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Bashar al-Assad, Syria, and the truth about chemical weapons
THE BIGGER THE LIE the more people will believe it. We all know who said that – but it still works. Bashar al-Assad has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own Syrian people. If he does, the West will respond.
We heard all this stuff last year – and Assad's regime repeatedly said that if – if – it had chemical weapons, it would never use them against Syrians.
But now Washington is playing the same gas-chanty all over again.
Bashar has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own people. And if he does…
Well if he does, Obama and Madame Clinton and Nato will be very, very angry. But over the past week, all the usual pseudo-experts who couldn't find Syria on a map have been warning us again of the mustard gas, chemical agents, biological agents that Syria might possess – and might use.
And the sources? The same fantasy specialists who didn't warn us about 9/11 but insisted that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction in 2003: "unnamed military intelligence sources". Henceforth to be acronymed as UMIS.
And now, the coup de théâtre. Someone from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called me up this week to talk about the use of chemical weapons by Hafez al-Assad in Hama during the Sunni Muslim uprising in the city in 1982. Their sources were the same old UMIS. But I happened to have got into Hama in February 1982 – which is why the Canadian was calling me – and while Hafez's Syrian army was very definitely slaughtering its own people (who were, by the way, slaughtering regime officials and their families), no one ever used chemical weapons.
Not a single soldier I saw in Hama carried a gas mask. No civilians carried gas masks. The dangerously perfumed air which I and my colleagues smelt after chemicals were used by our (then) ally Saddam against Iranian soldiers in the 1980s was not present. And none of the dozens of civilian survivors I have interviewed in the 30 years since 1982 ever mentioned the use of gas.
But now we are to believe that it was used. And so the infantile new fairy tale has begun: Hafez al-Assad used gas against his own people in Hama 30 years ago. So his son Bashar may do the same again. And wasn't that one of the reasons we invaded Iraq in 2003 – because Saddam had used gas against his own people already and may do so again?
Yes, the bigger the lie, the better. Certainly we journos have done our duty in disseminating this bunkum. And Bashar – whose forces have committed quite enough iniquities – is about to be accused of another crime which he has not yet committed and which his father never did commit. Yup, chemical weapons are bad news, folks. That's why the US supplied Saddam with the components for them, along with Germany (of course).
That's why, when Saddam first used gas on Halabja, the UMIS told CIA officers to blame Iran. And yes, Bashar probably does have some chemicals in rusting bins somewhere in Syria. Madame Clinton has been worrying that they may "fall into the wrong hands" – as if they are presently "in the right hands". But the Russians have told Bashar not to use them. Would he piss off his only superpower ally?
And by the way, which was the first army to use gas in the Middle East? Saddam? Nope. The Brits, of course, under General Allenby, against the Turks in Sinai in 1917. And that's the truth.
Won't get fooled again?
By Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News
We need to remind ourselves in the UK that we won't get fooled again.
Once more, weapons of mass destruction could become weapons of mass deception at screaming high volume these past few days. From the western media who, in the heated atmosphere pre-Iraq and under pressure from Bush and Blair, brought us the Baghdad WMD story, now we have the "Damascus chemical weapons threat".
William Hague has said any use of chemical weapons would invite an immediate western military response. The Americans too.
The US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said : “The president of the United States has made very clear that there will be consequences. There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their (sic) own people.”
And the president: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” Well, that was Obama back in August, and recent days have only ramped up the bottom line: you use chemical weapons – we bomb you.
But just to be old fashioned: what’s the evidence of any threat? What’s the basis for all this? What, in short, are they all talking about? Yes, by all accounts Syria has nerve and chemical agents. But possession does not mean threat of use. Israel is not credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons against Iran, despite possessing them.
Equally, as yet there simply is little credible evidence Syria is threatening to use chemical or nerve agents against its own people. Finally, after days of evidence-free rhetoric from the US government and their ever-obedient Westminster franchise, it was left to UN boss Sec-Gen Ban Ki Moon to point out that there is, as yet, no confirmation that Syria is preparing to use them.
“Recently we have been receiving alarming news that the Syrian government may be preparing to use chemical weapons. We have no confirmed reports on this matter,” Ban said after visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. Vague US “intelligence reports” are routinely and often unquestioningly trotted out in US papers as the basis for Obama, Panetta and Clinton wagging their fingers at Damascus.
This then gets taken up elsewhere, and the story built upon nothing is soon accepted as global fact when it’s nothing of the kind. After Iraq and WMD, if the CIA or MI6 say it’s cold at the north pole, any sensible person would seek at least a couple more sources or would fly there and check. So they should look to produce the evidence that Syria has begun mixing chemicals as a preparation for use (and thus an excuse for the west to consider bombing) or perhaps stop theregular calls for it to be stopped.
We should question why, and why now, there is suddenly a supposed chemical weapons “threat”? Where’s the proof? What is the evidence? The past should be a lesson to us all.