12 April 2017

The Malleable Bi-Partisan Utility of Poison Gas

If there was a centerpiece to Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign for President of the United States, it was her struggle to convince the American people that Donald Trump was congenitally incapable of reacting rationally when surprised by a dangerous international crisis.  She struggled futilely to contrast her experience and gravitas to Trump’s reckless impulsiveness.  In a rational world, the recent Trumpian brain fart of firing  59 cruise missiles (worth about $90 million) at a nearly empty — and forewarned —  Syrian airfield should be a candidate case study to test Clinton’s psychological theory. But it won’t be. Mr. Trump merely did what Ms. Clinton called on him to do (see this video) a few hours prior to the attack.  Moreover, the political response to Trump’s attack has been one of widespread bipartisan support, with particular enthusiasm among senior Democrats [e.g, see 12  3]    

Trump's cruise missile attack was launched in reaction to the unproved (at least the American public has not been presented with the proof of) allegation that President Assad of Syria dropped poison gas bombs on his own people in Idlib province. This link will take you to an official statement of the assertions that now pass for evidence supporting the allegation.  Note the absence of photographic evidence of the mass casualties would attend any attack by weapons-grade sarin gas in a populated area.  

So, Trump’s allegation is a hypothesis taking the form of a narrative.  Bear in mind a “narrative” is simply a story consisting of real or imaginary connected events.  In this case, there are at least two alternative hypotheses, each made plausible in part by the limited nature of this particular gas horror: One alternative hypothesis is that the chemical release was a false flag operation concocted by jihadi rebels to trick the US and its allies to more actively join their war for regime change in Syria.  Another alternative hypothesis is that Assad's Air Force unwittingly bombed a Jihadi ammo dump containing chemical weapons. The rebels have long been suspected of having access to a primitive chemical weapons capability that would be more consistent with the nature of civilian deaths than would be the case if Assad used of weapons-grade sarin gas as suggested by Hillary Clinton and the White House.  The simple fact is that the American people have not been presented with a “slam dunk” proof of which, if any, of these hypotheses is closest to being the truth.  For now, the proof is “trust us."

There is, however, a reason to be suspicious of the government’s claims: Uri Avery, a hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, and Israel's leading human rights advocate, for example, penned a scathing critique of the White House "narrative."  Moreover, American politicians have a long and sordid history of manipulating public perceptions and constructing “narratives” with regard to the use of poison gas to kill large numbers of defenseless civilians in the Middle East.  The attached article by my good friend Andrew Cockburn offers an important reminder in this regard.   Andrew's subject — poison gas, war in the Middle East, and the malleable bipartisan utility it has offered to cynical US politicians — is a dispassionate warning that is particularly timely, given the hysterical nature of contemporary political debate in the United States.  It is leanly written but chock a block with information about real — not imaginary — events.  It is worth careful study. 

An Inconvenient Truth
In 1988 US officials helped disguise Saddam's chemical attack on Halabja. But when it came time to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they acted outraged.
By Andrew Cockburn, The Nation, AUGUST 23, 2007
If the United States ever possessed a shred of moral authority for the invasion of Iraq, it came from Halabja, a Kurdish town of about 70,000 people nestling in a bowl in front of the towering mountain chain that fringes Iraq’s northeast frontier with Iran. Halabja was once famous among Kurds as the “city of poets,” and the townspeople were known for their love of books. It is doubtful that George W. Bush had ever heard of the poets, but he did find it useful to know that in 1988 Halabjans were the victims of the largest use of chemical weapons against a civilian population in history, thereby providing inspiration for Bush’s repeated observation that Saddam was “evil” and had “gassed his own people.”
Like Guernica or My Lai, Halabja (in Kurdish, “the wrong place”) suffered an experience of mass murder intense enough to transform the town’s very name into a historical event. That event occurred on the afternoon of March 16, 1988–a cold but pleasant day, with occasional showers, notes Joost Hiltermann in A Poisonous Affair  his comprehensive and powerful delineation not only of what happened that day but of all those who helped bring it about. The day before, Kurdish fighters, with Iranian encouragement and support, had occupied the town after driving out Iraqi government troops. Now the Iraqi air force had returned to deliver Saddam’s response.  (continued)