What happened in Douma? We do not know who perpetrated a chlorine gas attack. Who had the motive? Who had the means? Who had the opportunity? One of the possible suspects is the Syrian armed forces. Another is the anti-Assad forces in Douma, with or without the assistance of external state or non-state actors. It is also possible that uncontrolled or rogue elements in either of these organizations is responsible. Until there is clarification, we are in the position of a jury that awaits hearing evidence. We withhold judgment.
The truth in Douma may be challenging to figure out, but at least some sort of efforts are underway. Syria’s “…foreign ministry said it would help the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in a fact-finding mission…” A thorough investigation would require finding out the Syrian military movements, inspecting records and interviewing armed forces personnel. It would require tracing the movements of chlorine before its release.
The anti-Assad forces in Douma have agreed to a deal in which they are leaving Ghouta and going to a place near Aleppo. “As part of the surrender deal, the Jaish al-Islam group that controlled the town released scores of people it had been holding.”
Who were these hostages? According to Wikipedia “On 1 November 2015, an opposition media outlet, Shaam News Network, posted a video showing Jaysh al-Islam militants had locked people in cages and spread out 100 cages containing about 7 captives each through Eastern Ghouta, northeast of Damascus, to use them as human shields against Syrian government air raids. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the caged people being used as human shields were captured Alawite military officers and their families who had been kidnapped by Jaysh al-Islam two years ago outside Adra al-Ummaliyah, a government-held neighbourhood in Eastern Ghouta.” [Emphasis added].
If Jaish al-Islam was on the ropes in Douma and facing defeat in Syria, why would it not launch a false flag chemical attack, gambling, even counting, on a response from the West that would set Assad back or cripple his forces? If Assad was about to achieve the removal of anti-Assad forces from Ghouta, a project successfully underway for several weeks, why would he launch a chemical attack that would cause the West to inflict great damage on his forces?
Trump happens to have used the word “mindless” to describe the attack. In context of his other remarks, he meant this in personal terms in accusing Assad of an atrocity. He meant that it is mindless to kill innocent people including children, because they are not participants in the fighting. This is correct, but he said more than he realized he was saying, because while such an attack is senseless from Assad’s side, it is sensible from the side of Jaish al-Islam.
Detailed information about Jaish al-Islam appears in a Stanford University source. At one point, the leader of the group “… expressed a desire to cleanse Damascus of all Shiites and Alawis.” This provides another possible motive. In addition, this source states “The group also allegedly has access to chemical weapons.”
We do not know what happened in Douma. If our government has definitive information about this, it hasn’t released it. When politicians and other government officials immediately reach the conclusion that Assad did it, they are leaping to conclusions without the benefit of publicly available evidence.
Even if Assad’s forces launched a chlorine attack, it doesn’t force or require a response from U.S. military forces. Going into another war should not hinge on incidents. War means the multiplication of death, injury, displacement and destruction. It may not even achieve the tactical objective of stopping chemical attacks. It may even amplify them and other heinous crimes.
War should be entered into only to achieve strategic objectives that benefit our side. In this case, there are those in Washington who want to make war against Syria as a steppingstone to making war on Iran. Regime change in Iran is their strategic objective. It’s the wrong objective. Destruction of Iran’s government will create a new region that’s fertile ground for new insurgencies that take direct aim at mainland America. America’s debt bomb will explode along with the price of oil. The resulting depression will be severe because of the huge debt. Pakistan, adjacent to Iran, will be affected. The de-stabilization of Pakistan, an Islamic nuclear power, is certainly not in the strategic interest of the U.S.
We do not know the truth. There are other possibilities. It is possible that Assad used chlorine as an alternative to bombing the remaining rebel enclave relentlessly and killing even more people. It is possible he used it to break the rebels’ will. It is possible that what seems to be evidence of chlorine gassing has been staged. It is possible that Jaish al-Islam is dead set against using chemical weapons or last-minute ethnic cleansing. The truth is elusive.
But what is clear is that a Western attack led by the U.S. contravenes international law and escalates the U.S. presence in the war. This is true even if Trump manages to amass some international support from allies. Two British ex-ambassadors have spoken up against rash action. It’s also clear that such an attack will almost certainly elicit a direct Russian military response. “Moscow’s envoy to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, said that the Russian military reserves the right to shoot down missiles and destroy launch sites in the event of US aggression against Syria.”
7:57 am on April 11, 2018
Email Michael S. Rozeff