punish Syria with missile attacks. With predictable and expedient faux rage, he risked elevating a seven year horror into a cataclysmic nightmare; at least that’s the common political sentiment.
Perhaps, this calculation is more than a bit frayed given the certainty of a choreographed agreement between Trump and Putin before the attacks began.
To be sure, only a political novice would overlook the bargain that enabled Trump to stage his domestic political show and afford Putin ample time to move his forces to avoid his own domestic fallout should any of the U.S. missiles have missed their Syrian mark and fallen, instead, upon a Russian fighter jet or pilot.
Pardon my cynicism, but I have little doubt that when it comes to the Middle East, or elsewhere, neither of these autocrats sees much beyond their own political and economic self-interest no matter what flag their rhetoric comes draped in. It’s not just the way of the times, but the accomplished trait of each…
[The commentator ‘overlooks’ mentioning the fact that Russian-supplied air defenses allowed the Syrian armed forces to shoot down more than half the estimated 110 U.S. and UK missiles launched on April 13/14. The writers’s claim of a “choreographed agreement” between the U.S. and Russia thus takes left-wing conspiracy theorizing to a whole new level.]
4. No attack, no victims, no chemical weapons: Witnesses from Douma, Syria speak at OPCW briefing at The Hague, RT, April 26, 2018
5. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter refutes U.S. chemical weapons claim in Syria, interview with Scott Ritter, on ‘Flashpoints Radio‘, KPFA station, with host Denis Bernstein, April 23, 2018 (Transcript of the interview is published here on Consortium News, April 27, 2018)
Introduction by Dennis Bernstein:
In the 1980’s, Scott Ritter was a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps, specializing in intelligence. In 1987, Ritter was assigned to the On-Site Inspection Agency, which was put together to go into the Soviet Union and oversee the implementation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. This was the first time that on-site inspection had been used as part of a disarmament verification process.
Ritter was one of the groundbreakers in developing on-site inspection techniques and methodologies. With this unique experience behind him, Ritter was asked in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, to join the United Nations Special Commission, which was tasked by the Security Council to oversee the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. From 1991 to 1998, Ritter served as a chief weapons inspector and led a number of teams into Iraq.
According to Ritter, in the following Flashpoints Radio interview with Dennis Bernstein conducted on April 23, US, British and French claims that the Syrian Government used chemical weapons against civilians last month appear to be totally bogus.
6. Kurds, the survivors of the Syrian wars, by Patrick Cockburn, London Review of Books, April 5, 2018 (available to subscribers only)
Comment by Roger Annis, April 28, 2018:
In his latest contribution to the London Review of Books (writing date March 23), Patrick Cockburn provides valuable information on the recent history and current, difficult circumstances facing Syria’s estimated Kurdish population of 2.5 million. Turkey has invaded the Kurdish region of Afrin in northwest Syria and is conducting an ethnic cleansing of the region. The U.S., meanwhile, is using the Kurdish forces of northern Syria in its plan to weaken and partition Syria.
Cockburn’s authority is based on his extensive travel and reporting from Syria. But he continues his habit of describing Syria using unproven allegations against Russia and the Syrian government. Thus, we read the following in this latest contribution to the London Review of Books: “Russia gave Turkey permission to use airpower freely over Afrin, withdrew its military contingent from the enclave and opened the door for Turkish forces to invade, which they did on 20 January .”
This is how Cockburn describes Russia’s wise decision in January 2018 not to take NATO’s bait and engage militarily against NATO member Turkey in Afrin on behalf of Kurdish forces aligned with NATO member United States. For that decision, writers in the West such as Cockburn heap disparaging distortions of the truth on Russia’s head.
Furthermore, in typical fashion of those making such allegations, not a word is reported by Cockburn of Russia’s longstanding proposals to the Syrian government and people that they modify the Syrian constitution to provide recognition of Kurdish national (autonomous) rights. Nor is there any mention of the proposal by the Syrian and Russian armed forces to the Kurds of Afrin in December 2016 that the Kurds accept the entry of Syrian armed forces and allies into Afrin region in order to forestall the anticipated Turkish intervention.
Kurdish acceptance of the proposal would have stirred U.S. ire. In other words, for good or for bad, the Kurdish leadership in Afrin bowed to the Turkish intervention and inevitable ethnic cleansing that followed rather than jeopardize their alliance with the United States and its illegal intervention and occupation in oil-and-gas-rich eastern Syria.]
The plans by Turkey and the U.S. to partition Syria are passively described by Cockburn as follows:
“The country is now divided into three zones, each under a different authority and supported by a different foreign sponsor.”
Note how NATO members Turkey and the U.S. are described as “different” from one another in their objectives in Syria and not at all described as the illegal, foreign invaders and occupiers that they are. Syria’s national government in Damascus is reduced to one of three “different authorities”, alongside the two illegal occupiers.