Keen eyed viewers may have noticed something a bit odd about this video… Have I gone full tin-hat and joined the “Assad doesn’t use chemical weapons team?” No, no I have not. I feel the same way about this issue that I do about religion. I find those who claim any kind of certainty, one way or the other, deeply silly.
In April the United States bombed Syria, supposedly in response to a chemical attack that Assad carried out in the Damascus suburb of Douma. In my video on the topic I covered the two interpretations of the event, and why I didn’t find either particularly persuasive. The bombing struck me as being about US domestic politics more than anything else. My video demolished the idea that there was any real security or humanitarian rationale to the Trump Administration’s bombing, but it also pooh-poohed the claims of the “Assad was framed!” set. Today’s video is a bit more sympathetic to the idea that the rebels cooked up April’s chemical attack to get the US to bomb Assad.
People shouldn’t be forced to be on one side or the other. Neither the Assad regime, nor the US intelligence community are trustworthy actors. I tend to give the US intelligence community more of the benefit of the doubt, but perhaps I’m biased. Our opinion of a given controversy shouldn’t be black and white. It’s entirely possible that what happened didn’t fit either narrative. It wasn’t necessarily a CIA stitch-up, the US could have been manipulated, or it could have let itself be manipulated by elements on the ground. We should also change our opinion based on new information. And with respect to April’s chemical attack, the US intelligence community has burned up a lot of my good will.
In April the US government justified its bombing with assertions that the nerve agent sarin was used in the attack on Douma. This is important, because it’s well established that many actors in the Syrian war have the capacity to deliver more widely available and more easily deliverable chlorine gas. The presence of sarin was important in the US’s story that this Douma attack was different, and more worthy of punitive action. The US made this claim, and got the United Nations to back them up. Well, earlier this month, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released its report, and they didn’t find any Sarin. So we know that a significant portion of the story Trump and Mattis was selling was bullshit.
But once again, this is a spectrum. It doesn’t mean the CIA planned this. But it seems much more likely, to me anyway, that April’s Douma attack was carried out by the rebels themselves to try to win a propaganda victory against Assad. This could very well not be the case. Who knows, maybe Assad hopped in a helicopter and dropped those Chorine canisters himself. But if that’s the story the US government wants to tell, it shouldn’t let itself get caught out in such obvious lies. It forces me further down the path to tin-foil hat territory.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. You probably haven’t noticed, but the war In Syria may have ended this month. Which leaves us with the question…what now? Thats what we will deal with today. As with everything about this war, despite what the US media tells us, the US government gets to decide what happens next.
First off let’s cover the extraordinary events of the last few months. When I started this series in the summer of 2016, Bashar Assad’s regime controlled none of Syria’s borders. He survived because he had an outlet to Russian aid from the sea, and spotty but strong connections to Iran through Hezbollah and Lebanon. But even the Lebanese border had numerous rebel pockets to contend with. His borders with Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Israel were all controlled by differing mixes of ISIS and other foreign supported Jihadists.
Over the two years since he slowly scrapped his way back to control over much of the border with Iraq, and completely cleared out the pockets of resistance on the Lebanese border and in the suburbs of Syria’s major population centers he had always controlled.
Viewers of this series will be very familiar with the situation on the Northern border. We have talked about Aleppo, the Al Queda haven of Idlib, the US protectorate of Kurdish led North eastern Syria and the Turkish conquests in Afrin in some detail. Turkey’s border with Syria will likely continue to be a fiasco for years if not decades to come.
What has changed, and changed dramatically over the past two months is the situation in the South. For years the Saudis, Israelis, Jordanians and Americans have been arming the slightly more moderate Jihadists of the South.
I, along with most commentators expected this situation to last just as long as the predicament up north, if not longer. I thought about it as a sort of new Golan heights. That territory has been occupied by the Israelis since the 1960s. I assumed that the better marketed moderate Jihadists of the Southern Free Syrian Army would be able to hold out indefinitely. The better marketing meant that they were better armed than the rebels up north, and I assumed that they would have had the complete support of the Israeli air force.
The Israelis have been not at all shy about bombing any moves to the South made by the regime and their Iranian and Hezbollah allies. I assumed that the Southern rebels were in it for the long haul, so I never really covered it much. Turns out I was completely wrong about that. I have missed my chance to cover the Southern rebels in detail.
Over the past month or so Southern resistance has almost completely evaporated. There is still a small rebel buffer up against Israel. This poses an interesting propaganda problem though, as much of it is controlled by one of Syria’s last ISIS pockets, which is hard for Israel to support openly. But that’s a different video.
This really is an extraordinary development. It’s surprising that we haven’t seen another one of those chemical attacks that the US always attributes to Asaad. I guess the Southern rebels didn’t have the necessary chemicals to put that together. To the extent that this has been reported in the US it has been in the form of more Russia is winning scare pieces. I think it could be much more than that though. It could be the end of the war.
Assad will probably push into Idlib a bit, but he is constrained by actual US and Turkish troops on the ground across this Northern region. Unless Trump goes and starts a war with Iran or something, the issue of the North could very well be settled politically. Even if nothing changes Up North though Assad has his borders back. The regions communication and trade links, destroyed by the US created war on Syria back in 2011 have finally been put back together. Incidentally this is great for Jordan, which has been suffering mightily from the loss of trade with Syria throughout the war. Business can start again.
What we should be talking about now is reconstruction. The 250 billion or so that this is supposed to cost desperately needs the West and US led institutions like the United Nations. Unfortunately what the US still wants to talk about is Assad. How can we deal with this monster? Are we supposed to reward assad for brutalizing his own people?
It should go without saying that I find the hypocrisy of this approach nauseating. The US destroyed Syria. The least we can do at this point is help to rebuild it.
As usual the discussion of Syria leaves out the actual interests of the Syrian people completely. Half of the population of the country has been displaced, both internally and in other countries. Our seemingly principled, but actually quite childish refusal to deal with Assad on this issue risks creating a decades long problem for Syria and the multiple countries holding millions of Syrian refugees they desperately want to get rid of. Many of these Syrians want to go home too.
The evaporation of the Southern rebels has created another humanitarian crisis. It has also highlighted some legitimate evil that Assad is doing. Some of the few Syrian refugees who have returned home are being brutalized. In April of this year The Assad regime’s Law No 10 came into effect. It holds that any refugees property can be seized if they don’t return within a year.
ManySunni refugees who have attempted to return have been detained in camps or have simply disappeared. It has been reported, and I have little trouble believing that Assad is consciously attempting to build a new Syria THAT is more firmly controlled by allawites, Christians and other minorities than was the case in the majority Sunni Syria that existed in 2011.
This would be a disaster. A vast dispossessed Sunni minority inhabiting every serious country in the region, as well as many European countries would be an endless source of radicalism and insecurity. As the economist pointed out recently, we had a similar situation with Palestinian refugees after the founding of Israel 70 years ago. I don’t need to tell you that the consequences of that have been dire. And the Sunni Syrian refugee population is as much as 10 times larger than the Palestinian population that was displaced in 1948.
There is a blindingly obvious solution here. The US should liberally fund Syrian reconstruction. But there should be strings attached. The money should come with stringent oversight, and it should depend on the peaceful welcome of returned refugees. No return, no money. Obviously the US and European NGOs that have been so enthusiastically partnering with Al Queda in Northern Syria can’t do the work on the ground. Perhaps the Chinese could play a role here?
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