by James O’Neill*
One of the more profoundly depressing consequences of the aftermath of the American missile attack on the al Shayrat Syrian air base is having to acknowledge how terminally stupid our politicians are. Either that, or they are so captivated by the dictates of United States foreign policy that they follow blindly in its wake, which is a different kind of stupidity.
Only the independent MP Andrew Wilkie (www.abc.net.au 12 April 2017) and Green spokesperson Scott Ludlum (media release 7 April 2017) have publicly questioned the dominant media narrative.
There are at least four alternative narratives available to explain what happened in what is alleged to be a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun.
(a) the Syrian government dropped illegal chemical weapons on civilians. This is the meme repeated ad nauseum by our politicians and the media. This barrage of propaganda has been maintained despite the compete absence of any compelling evidence.
(b) That it was an accidental discharge following an air strike on terrorist positions by the Syrian Air Force. This was the initial Russian reaction, but it also lacks supporting evidence. The Russians did however call for an independent investigation, which has been ignored by the western media and western politicians. They didn’t need evidence as they already “knew” that Syria was guilty.
(c) The whole thing was a staged event using civilians kidnapped some time earlier from Khattab. This really has different components, as it is possible to be a staged, or false flag event, without the use of previous kidnap victims. Either way, again there is a lack of real evidence.
(d) That outside forces (the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia?) supplied the terrorists for the purpose of creating a situation that would lend itself to American intervention of the type we have witnessed. There is at least a track record of such practices (A. Larsen Analysis of Evidence Contradicts Allegations on Syrian Gas Attacks. The Indicter Magazine swedhr.org 5 April 2017). This has prima facie more plausibility than the other theories, but again the evidence is lacking.
The strengths and weaknesses of the respective theories are usefully discussed by Rick Sterling (How Media Bias Fuels Syrian Escalation. www.consortiumnews.com 10 April 2017. The central point however, is that whatever theory emerges as the most plausible explanation, it will only do so after a proper independent investigation. Judging from their public utterances thus far, an independent investigation is the furthest thing from the minds of our politicians.
Even without such an investigation, there are ample grounds for questioning the official narrative. A far from exhaustive list would include such factors as the following:
- the near impossibility that it was Sarin gas that was used. This is especially evident in the lack of typical symptoms in the victims that follow a Sarin attack.
- The UN report of June 2014 declared that Syria had been disarmed of its chemical weapons. There is no evidence of any resumption of manufacture or storage. (un.org 23 June 2014).
- Given the short shelf life of Sarin, it would have to have been manufactured recently, and there is zero evidence of such manufacture.
- In any criminal investigation, one of the first questions asked by investigators is: cui bono?, that is, who benefits.
- As Assad is, since the intervention of the Russians in September 2014 (and the help of Iran and Hezbollah) winning the war against the terrorists in their multiple guises, there is no convincing reason why he would risk international opprobrium for so little military benefit.
- Conversely, the US response gives umpteen reasons for the terrorists to repeat the exercise (which they have done several times before) knowing that the American response against Assad will be to their military advantage.
There are many other factors militating against it being a Syrian government attack, but the above points are sufficient to confirm that the rush to judgment is neither appropriate nor likely to lead to a proper understanding of the forces at work.
It hardly needs to be stated that the American attack was contrary to international law, and possibly US domestic law as well (Marjorie Cohn Trumps Syria attack Trampled Many Laws. www.consortiumnews.com 11 April 2017.) That is a factor that barely if at all exercises the minds of either the politicians or the media that breathlessly repeat their inanities and provide equally inane ‘analysis’ of what is happening in
Syria and its repercussions.
It is not of course the first time that the United States has flaunted international law, perceiving itself as exempt from the constraints that dictate, or should dictate, the exercise of brute power in pursuit of geopolitical objectives.
What is of additional concern however, is that the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten fell over themselves in their eagerness to approve such a flagrant violation of international legal norms. Turnbull, as a former lawyer, in particular should have known better than to publically ally himself and Australia with what is manifestly a war crime. (M. Milanovic The Clearly Illegal US Missile Strike in Syria. European Journal of International Law www.ejiltalk.org 7 April 2017.
One wonders exactly what international outrage has to be perpetrated by the Americans before the Australian government (and Opposition) takes a principled stand.
Some important consequences flow from the American folly. One of the first things that Russia did was to cancel the Memorandum of Understanding with the US and its “coalition:” allies governing the military use of Syrian air space. The Belgium government for example, immediately withdrew its contribution to the air war.
Henceforth, coalition planes flying in Syrian air space will be vulnerable to being shot down by Syrian missiles, the upgrading of which Russia has already begun. Although you will not find any discussion of this in the Australian mainstream media, this also puts Australian planes at risk.
Since September 2015 Australian fighters, reconnaissance planes and mid-air refueling tankers have been operating in Syrian air space. This is itself in violation of international law although the Australian government claims otherwise. They have refused to release the legal advice upon which this idiosyncratic view is based.
In January 2017, the last month for which figures are available, E7A reconnaissance planes and K30A tankers violated Syrian air space 11 and 5 occasions respectively.
What will be the Australian response if and when one or more of these planes are shot down? It is clearly not a matter our politicians are willing or able to discuss, any more than they allow debate on the broader issues of principle and practice involved.
Another consequence is the absurd flip-flopping of US Secretary of State Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, contradicting not only each other but also themselves in the space of only a few days. It speaks volumes about the power struggle going on in Washington between the various factions vying for dominance. On present indications it appears that Trump’s vague pre-election statements about a more constructive relationship with Russia have been overridden by the more powerful neocon and Deep State factions that control the US.
The factional infighting, foreign policy inconsistencies and completely irrational conduct by the US administration led one of the more astute observers to invoke the Russia concept of “not agreement capable” (The Saker A Multi-Level Analysis of the US Cruise Missile attack and its Consequences. www.thesaker.is).
Given the erratic and arguably insane direction of US foreign policy Australia has every right to be concerned. The U aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson cancelled a planned Australia visit and diverted to Korean waters where a singularly dangerous situation is escalating. Further unilateral and unlawful conduct cannot be ruled out. The consequences of an American attack on North Korea are potentially horrendous. If the Australian government is concerned, as it should be, there has been no such sign.
At a time when the international geopolitical scene calls for calm heads and rational analysis, it is all the more concerning that the best our politicians can muster is inflammatory rhetoric, in an evidence and fact free environment. The result is likely to be a great deal more harm than good.
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Sputnik News, Khalil Ashawi