It Ain’t Necessarily So

I’ve said from the beginning that the prevailing narrative about the chemical-weapons attack in Syria — in brief, that Assad did it — makes no sense. I’ll say this, too: not only does it make no sense, but it so obviously makes no sense that any sensible person should doubt it in the absence of overwhelming evidence.

Yet two days later President Trump launched a cruise-missile attack on Syria on the basis of this narrative, which could hardly have been confirmed so quickly even if it were true. In doing so he may have achieved some ulterior goals — to impress Xi Jinping, perhaps, and to weaken the mainstream media’s relentless Trump-is Putin’s-puppet narrative — but it was a terribly impulsive move, and has done serious damage to any hope of better relations with Russia. I was shocked when it happened, and deeply disappointed.

After the Tomahawk salvo, the Trump administration put out a report arguing that Assad was indeed behind the gas attack. This week an eminent academic, Theodore Postol (who is a professor emeritus of science, technology, and national-security policy at M.I.T., and a former high-level Pentagon adviser) has published a detailed analysis of the administration’s report and the available evidence. He has concluded that it is, not to put too fine a point on it, rubbish. The evidence, says Dr. Postol, shows that the sarin container was not dropped from the sky, but positioned in the middle of a road and smashed open by a bomb mounted directly on top of it.

Dr. Postol’s report is moderately technical. You can read it here. You can also read an excellent summary of the reasons to doubt the Trump Administration’s account of the attack, here.

For all of this I owe a hat-tip to John Batchelor and Stephen Cohen, who discussed these matters on Tuesday evening. You can listen to their conversation here.

Related content from Sphere


  1. JK says

    While on the subject of pulling a fast one or, perhaps more accurately, fraud.

    Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  2. Epicaric says

    Assad, I have been told, is a monster. I have no reason to doubt this, but he’s in good company in a region where we have no compunction in gladhanding equal and worse. When confronted with claims that his removal is a moral imperative, I have taken to asking two questions of my erstwhile interlocutor and moral superior:
    What is the name of the prrson that should take his place?
    If you found yourself on the front line, caught between Assad’s forces of evil and the forces of liberation, to which side would you run for cover?
    To my discredit I don’t know the answer to the first question, despite my many years in the region and blue-chip graduate work in Middle Eastern studies, but neither, ever, does my counterpart. Chesterton chuckles from the grave. As far as the second question, I know the answer, and to date so has everyone to whom it has been asked: straight into the arms of Assad’s regulars, and as quickly as possible. These questions seem always to deflate the enthusiasm of well meaning acquaintances beating the drums for regime change.

    Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink
  3. JK says

    “To my discredit I don’t know the answer … despite my many years … and blue chip graduate work …”

    You’re no doubt to be forgiven Epicaric given that I, before a certain book was published here in the US had been told (more or less precisely) the same;

    The name of his family was ‘al-Wahash,’ which means ‘the Beast.’ So he was Hafez the Beast. But he changed it to Assad, which means ‘the Lion.’

    You’ll recall 1979 Epicaric? The “Iranian Hostage Crisis” preeminently occupying our US/Western minds? … There actually was (as I’m certain Epic, you are aware, alot more stuff going down …)?

    Then comes Arab Spring followed so very soon with Hillary’s “We came, we saw, he died” shortly thereafter? Then with the Saudi “preoccupation” with Yemen? The Saudi predisposition for mercs? (Not to mention the too too predisposition of The House of Saud to “finance” according to its inclination toward self-survival/paranoia?

    Then there’s Erdogan’s deciding, “Here’s my stop.”

    Back to your question Epicaric, “What is the name of the person [who] should take his place?”


    I’d prefer the noises coming from the al-Sauds, the Erdogans and, yes whatever branches of the US (& the other members of the Five Eyes) be completely [almost – there is Iran] ignored and then, let “The People of Syria” decide the question.

    But in a perfect world …

    Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:49 pm | Permalink