U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea.
- There is a terrifying sense of deja vu as another ‘Coalition of the Willing’ gears up
- That’s a worst-case interpretation of comments made by US ambassador to UN
- Nikki Haley said that removing President Bashar al-Assad was now a ‘priority’
General: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis pictured in 2013 in Baghdad speaking to reporters about reports of chemical weapons
For those of us who covered the build-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there is a terrifying sense of deja vu as another ‘Coalition of the Willing’ gears up to launch a potentially devastating wave of shock-and-awe in the Middle East.
That is certainly one worst-case interpretation of the comments made yesterday by the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
Fourteen years ago we heard similar shrill calls from political leaders for regime change in Iraq, a country that – whether or not it used chemical weapons on its own people – posed no discernible threat to the national security of our own.
We now know the intelligence reports on Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’ were fabricated. The spin and lies used to dupe us were scripted for the simpleton in the White House, George W. Bush, and his smooth-talking British underling Tony Blair.
And we know that the authors of the nonsense they peddled were neo-conservative war hawks determined to invade Iraq at any cost.
The legacy of that illegal war continues to cause almost unimaginable mayhem and bloodshed throughout the region.
Lt General: National Security Adviser HR McMaster with President Trump
Confirming a remarkable U-turn in the Trump administration’s stance on Syria, US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said removing President Bashar al-Assad was a ‘priority’
It gave rise to Islamic State and its self-declared Caliphate, which has brought the carnage of their global jihad not only to the Middle East but to the streets of Britain, Europe, the US and beyond.
It is shocking, therefore, that so many are taking as gospel the word of politicians, military officials and experts about the identity of those who were behind last week’s chemical weapon attack in the Syrian province of Idlib.
Once again we have in the White House a hugely inexperienced and inarticulate president with zero foreign policy knowledge.
He is desperate, as was George W. Bush, to rescue himself from historically abysmal poll numbers at the start of his presidency.
Most terrifyingly, Trump is, like Bush, surrounded by hot-headed military hawks in his National Security Adviser Lt General HR McMaster, his Defence Secretary General Jim Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
They are the ideological heirs of the architects of the Iraq invasion under Bush, whose military interventionist agenda Trump has suddenly adopted despite railing against it on the campaign trail.
Hawk: Secretary of State Red Tillerson
These men are unrepentant about the Iraq catastrophe and are just as determined as their predecessors to wreak havoc in the Middle East, come what may.
Their overriding goal: to re-establish unrivalled military and economic American hegemony in the region – and to send an aggressive message to another potential flashpoint area of the globe, North Korea, and its ally China.
It is no coincidence that Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and who, until last week, was being described as the ‘second most powerful man in America’, was removed from the National Security Council on the very same day Trump turned on Assad with a vengeance.
Bannon, champion of the ‘America first’ isolationist doctrine, was fiercely anti-war and determined to bring to an end once and for all America’s reckless military interventionism in the Middle East.
He was removed at McMaster’s behest. Trump is now reliant more than ever on his son-in-law and closest aide, Jared Kushner, who is said to favour intervention in the Middle East. It is no surprise that McMaster is reported to have been ‘cosying up’ to Kushner in recent weeks.
If more evidence were needed, just see how neo-con senators who have repeatedly called for an invasion of Syria, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham – men who had treated Trump as the devil incarnate before he launched missiles at Syria – are suddenly heaping praise on him.
The fact is that Trump needs their support to push through his domestic agenda, meaning he’s hostage to their foreign military interventionist goals.
Against this background it is imperative that the world discovers the truth, whether these men are peddling a fiction about Assad and chemical weapons in the same way their fellow neo-conservatives did about Saddam Hussein.
Once again we have in the White House a hugely inexperienced and inarticulate president with zero foreign policy knowledge
The sobering reality is that we have no concrete evidence that Assad personally ordered the use of sarin – or, more to the point, that sarin itself was used at all.
Aside from vague claims from the Pentagon, for which it has provided no proof, the Western media has based its accusations almost exclusively on the results of an autopsy conducted on three of the victims by doctors in Turkey.
And that single fact should give enormous cause for alarm. For Turkey has, in the past, clandestinely supported Islamic State.
It is still openly supporting ‘moderate’ Islamist rebel groups in Syria, who claim to have monitored the chemical attack and will gain most if the accusations against Assad are accepted as truth and America intervenes militarily.
More to the point: since the outset of the Syrian civil war, Turkey’s Islamist president has consistently called for regime change in Syria.
There is, of course, the possibility that the rebels themselves carried out the attack to win world sympathy and drag the West into the war.
Many justifiably roll their eyes when this scenario is raised, since it so often leads straight into the realm of internet conspiracy theories where everything is the result of a ‘false flag’ attack carried out by clandestine CIA agents.
However, it should not be dismissed out of hand entirely. After all, these Islamist rebels opposing Assad have been fighting on the front lines of one of the most brutal civil wars the modern world has witnessed.
The fact is that Trump needs their support to push through his domestic agenda, meaning he’s hostage to their foreign military interventionist goals
They have routinely committed the most horrendous human rights violations against both their military opponents and civilians, and now they are in retreat and desperate.
Moreover, through their propaganda channels, they falsely claim, on an almost weekly basis, that they have been the victims of Assad-orchestrated chemical attacks, in order to garner support and publicity in the West.
Even if they were not responsible, some experts on the Syrian conflict allege they certainly have access to chemical weapons.
And if they were to stage a similar atrocity to that which occurred in the town of Khan Sheikun last week – for which Assad’s regime would be blamed – they can be sure that Western intervention, to their advantage, would follow.
On the other hand, Assad may well have been responsible. But why on earth would he have launched such a provocative attack so soon after effectively being given the green light to stay in office by Washington just days earlier, when an official said that US policy was to concentrate on ISIS rather than on the Damascus government?
There is a counter-argument that is perhaps just as convincing.
Could it be that, since he believed he was finally free of the threat of Western military intervention, he unleashed the full horror of his chemical arsenal as a way of terrifying his enemies into submission and thus hastening the end of the war?
Or was it not Assad at all, but an anti-Assad faction within his regime that gave the go-ahead for the attack?
In short, there are too few facts and too many question marks. We need to be absolutely sure of what happened and who was responsible before further military intervention is even contemplated, let alone launched. If not, we risk another Iraq or worse.
John R Bradley is the author of four books on the Middle East.
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Tags: Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Britain, chemical weapons, China, Coalition of the Willing, Donald Trump, Europe, Islamic state, John R Bradley, Mattis, McMaster, Middle East, Nikki Haley, North Korea, nuclear weapons, Putin, removing President Bashar al-Assad, Rex Tillerson, Russia, South Korea, Steve Bannon, Syria, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Turkey, U.S., United Nations, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, weapons of mass destruction