Hear that? It’s the baying crowd of Assad apologists, screaming invective from beyond the lunatic fringe of civilized political discourse. They pipe up each and every time there’s a new twist in the rotten saga of the Syrian Civil War, a conflict that has killed at least 400,000 and displaced over 11 million, including five million refugees who have fled the country outright.
To these apologists, however, the war is not simply the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time. No, to them it is a launching pad for conspiracy theories and a recruitment device for the myriad demented political groups and so-called “movements” they call home.
It didn’t take long for them to spring into action after the US launched missiles at a Syrian air base last Thursday, in response to wide-ranging evidence that Assad’s government had unleashed sarin nerve gas against his own people in Khan Shaykhun, killing up to 100 people.
On Friday, the day after the strike, the International Action Center (IAC), an “anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist” group committed to “opposing US wars abroad” held a rally in Union Square denouncing the airstrikes as a veiled attempt by the White House to enact regime change in Syria.
In their media advisory ahead of the event, the group outrageously claimed that the Syrian Arab Army – Assad’s forces – had “no strategic, political or military reason to stage a deadly chemical attack,” grotesquely insinuating that this was somehow a “false flag” operation by actors unknown, designed to smear the Syrian government.
The advisory then went on to claim that the August 2013 chemical attack in the Ghouta region of Syria, which killed hundreds of people, many of them children, “was shown not to have come from the Assad government.”
It’s hard to know where to begin with this rank distortion of truth. Note first and foremost, however, then when presented with evidence of a war crime of unmatched horror, these apologists first instinct is to absolve of all blame the brutal dictator of the very country in question, who has for the last six years been slaughtering his own citizens.
As to the claims themselves. Yes, Assad has concrete reasons to gas Khan Shaykhun. Remember: he’s at war with the rebel fighters enmeshed in its civilian population. He wants to clear out the populace so his armies can retake lost ground. He’s also been lulled into a sense that the international community will not intervene against him after President Obama failed to militarily follow through on his promise to strike after the 2013 chemical attack and following the Trump administration’s repeated statements that regime change in Syria is not on their agenda.
As for the 2013 attack: no, I cannot show you a video of Assad hunched over a missile control console pressing the button that unleashed the weapons that slaughtered hundreds of innocents that fateful August day.
But what I can show you is the UN report on its investigation into the attack which states that the chemical used was sarin and that it was deployed via surface-to-surface rockets of a kind that have only been observed in use by Syrian government forces, as reported by Human Rights Watch and independent arms experts. No evidence has been produced by those denying the Syrian government’s culpability that these delivery mechanisms are in the possession of rebel forces, or to credibly explain how Anti-Assad forces got their hands on the roughly 60 liters of weapons-grade sarin that would have been needed to inflict such mass murder.
But if you’re an Assad apologist, you don’t care for evidence. After all, it can always be tampered with, “sexed up”, have holes poked through it. Hell, you don’t even care for basic logic. If the 2013 and 2017 attacks were perpetuated by rebel forces, what would have been their motivation and the desired outcome? What good could have been done their cause by framing Assad? President Obama had already said he didn’t foresee a scenario where American boots would be put on the ground in Syria before the 2013 attack. Something that didn’t materially change after the fact.
Furthermore, the rebels were, and still are, dependent on civilian goodwill for shelter and logistics, which would be lost if they indiscriminately started gassing innocents.
If, even more outlandishly, the attacks were carried out by forces connected with the US to justify regime change, then one aborted retaliatory strike in 2013, and a single, limited strike in 2017 is a terrible return on the Deep State’s investment in what would have to be a series of bizarrely complex “false flag” operations.
What is maddening is that all the evidence, not to mention common sense, points to Assad as the culprit. In so, so much of life, the simplest explanation is often the correct one. But these apologists would rather engage in mental contortions of the most pathetic kind to justify their rabid “anti-imperialism” than accept the truth. It disgusts me.
By the way, it is possible to accept that Assad is a brutal dictator who murders his own people and also believe the US is a morally bankrupt, neo-colonial power that should not intervene in the wars of others.
The history of US foreign policy is a tragedy of misguided ideology, grotesque human error, and unalloyed mendacity written in the blood of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers – not to mention the untold thousands of civilians and combatants from other countries. I know this, I believe this.
I also do not doubt that US economic interests could be served in some roundabout way by spending countless billions on an open-ended war in the region to secure future oil revenues, or trading rights, or whatever. I do not, however, believe that the prize would be worth the effort – nor that any sane politician or government bureaucrat would think otherwise.
Neither of these beliefs prevent me from accepting the overwhelming evidence that Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks in 2013 and 2017. Why, then, is it so very hard for the IAC and its fellow travelers to do the same?
You’ll have to ask them. But ask me to give them the time of day, and I’ll tell you where to go.
Photo Credit: Solidarity With Iran