On Friday, August 30, 2013, the U.S. State Department issued its four-page unclassified paper on the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013, outlining a rationale for U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war. But an actual reading of the paper itself indicates that this rationale is very weak, presents only vague and circumstantial evidence when it present any at all, and presents a case largely based on speculation, not confirmation. Further, despite the “high confidence assessment” of this chemical weapons attack being a deliberate move by the Assad government, the paper itself offers no clear-cut case of complicity. In fact, just days before, the U.S. government’s position on this was there was no “slam dunk” certainty that this was a deliberate attack ordered by Assad or high-level military officers in the Syrian government itself, and not possibly either a rogue attack, or even an attack undertaken by the Syrian rebels against Assad themselves. (See Huffington Post, “U.S. Syria Conflict: Intelligence On Chemical Weapons Is No 'Slam Dunk,' Officials Say,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/29/us-syria-conflict_n_3834544.html?ir=Politics&utm_campaign=082913&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Alert-politics&utm_content=Title). And that was just as of the previous day before the issuance of the State Department report!
What is certain is that there was a chemical weapons barrage that killed and injured many persons in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, the casualties being overwhelmingly civilians. But neither the State Department report nor the officials who talked to the Associated Press reporters who wrote the above story posted on Huffington Post could say with certainty that the attack was ordered by Assad, or by high-level military officials with Assad’s knowledge or approval, or that it was even done by Syrian military forces themselves. And a recent examiner.com article itself, “Syrian rebels admit to being behind chemical weapons attack,” http://www.examiner.com/article/syrian-rebels-admit-to-being-behind-chemical-weapons-attack,
cites a Mint Press News article by Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababna, reporters on the scene, that an al-Qaeda-linked rebel group set off the gas canisters that caused the incident by accident; inexperienced rebel soldiers who didn’t know what these canisters were set them off accidentally, killing their own forces as well as civilians. (The August 29 article is linked here: http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/). Further, the Mint Press News exclusive article asserts, these weapons were supplied to the rebels by Saudi Arabia. Mint Press describes itself on its “About Us” page (http://www.mintpressnews.com/about-us/) as “an independent online news organization providing in-depth, thought-provoking analysis, reporting and political commentary on the most pressing issues facing our nation and our world…that not only covers the “who, what, when, where and why” but also includes information on how certain topics relate to democracy, human rights and government — keeping the stories that really matter grounded in social justice while empowering our readers.” Further, the “About Us” page lists the Mint Press reporters and commentators, of which there are many, including Dale Gavlak, and they are all seasoned and highly credentialed. Gavlak herself is a Middle East reporter who has lived in the region for over two decades, holds a Master’s degree in Middle Easter Studies from the University of Chicago, and in addition to contributing to Mint Press News, has also contributed to the Associated Press, National Public Radio and the BBC.
Despite all this, the assuredness with which the State Department lays out the case for Syrian government-approved use of chemical weapons, and thus for U.S. military intervention for at least supposed humanitarian reasons as well as “national security” (which Obama has stated is his reason for wishing to intervene) smacks not of a well-developed and beyond-doubt case, but rather, of another spurious rationale developed on the spur of the moment such as past rationales have been presented, and which later proved to be laden with falsehoods. Thus does the case for intervention eerily resemble the past rationale of the Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964, which was used to escalate the U.S. war in Vietnam, and the alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) used as the reason why the U.S. had to invade both Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of State John Kerry is thus primed to end up yet another public figure who spoke with authority at the time, but later regretted it and retracted his earlier stated assurances, another tragicomic figure like then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell on WMDs in Iraq. All three of these interventions, needless to say, turned out to be quagmires which eventually undermined the stated missions of the U.S. for the interventions in the first place.
While Democratic Presidents have often been portrayed as essentially peaceable and occupied with domestic rather than foreign policy issues—and often portrayed by the right wing and the Republican party as “soft on defense”—Obama now joins in his stated wish for military intervention in Syria other Democratic Presidents who also itched to go to war: Woodrow Wilson with World War I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt with World War II, and Lyndon Johnson with escalation in Vietnam. But to be honest, going to war has always been a bipartisan affair, with Republicans cheering on war as much as Democrats, who’ve often seemed wary of being portrayed as “doves,” and thus “unmanly.” Even for women—such as Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright stating to an apoplectic head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, “What’s the use of having all these weapons if we can’t use them?”
While the American public has usually gone along with the call for war in the past, though, as with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, turning against such wars later, this time with Syria the public mood seems to be quite different. The public seems finally sick and tired of U.S. military interventions that develop into endless quagmires, as indicated by the many demonstrations against war in Syria that occurred nationwide yesterday, August 31. And even Obama has made a sharp turn-around, seeking actual Congressional debate on the issue, rather than Congress merely rubber-stamping military intervention, as occurred in the past with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.