Syria gas attack (as it were)

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by Patrick Armstrong, Aug 23, 2013.

  1. AKarlin

    AKarlin Generalissimo Staff Member

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    According to this article, it really was the Syrian Arab Army that launched the chemical weapons attack. The information is based on an American interception of a panicked call from a Baath bureaucrat to the officer in charge of the CW batallion purportedly responsible.

    If true, this changes things substantially. If it really was the SAA that was responsible, then public opposition in the West to a strike against Syria would not be so overwhelming than if it were unclear or a false flag (done either with or without the connivance of the US/UK/France). The Iraq comparisons would likewise fall away.

    That said, it is rather sad that just as Assad was about to win he will be dealt a major setback, thus necessitating a further few months of fighting than would have otherwise been the case - assuming that it's a limited strike, that doesn't overspill into an outright drive for regime change on the Libya model.
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  2. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    If it does turn out that the Syrian army was indeed responsible for the gas attack then I agree. I would also add that the stupidity of this would be extraordinary.

    However, I would again add a word of caution. If this telephone intercept is the only evidence that the Syrian army was responsible for the attack, then it is interesting that the US intelligence agencies that are undoubtedly responsible for planting this story have not yet told us what was actually said. All we are told is that on the day of the attack a panicked official in the Defence Ministry telephoned a Syrian army officer to question him about what happened. This might show:

    1. That there was a planned use of chemical weapons, which however went horribly wrong thus eliciting the enquiries from the Defence Ministry official. If so then the international consequences would be as you say; or

    2. That chemical weapons were used but without the authorisation of the civilian leadership. If so this would be important information and might actually sway opinion against an attack here in Britain; or

    3. It might be that someone in the Defence Ministry was worried that there had been an unauthorised use of chemical weapons and urgently telephoned to find out what was happening and to ensure that this was not the case. If so, then that is not inconsistent with subsequent enquiries ascertaining that this was a false flag incident. Bear in mind that in that case an inquiry of some sort by the Syrian authorities on the day of the incident to find out in the aftermath of the attack what had happened is bound to have taken place. This telephone call might just be part of that.

    The other point to make is that this information has undoubtedly been shared with two people who have not been convinced by it. They are

    1. Ban Kyi Moon. It is really very interesting that for the first time in his tenure as Secretary General Ban Kyi Moon has stood up to the Americans. He came under intense pressure from the Americans over the weekend to withdraw the inspectors but categorically refused to do so. He came under more pressure from them yesterday to do the same thing. Yesterday Carney the White House spokesman said that since Syrian government complicity in the gas attack was "undeniable" an investigation of the incident by the UN inspectors had become "redundant". It is a virtual certainty that over the course of their discussions with Ban Kyi Moon the US will have told him about the telephone call which they say makes the case against the Syrian authorities "undeniable". Notwithstanding these comments and this information a clearly furious Ban Kyi Moon has issued a further statement today making it clear that he is not going to withdraw the UN inspectors and that the UN Security Council cannot be by passed but must be involved. Incidentally as a result of Ban Kyi Moon's comments I understand that a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the crisis will take place later today.

    2. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition here in Britain. He had a meeting with Cameron last night in advance of the parliamentary debate tomorrow at which Cameron tried to obtain his support. Again it is a certainty that over the course of their discussions Cameron would have shown Miliband such intelligence information as exists and that would have been bound to include the telephone call. There are provisions for this in the British system whereby ministers can exchange information with senior opposition leaders under what are known as "Privy Council rules", and this would be certain to have happened in this case. Miliband was however obviously unimpressed by this information because he made it clear this morning that he wants the UN inspectors to be given time to finish their work.

    My own guess is that the US did think when they intercepted the call on Wednesday that they had got themselves the "smoking gun". That is why they were happy up till Saturday to demand an investigation by the UN inspectors. They naturally anticipated that because the Syrian authorities were responsible for the attack they would either obstruct the investigation or would be found out by the investigation. When on Saturday the Syrian authorities on the contrary agreed to the investigation doubts set in, which is why we have seen such furious attempts to stop the investigation from taking place.

    The way to establish the truth in this case is to let the UN investigation take its course. If necessary the remit of the UN investigators can be extended either by the Security Council or by Ban Kyi Moon himself. What is wholly wrong is for one party in this matter to try to impose its version of the truth on all others before the investigation has taken place and to use or threaten force in order to do that. That is clearly both legally and ethically wrong. If it turns out following a full and proper investigation that the Syrian authorities are indeed the guilty party then they will have to bear the consequences. Until then unilateral action is both illegal and unwarranted.

    PS: Since writing the above, I have learnt from the British media that all this intelligence including importantly this intercepted telephone conversation comes from Israel. Obviously the mere fact that intelligence originates with Israel doesn't mean it is untrue. However given that the Israelis undoubtedly have an interest in this conflict the fact that they are the source of this information means that it must be treated with caution. As I said, the only party competent to carry out a proper impartial enquiry are the UN inspectors and they must be given time to carry out their work.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
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  3. Patrick Armstrong

    Patrick Armstrong Commissar

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    Intercept! Sure. Remember Saakashvili's intercept?
    Easy to fake, easy to misunderstand. Military comms are not a single phone message -- they're a whole trail of messages back and forth.

    I still say, and I'm comfortable that William of Ockham would agree, that reason and probability inclines to either 1 no strike at all 2 a false flag operation.

    And a strong clue in that direction seems to be the unwillingness of the hawks to wait for the UN inspectors' reports.
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  4. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    ....and not just Saakashvili's. Colin Powell also cited intercepts between Iraqi military officials supposedly joking about how they had fooled the UN weapons inspectors in his infamous presentation to the UN Security Council on the eve of the Iraq war.
  5. Patrick Armstrong

    Patrick Armstrong Commissar

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  6. john smith

    john smith Collegiate Registrar (14th class)

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    Former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky implicated Mossad agents in faking communications to the Berlin nightclub bombings as a means of getting Reagan to launch attacks against Gadaffi.

    I think it actually turned out at no time where the US actually able to penetrate Iraqi communication. So the question is who faked the evidence?

    The only true thing about Powell's was chemical weapon development and the Panski Gorge.
  7. AKarlin

    AKarlin Generalissimo Staff Member

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    First of all, just want to say thank you for aggregating all your commentary on Syria at your blog. This has been of indescribable value at helping me and I'm sure many others understand the essence of what's happening.

    One minor quibble, though:

    Surely unilateral action will remain illegal and unwarranted even if it is revealed that the Syrian authorities are guilty? (in the absence of UN resolutions authorizing said strikes). My comment there just concerned public opinion. Americans and Britons are resolutely opposed to intervention in Syria. Of proof of CW weapons is found, they would still be opposed, but to nowhere near the same margins.
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  8. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    Actually I agree. Any military action would indeed remain illegal and unwarranted and there is no doubt it would still be opposed by most people. However from that point on it would become more difficult to mobilise effective political opposition to military action.
  9. Patrick Armstrong

    Patrick Armstrong Commissar

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    Enthusiasm seem to be fading.
    The int is falling apart http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/storie...ME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-08-29-03-11-56
    UK and France backing off
    Very little popular support anywhere

    So maybe all that will happen in this latest piece of smart diplomacy is a series of cheap threats and a loud bang or two (which will, of course, in the BS propaganda war, turn out to have hit only orphanages and hospitals).
  10. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    Well we have gone from a position on Monday when as per John Kerry the Syrian government's responsibility for the gas attack was "undeniable" to one where the British government has issued an intelligence assessment today saying it is merely "highly likely."

    Here is my comment about the comments the British government has made today which I have just added to my blog post:

    29th August 2013

    The British government has now released a letter from the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee setting out what it says is the assessment of its intelligence agencies in relation to the alleged chemical attack near Damascus last Wednesday.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/235094/Jp_115_JD_PM_Syria_Reported_Chemical_Weapon_Use_with_annex.pdf

    This appears to be based on little more than YouTube videos that were uploaded by the Syrian opposition. We are told that there is classified evidence that supports the conclusions of the assessment but of course we are not told what that is. Presumably it is the evidence from the Israeli intelligence sources that were discussed previously.

    On the strength of this "evidence" (such as it is) the British intelligence agencies can do not better than say that it is "highly likely" that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the alleged gas attack near Damascus last Wednesday. "Highly likely" is quite different from "undeniable", which was the word used by Secretary of State Kerry on Monday. It means that the issue is open to doubt, which is a further reason to wait the outcome of the inquiry that is being undertaken by the UN inspectors, which is the only inquiry that is in a position to determine the truth.

    The British government has also published a summary of what it says is the legal advice the Attorney General has provided that says that it is entitled to take military action without the authorisation of the UN Security Council. Supposedly this is provided for by the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploa...yrian-regime-UK-government-legal-position.pdf

    The summary refers to no authority or precedent for this proposition. This legal advice is wrong. That is not only my opinion. It is also the opinion of the UN Secretary General and of various foreign governments including most outspokenly the government of Russia.

    The "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine was established by a UN conference in 2005 to set out certain situation where the international community might intervene in the internal affairs of a UN Member State. However it is quite clear in international law that the only body competent to authorise such action in those circumstances is the UN Security Council or, when the UN Security Council is deadlocked, the UN General Assembly under the "Uniting for Peace" mechanism. The "Responsbility to Protect" doctrine is most definitely not a device to circumvent the UN Security Council or the UN General Assembly so that certain powerful states can take unilateral military action without properr authorisation. It is extremely worrying that the British government is now trying to argue that it is. If the British government truly believes the international community has a responsibility to act in Syria under the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine but is being prevented from doing so because of deadlock in the UN Security Council, it should demand a meeting of the UN General Assembly. That it is not doing so is the clearest possible sign that the British government knows that contrary to what it says there is no majority in the UN General Assembly for military action against Syria but rather overwhelming support for a proper investigation of the incident by the UN inspectors presently in the Syria.
    Lastly, I would like to deal with a question many have asked, which is if the UN inspectors conclude that a gas attack took place and after their remit is extended determine who was responsible what should happen next? The short answer is that a deliberate gas attack on a populated centre is a war crime. The correct procedure is for the UN inspectors to report their findings to the UN Security Council, which in turn can refer the case to the International Criminal Court. The International Criminal Court would then investigate further and indict those it considered prima facie responsible. Though the persons so indicted might resist arrest, past experience shows that eventually such indictments are effective.

    It is an unfortunate consequence of the way in which international law has become polluted in recent years that even the mechanisms of the International Criminal Court have been misused for partisan purposes so their impartial execution can no longer be relied on. However if the question is what should be done legally in this situation, that is the answer.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2013
  11. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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  12. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    News just in. The British Parliament has voted AGAINST military action. I suspect the intelligence and the legal arguments in the end proved too feeble to persuade enough people.

    I think I am right in saying that this is the first time a British Prime Minister has lost a vote in the House of Commons on a question of war or peace.

    No one seems to know quite where that leaves things. In theory Cameron can just press ahead and order the military into action under the Royal Prerogative. However there would be major political consequences if he did and for the time he is saying he won't. That suggests that Britain is not going to be part of the attack on this occasion.
  13. MarkPavelovich

    MarkPavelovich Commissar

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    Yes, here's the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23892783

    Apparently the Dutch parliament saw a majority vote to support military action, IF irrefutable proof established the Syrian government was responsible. Which begs the question why military action in support of the Syrian government is not called for if the evidence strongly suggests the "rebels" were responsible - do they have some kind of civilian bag limit that the Syrian government does not? Theoretically (spoiled by the fact that most of the "rebels" are not Syrian), they too would be "using chemical weapons against their own people". Why is a military operation to straighten their asses out not just as automatic? Is it only a reprehensible crime if the government did it? Cowards.

    Merkel is a wild card; according to international news, she spoke with Putin and "agreed on the need for the UN Security Council to study a report by UN experts on the alleged chemical attack." But the same report says she spoke with David Cameron and " agreed that there is sufficient evidence of Syria's chemical weapons use and an international reaction is essential." Unless she was misquoted and she actually said IF there is sufficient evidence. But otherwise it just sounds like she tells whoever she happens to be speaking to what they want to hear. Anyway, looks like the attack is off for now.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-08/30/c_125278193.htm
  14. Patrick Armstrong

    Patrick Armstrong Commissar

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  15. MarkPavelovich

    MarkPavelovich Commissar

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    Here's a great piece from Izvestia, which openly mocks Obama now that the USA has lost all its friends and even its chief enabler - the UK - has had to back away. Bowing to the will of the people: who would have thought it would ever come to that, in a democracy?

    I loved the line that said after having come to power promising to be the president of soft power and reason, Obama is "close to stepping on the same rake as his predecessor". True dat.

    http://izvestia.ru/news/556300
  16. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    We have had an interesting series of developments today.

    Following Putin's challenge to Obama to disclose what intelligence evidence he has showing Syrian government complicity in the alleged gas attack, Obama has now announced that no action against Syria will be taken without the permission of Congress. It turns out that Congress will not however convene to discuss Syria before 9th September 2013.

    It may be premature to say this, but it looks to me like a climb down. I don't know what feeling in Congress is about an attack but it is clear that public opinion in the US is running strongly against an attack as it is in the UK and France.

    I am not the only one to find the US and UK intelligence assessments that claimed Syrian government complicity in the alleged gas attack far from compelling. Apart from some vague comments about the deployment of various Syrian military units in an on going battle it all basically turns on an interpretation of a single telephone call. We have discussed that already. It is quite clear that when Kerry said on Monday 26th August 2013 that the Syrian government's role in the attack was "undeniable" he was going well beyond the evidence and that claim has been quietly retracted.

    Incidentally did anybody notice that Kerry on Friday failed to provide any legal justification whatsoever under international law for the planned attack? At least the British government tried to cite the Responsibility to Protect doctrine as providing a legal basis for an attack even though this is a claim which is certainly wrong and which is rejected by the overwhelming majority of international lawyers. Presumably because there is no legal basis for the planned attack and the efforts to do so were so unconvincing Kerry abandoned the effort of trying to argue one.

    PS: When I first posted this comment I said that I understood that Carla del Ponte had made comments attributing the last gas attack to the rebels. When I looked for the article where I had seen this in order to provide a link I noticed it had been deleted. I suspect that the writer of the article mistakenly attributed Carla del Ponte's earlier comment about the incident in April as referring to the latest incident near Damascus in August and deleted it when he realised his mistake. Of course if you have a more conspiratorial cast of mind then the explanation is that Carla del Ponte's latest comments attributing the gas attack near Damascus to the rebels are so embarrassing that they are being suppressed but I have to say I doubt this.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2013
  17. AKarlin

    AKarlin Generalissimo Staff Member

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    I agree with your interpretation on Carla del Ponte.

    I likewise cited an article about his comments on Twitter, not noticing it was from April. After someone pointed it out I had to make an embarassing climbdown. It's an easy mistake to make.
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  18. Patrick Armstrong

    Patrick Armstrong Commissar

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  19. Philip Owen

    Philip Owen Office Registrar (13th class)

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    It seems to me that senior people in the UK security structures spend so much time at meetings and conferences in the US and cooperation in the field that they become brainwashed by the much larger output US material supporting US goals and lose sight of the UK's own interests. Parlliament has reminded them this week that the SAS in not simply an artillery spotting service for the US navy. Canada must have the same problem. Are Canadians more aware of this as a risk? Canada does take an independent line quite regularly. It has its own relations with Russia to consider for example.
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  20. Patrick Armstrong

    Patrick Armstrong Commissar

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    In my time, on the Russia desk, in my corner of it, we had quite independent opinions. US Int structure was too big: there was no one who could see the whole picture. Too many people doing tiny things and not ever looking up and around. Brits not this way at all.

    But times change and I'm out of touch now.

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