It surprises me that many of my usually reasonable friends are so eager to bomb Syria over the recent gas attack and are perplexed by the unwillingness of others to “hold Syria accountable.” I have to remind myself that few of my friends have served in the military or been a part of the “Intelligence Community,” and fewer have spent a lifetime writing about politics and foreign policy in Washington, D.C.
If you are one of those who are eager to bomb Syria and perplexed by resistance to bombing Syria, or if you know people like that, here are few basic facts and some simple logic relevant to recent events:
- Chemical weapons are not delivered by crop-dusters flying low and slow over the land, spraying gas on the target; they are delivered by bombs that look pretty much like all other bombs. A civilian would need to read the lettering on the bombs to know that they contain sarin gas.
- This means that no one can see gas being dropped from planes; all they can see are bombs dropping from planes and people on the ground suffering the effects of gas. So we can disregard the claims of “eyewitnesses” who blame the planes, even if the eyewitnesses are not also rebel spokesmen.
- This means that the only way to be sure that the gas came from the bombs would be to have forensic investigators on the ground immediately after the attack, collecting physical evidence of the bombs—actual pieces of the casings that can be positively identified as chemical munitions belonging to the air force in question.
- Such an investigation would take time—several days to have an inkling of what actually happened, and several weeks to be sure of the findings. So the U.S. cannot possibly know so soon that the Syrian government is to blame.
- In the absence of such evidence, there are easier ways to explain the recent gassing in Syria: It could have been a rebel stockpile hit by Syrian bombs. (We known the rebels have sarin gas; the UN verified that in 2013.) Or it could have been a staged atrocity by rebels who knew the West would blame the Syrian government. (We know Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims did that time and time again in the 1990’s.)
- Both of those possibilities are more plausible than Syrian President Bashar al Assad gassing his own people just when things were going very much his way. Both provide better answers to the classic legal question, Cui bono? Who benefits? Not Assad in any way.
- We cannot trust anything U.S. officials say on this matter. They lied about what happened in the Tonkin Gulf in 1964 to justify war against North Vietnam; they lied about what was happening in Bosnia and Kosovo to justify bombing the Serbs in 1995 and 1999; they lied about Saddam Hussein having “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) to justify the invasion of Iraq; they lied about the attack on our embassy in Libya to justifying their policy of arming anti-government rebels in Libya and elsewhere; and they lied about Assad’s use of sarin gas to justify bombing Syrian government forces in 2013.
- This means that there is a very good chance that U.S. officials are lying now when they blame Syrian government forces for the recent gas attack without showing us any hard evidence of Syrian guilt.
- We cannot trust official intelligence estimates. Policy drives intel, telling collectors what to collect and telling analysts what to assume and whom to trust. Sources whose claims confirm policy assumptions are given the benefit of every doubt; sources whose claims contradict policy assumptions are discounted out of hand. (Rebels are believed; Russians are not.) The result is self-justification—excuses to do what policymakers want to do.
- It’s the same in the news business. Editors decide what they want reported and send reporters out to get it. Woe to the reporter who comes back with a contradiction. I’ve seen it happen: I’ve been that reporter. I’ve also worked in intel and know how the intel sausage is made.
So far we have seen no hard evidence of responsibility for the recent gas attack, which means that anyone in favor of bombing Syria is jumping to a murderous conclusion.
If you are a Christian, you should also consider that Syrian Christians are all on Assad’s side. They know what to expect from the “rebels” the U.S. has been supporting. They are serving in the Syrian military. They are the targets of U.S. bombs.