For Theresa May, Conservative UK prime minister, an attack on Syria promises to add to her effort to claw back from the disastrous Brexit vote that wounded her party. Anti-Russia hysteria, unprincipled charges of anti-Semitism lodged against Labour opponent Jeremy Corbyn, and now a missile-administered scolding of Syria’s president, Assad, help her in the polls or, at least, that’s her calculation.
Early in March, Emmanuel Macron’s poll numbers sank to the lowest level since his election. His ongoing attack on French workers and his enthusiasm for bombing Syria are meant to bolster his “tough guy” image. Like May, Macron has little else but austerity to offer workers; hence, manufacturing threats promises to distract.
Trump’s approval rate has taken a nose dive in recent weeks as well. Battered from all sides, Trump needed some love from the war hawks populating both parties. A muscular move against Assad would also signal Trump’s defiance of Putin, the alleged “devil’s handmaiden.”
Of course that didn’t win over the MSNBC/NPR/CNN crowd, the Democrats’ über alles. Schumer and Pelosi saw the trap: the choice between praising Trump for his attack on Syria or rejecting aggression. They, along with most other elected Democrats, performed an exercise of Clintonian triangulation: ‘we want to hit Assad more than anyone, but Trump should have allowed us to call for military action.’
For MSNBC’s Trump-reviling star, Rachel Maddow, Trump bombed Syria for the wrong reasons-- a case of “wagging the dog”-- hoping to distract critics from his domestic problems. She badgers her war-hawk guests to agree that Trump’s war on Assad was not authentic. Implicit is the notion that Trump could have established more credibility by raining greater death and destruction and further baiting the Russian bear.
Easy distraction has led apparently sober, morally-grounded people to overlook the telling coincidence of an alleged outrageous gas attack with the imminent defeat of the so-called rebels in Douma. They see no suspicious connection between Trump’s surprising announcement of US troop withdrawals and a provocation to revoke that decision. And they see no distraction from the contemporaneous cross-border slaughter of unarmed Palestinians by the Israeli military.
They see no calculation in scheduling the bombardment of Syria on Friday, the day before the arrival of the investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who might bring some light to the charges of chemical weapons’ use. And they are too distracted to be puzzled by the US military plan to destroy the facilities alleged to contain deadly gases and consequently risk harming innocent Syrian civilians.
Never mind that the US and its allies could rely upon no more than cell phone pictures and telephone interviews (so called “public source” information) to evidence the claims of a gas attack. It’s an astonishing fact that even though the “rebels” are supposedly democratically-minded allies who welcome CIA aid, no Western news service dares to actively cover their side by employing reporters on the ground. This has been the case with the US’s Islamic fundamentalist allies since CBS’s Dan Rather faked a visit to Afghanistan decades ago. The commitment of “freedom fighters” to “freedom of the press” seems to be wanting.
Oddly enough, the “authoritarian” Assad government welcomes Western journalists, though they-- excepting a CBS news reporter-- prefer the friendly confines of hotels in Beirut, Ankara, and Amman where they have easy access to press releases from the US embassy.
An affinity for distraction leads very many major media corporations to place complete, unthinking trust in UK-based reportage from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It goes unnoted that the Observatory is a one-man show performed by an Assad-hating shopkeeper in Coventry who refuses to share his methodology, but admits to relying on his friends and acquaintances in Syria. Amnesty International, with its usual smug casuistry, judges the Observatory to be reliable, though it bases its evaluation on the same indirect, patchy evidence.
Anywhere but in Syria, these claims, based on second- and third-hand reports, anecdotes, and social media, would fail any and all journalistic smell tests. Imagine NBC News basing coverage of violence in Chicago on the network of contacts of an amateur sleuth in San Francisco.
Film critic Louis Proyect interjects, in an oddly timed article on Counterpunch, that a website dubbed Bellingcat “is perhaps the only place where you can find fact-based reporting on chemical attacks in Syria.” A quick look at the website will reveal some more UK-based amateur sleuths assembling second- and third-hand accounts and social media reports.
True to his film critic credentials, he likens the Syrian “rebels” to “the Arab version of John Steinbeck’s Joad family,” a bizarre innocuousness for the Douma-based, brutal Jaysh al-Islam that former Secretary of State John Kerry once characterized as a sub-group of ISIL. Promptly, the Obama administration was forced to “correct” Kerry, who was ignorant of the head-choppers’ rehabilitation.
Proyect chose the exact moment-- when the honest left was scrambling to mount some public opposition to war on Syria-- to attack the left for its skepticism of the official account, an historically justifiable skepticism given such devastatingly consequential deceptions as the Tonkin Gulf resolution and the 2003 weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco. The military and the security services lie. Skepticism is the only antidote to gullibility.
The one NGO that actually claims direct reportage in Syria, the opposition-based Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) has had its Douma office attacked numerous times by Jaysh al-Islam, forcing its active reporters out of the area.
Unmentioned by the tunnel-vision media, strong circumstantial evidence, Red Crescent confirmation, Kurdish accusations, and a near self-confession has pointed to Jaysh al-Islam employing chlorine gas in April of 2016.
In our era of Entertainment-Tonight-style distractions, of Trump’s sex life, of twitter-duels, of anonymous sources and calculated leaks, a principled, wise statement is a rare and welcome event. Tulsi Gabbard, the Representative from Hawaii addressed Trump with the following:
The people of Syria want peace more than anything else in the world. Attacking Syria will not bring their war-torn country any closer to peace. U.S. military action against Syria will simply escalate and prolong the war, resulting in more senseless death, destruction, and suffering...
If you are truly concerned about the suffering of the Syrian people, then you must do all you can to bring about peace. A US military attack against Syria will expand and escalate this war, increasing their suffering and causing more death, more refugees, and fewer resources to invest in rebuilding our own communities right here at home…
I call upon you to resist the loud calls of war and instead wield the power of the Presidency to help bring peace to the people of Syria, their devastated country, and the region.
Gabbard’s appeal is a stroke of sanity and maturity in a frightening rush to war lubricated by an unprecedented campaign of mass distraction, by the marketing of a Marvel-comic foreign policy.