Trump Threatens to Bomb Syria Without Any Investigation into Alleged Chemical Attack

Yves here. Real News Network helps cut the fog around the state of play in Syria via an interview with Patrick Cockburn.

BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton. Tensions are flaring in Washington as the Donald Trump administration is reportedly considering a military attack on the Syrian government. On April 7, antigovernment opposition groups in the town of Douma, Syria claimed that dozens of people were killed in a chemical weapons attack. The rebels blamed the government. The government has staunchly denied responsibility for the alleged attack.

Douma is the last remaining town in the region of Eastern Ghouta, an enclave for Salafi jihadist militants who have been fighting against the Syrian government with support, including military and economic support, from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. Douma is controlled by the extremist Salafi jihadist militia Jaysh al-Islam, which is notorious for carrying out attacks on civilians. Jaysh al-Islam was created by Saudi Arabia, and has put women from the Shia Alawite minority in cages.

Opposition groups that have received millions of dollars of funding from the United States and other foreign countries have made these allegations. They say that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 people.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW, announced on Tuesday, April 10 that it will be sending a special mission to Douma to verify reports on the ground on the alleged use of chemical weapons. The United Nations condemned the alleged attack and said it is not able to verify the reports. The U.N. called for an independent investigation.

Although there has not yet been an independent investigation, the Trump administration immediately blamed the Syrian government for the attack and has threatened retaliation.

DONALD TRUMP: We are making a decision in respect to the horrible attack that was made near Damascus. It will be met, and it will be met forcefully. And when I will not say, because I don’t like talking about timing. We have a lot of options, military, and we will be letting you know pretty soon.

BEN NORTON: Joining us to discuss the story is Patrick Cockburn, an award-winning journalist and longtime correspondent for the British newspaper the Independent. Thanks for joining us, Patrick.


BEN NORTON: So, Patrick, can you speak about what exactly we know? There has not yet been independent investigation into what’s been going on. We have photo and video which were released by opposition groups on social media. They have not been independently verified. What exactly do we know from what happened on the ground in Douma?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, there’s reporting from within Douma, which at that moment was held by Jaysh al-Islam, but the hospital that we saw shots of now seems to be held by the Syrian army. And there were film of dead and dying children, there was shots of gas cylinders.

The problem with this is that all this comes from the people inside Douma, which as you said is controlled by Jaysh al-Islam. There’s been no independent verification yet. And it’s pretty clear from what, for instance, in Britain Theresa May is saying, that we are still waiting to be sure who carried out this attack. That governments are being told by their own intelligence services that it’s not exactly clear what happened. Curiously, the media reporting this sounds much more sure in attributing blame to the Assad government than the people like Theresa May and other political leaders who presumably are getting other information from their intelligence people.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, Patrick, this is also interesting because in the past few weeks there has been another scandal related to chemical weapons, or alleged chemical weapons use. That is, that the British government immediately blamed Russia for the poisoning of the former spy Sergei Skripal. Boris Johnson had claimed that the government intelligence services knew Russia was behind the attack, but then later the British intelligence services themselves acknowledged that they actually aren’t sure who was behind the attack.

So clearly there is a history here of manipulation of intelligence. This is very partisan. It’s very politicized. The United Nations and the OPCW have not been as partisan and politicized. In fact, neither of them have apportioned blame and both have called for investigations. What do you think will happen next? Do you think there will be investigations? And what do you think they could show.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, and I think that’s pretty sensible, that they should investigate it. You know you can, you know, the other difficulty in this is motive. If it was intentionally done by the Assad government, why should they do it just as they were capturing Douma, the last opposition stronghold in Eastern Ghouta? They, in fact, they had every reason for this not to happen. This was the one thing that would taint their success there. So that is peculiar. It doesn’t rule it out. Governments do very stupid things. And also they do things by accident. But you know, this is one reason for skepticism.

I mean, the answer is one doesn’t know. You can’t be certain until there’s some form of independent investigation, which may now happen. But it’s a peculiar situation because today there were pictures of 2000 rebel fighters and their families being passed out of Douma. So the situation in the ground has changed since this alleged attack took place. So it’s, you know, it’s in a, everything is in a state of great confusion.

BEN NORTON: Yes. And the group that controls Douma, Jaysh al-Islam, is notorious for carrying out attacks against civilians. In fact, mainstream human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others have documented their attacks, Jaish al-Islam’s attacks on civilians. Including, as I mentioned, putting Alawite women in cages. So clearly there is a precedent here for many of these extremist groups to carry out these kinds of attacks.

That said, the opposition would claim that the Syrian government is on the verge of retaking this area and is trying to scare any other opposition groups, and force them into submission by carrying out an attack like this. That’s the argument the opposition makes. What would you say in response to that?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yeah. I think, you know, the opposition itself has said and others have noted, you know, there isn’t any doubt about the aggressiveness of the Syrian government in clamping down or crushing dissent or opposition. So you know, I don’t see that that argument works, that suddenly they would use chemical munitions to assert this. I’m not saying that they didn’t, you know. I think that, you know, it’s quite conceivable that they might.

But you know, for certainty, and I think this is why governments, Western governments are, are cautious, for certainty you need independent verification. You can’t just take these assertions by the opposition, or Assad, or the Russians for that matter, saying what happened.

You know, it’s like anything else that happens in these opposition-held areas, that often the media just takes this as being proof that some atrocity has occurred there, although the only source of information is partisan and uncheckable, because independent journalists, independent investigators can’t go to those areas without, or haven’t been able to go to those areas, without the very strong risk of being kidnapped or beheaded.

BEN NORTON: The Trump administration has jumped the gun on this. Donald Trump tweeted immediately after the attack, “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless chemical attack.” And then he added, “President Putin, Russia, and Iran are responsible for backing animal Assad. Big price to pay.” And then he added, “If President Obama had crossed his stated red line, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago.” And he repeatedly called the Syrian president ‘animal Assad.’

The Trump administration appears to be considering airstrikes on Syrian government targets. There were also reports of alleged Israeli attacks on Homs immediately after this attack. Can you speak about the Trump administration, which appears to be certain about this assault, and is considering launching military intervention?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it seems certain at that moment. You know, one knows that Trump’s tweets saying one thing and then, you know, other parts of the U.S. government say something else subsequently, or Trump himself says something different down the line. So that isn’t sort of set in steel.

On the other hand, saying that Assad will pay a price and criticizing Obama for what happened in 2013 makes it difficult for him to row back from that without doing something. But you know, Trump himself criticized what happened, the suggestion that there should be an attack on Syria in 2013, and with good reason. You know, we had been, Obama had ordered a strike. How different would it be from the strike that Trump ordered a year ago?

Unless people who advocate a strike are really sort of concealing the fact that what they really propose is an invasion of Syria, or a sustained military campaign, like that which the U.S. has been conducting in eastern Syria. But I think that it’s a myth that this was the great turning point in 2013, which is believed both on the left and the right. I think they simply wasn’t the case.

And it won’t, it’ll be, again, today if there is, what exactly are the military options if there is a one-off attack all over the country against Assad’s forces? Well, it won’t really change the situation on the ground because the armed opposition has lost. So you know, its last troops are being evacuated from Douma. The only opposition still in Damascus, the only enclave still held is one held by ISIS and by Islamic State inside Damascus. So that doesn’t really change the military balance of power.

The only thing that would do would be an all-out invasion. And that’s not really being proposed. You also have the fact that there are other air forces there. You have Russian air defense. If you will attack all the airports, are the Russian air defense missiles not going to fire? That seems a bit unlikely.

So the sort of knee-jerk idea that to punish Assad you launch military strikes, really regardless of the consequences, including the likelihood that the consequences would be nil, seems to me very, sort of, naive. And it’s, you know, it’s rather extraordinary it’s got such support without any justification in terms of what the effect would be.

BEN NORTON: Well, this week John Bolton, an extremely hardline neoconservative, just entered the White House as Trump’s new national security adviser. Bolton, who has repeatedly called for the U.S. to bomb Iran, is also extremely hawkish on Syria, and it’s a very real possibility that he and the Trump administration may carry out some kind of significant military attack against the Syrian government. What do you think the consequences of that would be?

There’s no question that the groups that would stand to gain from it on the ground would be extremists like Jaysh al-Islam. Also Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is rebranded al-Qaeda, which controls Idlib. What do you think would happen? We see many arguments today that we saw in 2011 when NATO militarily intervened and toppled the state in Libya. Libya is now a failed state. I don’t imagine the same thing happening in Syria, because the war is coming to an end. But what do you think the consequences of dramatic military action could be?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it’s the end in Damascus of one part of the armed opposition. They still have a lot of strength in Idlib province in the north, and around Aleppo. They’re backed by Turkey. So they’re not entirely out of business. But you know, it’s really unlikely that the Assad government is going to collapse. You know it’s, on the contrary, it’s been getting stronger, taking east Aleppo in 2016 and taking the final opposition stronghold in Damascus just now. So I don’t think that that’s likely.

You know, in northeast Syria the U.S. backs up the Kurds, but the Kurds don’t want to attack the Assad government. On the contrary, they’re more frightened of the Turks than they are of the Assad government, and will probably look for a deal with Assad when they can.

So I don’t think that there are, there just aren’t any realistic military options other than a sort of gesture by launching these airstrikes, which I guess something will happen, given all that Trump and the others have been saying. But it’s very difficult to see this changing the situation on the ground.

Which doesn’t mean that they’re not very dangerous, because you have all these different air forces flying over a not very big place in western Syria, U.S. aircraft, potentially U.S. aircraft, British aircraft, French aircraft, Russian aircraft, Israeli aircraft, Turkish aircraft. There’s lots of room for mistakes. What if the U.S. launches attacks, and U.S. aircraft are shot down by Russian anti-aircraft missiles? You know, then we, the whole crisis escalates.

So there aren’t any really good military options. And there are a lot of very dangerous military options.

BEN NORTON: And then finally, Patrick, we’ve seen a lot of reports, rightfully, on the enormous civilian casualties inflicted by the Syrian government. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in this assault on Eastern Ghouta. But of course, we haven’t seen many reports in the Western media on the civilian casualties of the extremist Salafi jihadist groups, namely Jaysh al-Islam. Also Faylaq al-Rahman and other groups that control this area. So we saw massacres inside Damascus by Jaysh al-Islam which recently killed dozens of civilians at a market, after shelling a market in Damascus.

And in the past few days, actually, there also have been some reports, mostly in the Middle Eastern press, not so much in the Western press, of the thousands of prisoners, including civilian hostages who were held by Jaysh al-Islam and who were freed by the Syrian government. In fact, there have been reports that several thousand people have been held and only a few hundred have been released. So there are thousands of civilians and political prisoners who are missing. Why don’t we hear much about that, and do you know anything about, about these issues?

PATRICK COCKBURN: The reports are that there are 1600 dead, 5000-6000 wounded, injured. So you know, that’s pretty high civilian casualties . One shouldn’t understate that. The other reports are that there are 3500 prisoners held by Jaysh al-Islam, and one of the reasons that the negotiations were delayed over the last few days was that the discussion was over the release of these prisoners by Jaysh al-Islam. But how many are actually being released, how many are really there, I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows at this stage.

BEN NORTON: Patrick Cockburn is an award-winning journalist and longtime correspondent for the British newspaper the Independent. Thanks a lot, Patrick.


BEN NORTON: For the Real News, I’m Ben Norton.

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  1. fajensen

    The only way the Trump Regime can be 100% certain of a chemical attack is if they (or their Jihaddi contractors) did it!

    I am getting sick and tired and somewhat desparate over the total lack of any kind of competent leadership, basic integrity and common decency shown all over by the leaders of the so called western democracies.

    They are running around like immature teenagers with some kind of frontal-lobe deficiency, they seemingly have no self control, just spouting off whatever pops into their empty heads and reacting on impulses alone. Short reaction time seems to be vastly more important that reacting to the correct thing or in the proper way.

    How the hell did “we” become like this? What does it signify?

    Are all those pesticides finally beginning to bite the very top of the food chain? Have a machine intelligence risen in some secret lab and is now running its goals of making “Earth Green” again? Is there global band of cultist that believe they can summon Jesus and skip The Tribulations by instigating Armageddon?

    Nothing makes sense! Except Crazy – which per definition doesn’t make sense!

    1. Ignacio

      How the hell did “we” become like this? What does it signify?

      Yep I make myself the same question. How we collectively come down to this situation and how actions and reactions are worsening by the day. The most intringuing question for me is the role of the western press. How badly are they trying to pass propaganda as news, how uncritically they treat certain sources, how they select and produce headlines from the most beligerant voices or phrases. For instance, why on earth many media “headlined” yesterday the following stupidity from Zuckerberg “this is an arms race (with Russia)”. Is this young squillionaire -with a lot of skin in the game- an authority on supposed cyberwars or just a jerk that didn’t even know that his business model is based on gathering and selling personal information of millions to the highest bidder? Why on earth is the press determined to make headlines of stupidity instead of the real news and worries? News editors seemingly do not care about becoming nothing more than propagandists. Fortunately, I see that a lot of people don’t give credibility to these charlatans any more.

      1. Sid Finster

        “How the hell did “we” become like this? What does it signify?”

        Power, that’s how. Power is to sociopaths what catnip is to cats, what cocaine is to an addict.

        1. TomasDomas

          A sociopath with waning power is the most dangerous kind. We are in the age of Desperate Fools.

  2. clarky90

    A Truth Factory video about Syria

    Hair-trigger, crazy accusations. The psycho “logic” of the “situation”. It would/could/should be hilariously funny, but……. no.

    God please Help, and have Mercy on us. We have no comprehension of the fire we are playing with.

  3. Temporarily Sane

    Whether it’s the government or the insurgents behind the chemical attack, bombing Syria and killing more people makes things worse, not better. If the “international community” is serious about ending the war it will stop arming and funding the various factions. I’m not holding my breath. With Madman Bolton, Mikey Pompeo and the Torture Lady flanking Trump the fighting and dying will continue and maybe even spread into neighboring countries.

    The media and punditry egging on Trump and calling for more death and destruction in Syria while shedding crocodile tears over dead babies and staying silent as unarmed Palestinians are shot in the back while the citizenry enthusiastically joins in or stays silent…how sick and depraved we have become.

    1. Stephen Gardner

      The selective outrage is mind boggling. Rivers of tears over jihadi produced propaganda of alleged injury to children but not a single image of the actual dead children of Yemen. That war crime is perpetrated by our Saudi friends with our help and as we all know the Saudis have a hand in supporting the jihadis fighting to turn Syria into another Libya.

      I have never seen this level of blatant propaganda before. Our political and business leaders seem to feel the most urgent need to stay within the brief unipolar moment of American rule. Why are they willing to risk everything for such a problematic goal.

  4. The Rev Kev

    I sometimes wonder if the reason that I post comments here is so that I am not reduced to punching holes in walls. I think that anyone with half a brain cell would recognize the fact that it would be wise to see what the OPCM finds in Ghouta first before going all gung-ho with military attacks. This is not happening with any real haste although the Russians have already secured the area of the supposed attack. I am looking at the countries that are all rushing to go to war against Syria – the US, the UK, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc – and you know what? These are the exact same countries that recruited, transported, trained, equipped, paid for and advised all those tens of thousands of Jihadists that have been rampaging all over Syria and Iraq. Therefore, I saying that this could be a Hail Mary pass to try and win Syria for the Jihadists one last time. Even if they lose, the US and others will sit on Syria’s oil to keep it weak because, as one Senator said, that is what Israel wants.
    There is already evidence enough that the whole story does not add up. Check the page at for an interesting analysis. Mike Pompeo though is telling the Senate that years of soft U.S. policy toward Russia are “now over.” That means everything short of war as Russia does not get a vote what it will do to react apparently. So the long and the short of it is evidence does not matter as the west wants to attack and believes that it can get away with it again like they did with Iraq. Jihadists have already come out and said that when the attacks begin, they will launch their own attacks against the Syrian Army. I am sure that North Korea is watching this all and is taking notes on what could happen to them if they put their trust in the west.
    I am trying to imagine how all of the line troops feel from all sides as they are potentially sent to war. I saw one reaction back the first time in 2013 when the US was getting ready to attack Syria. A film clip emerged of sailors on the attack carrier where different sailors were holding up signs to hide their identities which had thoughts against the attack. One read that he did not join the Navy to join the Al Quada Air Force. I did remember something from a movie called “Gettysburg” that expresses my feelings. To set the stage, a Union General named Buford was first at Gettysburg and sussed out what would happen going by what he could see. The clip is at but take note of the words spoken at 3:15 minutes and I wonder if that is what all those troops feel.

    1. Lambert Strether

      I remain convinced that an anti-war candidate would raise the flyover states in a big way.

      They’re the ones whose kids are being sent off to die in the wars organized by the “dynamic and productive” Blue enclaves, wars that we never win. And then the kids come home to crappy jobs, and maybe with PTSD, and then we lose some of them to deaths of despair.

      Senator Sanders? Step up, please.

      1. Eureka Springs

        The senator who not so long ago said something along the lines of – The Saudis need more skin in the game.

        He doesn’t need to step up. He needs to climb that mountain called sanity, along the basic human decency range, in a wilderness were nothing is a game.

        As for people above in the thread who ask how did we get here… I ask if there was a time from slaughtering natives of the western hemisphere forward when we haven’t been here? This is who we are and what we do.

        No mission ever declared. Manufactured consent often based on the most ridiculous premise. Constant streaming lies. With an executive treated the same as a King.

        While the rest of us just keep guessing at wtf is going on and why and hoping the likes of a Sanders will just say something.

        It’s a prefect recipe for endless war with only when, not if, being the question of the worst happening.

      2. JacobiteInTraining

        Anecdotally, I agree. I have a few Vietnam era vets I drink coffee with (and not of the ‘were before drafted or became hippies after the war’) who are white hot angry at Trump for going against his campaign rhetoric to dial it down a notch in the foreign wars category. They voted for him, they are not happy.

        Other friends from high school – an ex-Marine with blackops service in Central America in the 80’s… former police patrolman and then detective for years – as red-state as they come (a non voter…hated Trump & Clinton equally) and he is disgusted with the propaganda – the same propaganda they sucked him into when he enlisted,

        Other friends that served in Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan….none are for endless war anymore…not a single one…regardless of the patriotic fervor with which they signed up after 9/11. Just a quiet rage at the morons in charge. “Their guts….OUR blood”. Commonality: When you dig just ever so slightly below their knee-jerk rhetoric about politics and discuss the duopoly…its plain they have grown to hate the Ds and the Rs equally. They wish there was a 3rd party.

        Lastly, the 16-year-old I help take care of – since I remember being ready to enlist in the Marines at that age – so I ‘had the talk’ with him. Turns out I didn’t need to….he gave a wonderfully expressive explanation of why he would *never* join the military and that I needn’t worry. He (and his close friends) are all anti-war.

        Now, if we can just avoid some damn echo of Franz Ferdinand for awhile…..

      3. Skip Intro

        It worked for Trump, didn’t hurt Obama either… but can an anti-war candidate somehow become an anti-war President?

        1. Sid Finster

          Hell, Dubya, Clinton, even Bush ’41 ran as non-interventionists.

          Then, as soon as each of them got into office, *a miracle occurred* and something changed.

          1. ambrit

            H—. Go on back to the modern ages’ “Ur” anti war candidate, Woodrow Wilson. Remember WW1? How America stayed out of it? /s

          2. jrs

            And Woodrow Wilson. They have to think we’re smoking some good stuff if they want to sell Sanders as anti-war, as the track record isn’t there. Really, how dumb do they think we are? A sucker born every minute? Still he would be better on domestic policy and that’s not nothing.

    2. Jim Haygood

      Jaysh al-Islam was created by Saudi Arabia, and has put women from the Shia Alawite minority in cages.

      Prince MBS, who needs 80-dollar oil to float Saudi Aramco’s IPO, has generously offered to join the Justice League of America multinational coalition to bomb Syria.

      Like Prime Minister Netanyahu, Prince MBS is just another disinterested observer who’s fiercely committed to protecting the welfare of Arab children. /sarc

  5. ewmayer

    As annoyed as I am at Trump’s inane schizophrenic tweets on the matter, you know what appals me the most? Seeing the Dem establishment and their pals in the Military/Intelligence complex and MSM aggressively, almost gleefully attempting to goad Trump into a shooting war against a fellow nuclear-armed sovereign.

    Mass-murderous imperial sociopathy carried on under a banner of faux liberalism is still mass-murderous imperial sociopathy. They couldn’t get Hillary elected, but by golly, they’re going to get her bloody-minded foreign policy, no matter the cost.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Last I checked, Russian “interference” with election 2016 was a casus belli with liberal Democrats (who, let us recall, were in favor of a no-fly zone over Syria, another war-threatening escalation, and petitioned for by the diplomats (!) in Clinton’s State Department). So now we have what liberal Democrats have wanted all along, so what’s the problem?

      The problem appears to be, not that Trump is threatening strikes, but that he’s not doing big enough strikes, or doing them in the wrong way, or doing them in the absence of the war-winning strategy that nobody else was been able to come up with. The real issue, then, I would argue, is that “they” are doing the bombing and not “us.”

      In retrospect, I’ve got to give credit to Obama both for the Iran deal, and for not succumbing to the Blob’s nonsense over Syria the last time one of these war scares blew up (something he also took a lot of crap for, both from the Blob and from liberal Democrats).

      1. Sid Finster

        I have said this before, if and when the establishment parties get their war, they won’t be satisfied for long. The wargasm from the 2017 strikes gave Trump only two or three days’ reprieve and then the howls of “Putin puppet!” resumed, as if nothing had happened.

        Nothing less than We March on Moscow will satisfy them.

        It does not take a rocket scientist to see how this will end.

    2. jrs

      They are definitely part of the problem, but at this point even if no Democrats existed, Trump has John Bolton as national security advisor. Enough said.

  6. VietnamVet

    The Salisbury England poisoning and the East Ghouta gassing are astonishing as broadcast by corporate media and pontificated by UK and American politicians. Russian Federation and Syrian Arab Republic are perpetrators without proof. Just the solemn tones of the news readers. Even weirder are the Presidential Tweets stating a smart missile attack on Syria is imminent. No one, except on the internet, points out that Russia has promised to defend its troops embedded in the Syrian Arab Army. If one American fighter bomber pilot is killed or naval vessel sunk, World War III with Russia starts. No fictional novel, TV show or movie except “Dr. Strangelove” approaches the crazy reality of our world today.

    This is frightening. The western credentialed class knows not what they are doing for the corporate oligarchs or if they do, they have to for the money.

    1. whine country

      VV – The western credentialed class knows but doesn’t care. The reason is simply that their definition of “skin in the game” is not the same as ours. The loss of life of of our “volunteer” soldiers is not the same to them as us. To us any loss of life is up close and personal – heartbreaking is an understatement. To them it is merely political calculus – how many can we lose and not receive significant blowback. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and the pilots who support them are professional chess pieces on the board to be moved around by the think tank crowd and their bought and paid for generals. The President and Congress are all merely actors playing on a stage. (Can anyone seriously dispute that Trump’s campaign was nothing more than an act?) Their respect and admiration for the soldiers is part of the act – that is of course unless they are part of a very small majority who have lost someone close to them because of our war “games”. The key is and always has been having “skin in the game”. When our wars became fought by others, the ruling class lost all of their skin in the game and, for the rest of us poor slobs, we just have to ignore the elephant in the room. Sorry to repeat, but eliminating the draft and going to this all volunteer force was a huge mistake that was rightly criticized by serious military people at the time but done for strictly political reasons – part of the act if you will.

  7. Other James

    One Martin Chulov, writing in the Guardian quotes the notorious Bellingcat. Anyone remember MH17, they were all over it like a rash. I would think psyops outfit, but neither know nor have evidence to to back my suspicion. To quote Chulov:

    A rooftop video taken by a first responder was corroborated by the online investigative site Bellingcat as having been taken on top of that building.

    The first responders being the ‘white helmets’, themselves a known propaganda unit, and all without one whit of caveat or circumspection.

    But what really irks me is that The Guardian itself has come out all partisan again before the dust settles, dismissing competing claims and ignoring emerging facts. “Comment is free,” wrote Guardian editor CP Scott in 1921, “but facts are sacred”. Not when you’ve written the story before the facts arrive.

    1. RBHoughton

      The Guardian is not the paper it was under Rusbridger. My suspicion is the Government threatened to delicense the paper if it ever did another Snowden. Something like that might account for its changed and uncritical tone.

  8. Thuto

    Astonishingly, Trump rode his idiocy all the way to the US Presidency. This idiocy may now exact a heavy toll on humanity as we collectively ride it into oblivion.

    1. Isotope_C14

      We are on a path to either nuclear war or catastrophic climate disaster, regardless of which actor appears to be in control of the Predatory Capitalist States of America.

      That ship sailed arguably the moment humanity decided to embrace agriculture thousands of years ago.

      Would you be happier with Clinton? Clinton is re-hashing the loss over and over, and blaming everyone but herself for her defeat. What would the sign on her desk read? “The buck stops over there”?

      Of course, she’ll be back in 2020 with a new campaign slogan “It’s my turn deplorables”, or some other equivocally tone-deaf campaign slogan.

    2. Lambert Strether

      Just for the record:

      Hillary Clinton calls for U.S. to bomb Syrian air fields

      In her first interview since her stunning presidential election defeat by Republican rival Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton on Thursday called for the United States to bomb Syrian air fields.

      The “idiocy” we’re going through now has been brewing for some time, and it’s being brewed, on a thoroughly bipartisan basis, by institutions that persist across administrations. In fact, you could see it coming in with Clinton’s “Russian puppet” comment in debate with Trump. If Clinton had won, we’d be seeing different cadres pushing for more or less the same thing with different timing (and perhaps less clumsily). One difference is that the press would not only be pushing for war, but pushing for every other ancillary policy Clinton would have put in place (wartime censorship, for example; see the very liberal Post on Propornot.)

      1. Thuto

        I’m a tad removed from ground zero of the idiocy as i’m South African commenting from South Africa. When nuclear war happens though, the toxic, apocalyptic aftermath will engulf us all, regardless of geography. Re: Clinton vs Trump: I hadn’t meant to suggest that Clinton would have made more rational, to say nothing of “world saving” choices under the same circumstances (after all the puppet masters pull the strings from dark crevices lying very deep within the “deep state”, regardless of who sits in the white house). It’s I suppose as Raymond Reddington said on the tv show the Blacklist, sitting with Elizabeth on a bench just outside the White house: “You know Elizabeth, people think it matters who sits in that office, it doesn’t, criminals and multinational corporations run the world”. How apt, how right. Trump is an unabashed idiot, Clinton, by my estimation, is more of a smooth talking charlatan but both are beholden to the same overlords.

        1. Isotope_C14

          Well said.

          Unfortunately these overlords are not particularly endowed in the wisdom department. They seriously believe that they can hide in underground bunkers and wait for generations until it is safe to come out. – Which is increasingly looking like never.

          I hope some New Zealanders are collecting land-mines and booby-traps to lay outside of Thiel’s secret palace just in case that they can come out in 50 generations.

    3. Sid Finster

      Had we elected HRC (officially the Smartest and Most Qualified Candidate Evah(tm)!), we would be on the same path. Maybe a little sooner, and may she would have a little more freedom to act without being greeted with a chorus pf “Putin puppet!” but that’s it.

      Trump is a dolt, but he is weak and easily manipulated. He is not the root cause, as liberals love to jaw about.

  9. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    I wonder if any of those who work in what has become a lynch mob media are perhaps when they go to bed at night, considering their role in this ultimate stakes game. I assume that they are intelligent people who have to in this Neoliberal world hang on to their jobs in order to pay their mortgages, send their kids to school etc. It reminds me of the statement from the Dutch journalist who wrote the article on why he hated England & had left, who asked the question, what is wrong with people doing whatever they have to do in order to secure the best future for their children ? – hopefully he & the rest wont find out.

    1. Clive

      The problem is, we’re all on the horns of the same dilemma — whether we work in journalism, big finance such as yours truly, education, healthcare, law enforcement etc. etc. etc.

      Do we stick to our principles and unstintingly always do the right thing no matter what? But we all know where that’s likely to lead us — right to the back of the unemployment line.

      So we’re all really just variants of Stormy Daniels now. If you’re a participant in The System, you’re merely whoring in one way or another. At least Stormy was an honest broker, it was obvious what you were paying for and what you were getting. In that, Stormy is a member of a comparatively rare minority and has the moral high ground when viewed in relation to a lot of us.

      1. Ignacio

        Do we stick to our principles and unstintingly always do the right thing no matter what? But we all know where that’s likely to lead us — right to the back of the unemployment line.

        I like the treatment that Woody Allen gives to this dilemma in movies like “Crimes and misdemeanors” for instance, where de dilemma involves killing someone or not. His conclusion is that in the long run we tend to forget those capital sins after a stormy period

        1. tegnost

          I liked that movie as well. As I recall, it was a long time ago, my take away was that if you don’t feel guilty, or if you can come up with any justification at all, then you’re not guilty. Of course the things going on in allens personal life may have inspired him to grapple with the topic.

  10. Ignacio

    A tweet from Guartian correspondent in Paris:

    #Syria – Macron tells TV interviewer: “We have the proof that chemical weapons — at least chlorine gas — were used by Assad’s regime”.
    Says decision on France’s response will be taken at the right moment, when it will be “most effective”

    Rigth moment, effective. Wow, how rigtheous and effective is this Macron. Someone should send him Viviani’s passage from Lambert’s post on pre-Wrold War I

  11. Matt

    The casual way we are approaching war with Russia is I think entirely due to the insular foreign policy bubble of DC policy makers and think tanks. They see Russia the same way Hitler saw the Soviet Union (“just kick the door in and the whole rotten structure will collapse”). I genuinely think they believe Russians are a bunch of ignorant, drunken peasants shivering in the cold, relying on rusting Soviet era weapons. The military and intelligence agencies probably know better but like Buck Turgidson think casualties would be “10 million, tops!” What a small price to pay to eliminate the Russian menace!

    Recall that Michael Weiss believed the entire Russian presence in Syria could be destroyed in 48 hours. None so blind?

    1. rd

      Because of the Eurocentric focus of our leadership, I think they truly believe that an engagement in Syria between the US and Russia would not be the trigger for global conflict. I think Sarajevo 1914 should convince them otherwise.

      Surprisingly, I think it will be Putin’s restraint that would prevent escalation. I think he and Xi are focused on asymmetric warfare, such as disinformation in elections, jamming drone signals, aircraft killer missiles, etc. as the way to go in dealing with the US and any bellicose Europeans. Things like Afghanistan, Iraq, and ISIS have been proving that you don’t need massive military budgets to defeat world-class military forces. Unfortunately, we need to keep relearning that – I would have assumed Vietnam and watching the Russians in Afghanistan should have convinced people, but apparently our military and civilian leadership have the memory banks of a slug.

      1. Sid Finster

        I suspect that Putin has learned well the lessons of Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Yemen and now Syria. “Just one more” is never enough.

        Nothing less than We March on Moscow! will satisfy. Reward and punishment are the only things that will hold the sociopaths at bay.

  12. Carolinian

    This Patrick Cockburn interview is considerably more on the other handish than his recent story in the Independent where he referred to a WHO claim that the Douma hospital was full of victims and said that claims of a government attack might be true. While he has been a great on the scene reporter in Iraq his Syria articles have been less impressive. It could be that if you want to keep your job in the British press you have to toe the line–at least a little bit.

    Of course Moon of Alabama–who some of us see as a reliable source–is not on the scene either but he has shown considerably more skepticism about video and hearsay reports and has used deep web research to discredit many of them. In our new propaganda era this may be the path for writers about military and foreign affairs.

  13. Donald

    I am not sure how much to trust the accounts, but it does sound like there is good evidence the Syrian government used gas. Patrick Cockburn seems to think so and the NYT makes a decent sounding case. I agree it makes little sense from the motive angle. The motive angle supports the idea of a hoax. Maybe it was unauthorized or maybe the Syrian government is composed of brutal idiots, not unlike our own. But at this point if it was a hoax it was a very elaborate one.

    I actually don’t know what to think about such things. I don’t want to be an ideologue who forces things to fit into a convenient frame. I also hate being a sucker.

    The larger point is that the US supported a massive covert war in Syria and we take no responsibility for what we have done.

    1. pretzelattack

      i didn’t get the impression cockburn thinks there is good evidence, just that he is suspending judgement sans good evidence–not from this interview anyway.

        1. Plenue

          I completely disagree with him. The Syrian government wasn’t just winning in some generic, overall sense. I was following the events in Eastern Ghouta on essentially an hourly basis; Jaysh al-Islam were already in the process of being bussed out. Some element of them then reneged on the deal and (apparently) killed their own negotiators. But this amounted to nothing but stubborn foolishness. They already never stood any chance of winning, being isolated in their pocket. With their ranks already being depleted by evacuation, all this move served to do was delay the inevitable. The airstrikes were then resumed, to force them back to negotiations.

          The SAA had already won. The transfer of militant fighters had already begun. Literally the only side that had any motivation to use chemical weapons is the militants, as a last desperate attempt to get foreign intervention to save them from a hopeless situation.

          Also, yet again, we see a supposed chemical attack being conducted with chlorine gas. This substance is nigh militarily worthless, in terms of actually killing people; it’s only real battlefield use is to temporarily disrupt enemy positions, following up the chemical strike with an infantry assault. But the SAA didn’t commit ground forces to the area of the supposed CW attack (they were never keen on entering the city proper areas in Eastern Ghouta).

          Chlorine gas is, however, relatively cheap and easy to make. Exactly what you would expect militants to make if they wanted to stage false attacks. The SAA has uncovered numerous chlorine gas workshops in liberated areas. Unless, of course, those claims are themselves propaganda, intended to place the blame on militants for chlorine attacks. Which seems like a lot of effort for covering up the use of a militarily ineffective weapon, the use of which carries massive political cost that keeps edging us towards WW3.

          Of course, you could argue that Assad just wanted to kill a bunch of civilians. But…why would he want to do that? I reiterate, yet again, that the fight was already essentially over. The only purpose slaughtering civilians would serve would perhaps be to make the terrified populace urge the militants to stay. The exact opposite of what the Syrian government wants.

          1. Donald

            You might be right. In my opinion the Syrian War has been the most Orwellian news topic in my lifetime. It is extremely difficult to judge who is lying in many cases and the press is part of the problem.

          2. The Rev Kev

            It is with some satisfaction that I read that the Jaish al-Islam takfiris being evacuated out of eastern Ghouta to Idlib are hated by their fellow Jihadists as well as the Turks. Jaish al-Islam commanders have been arrested by these Jihadists as they have been arriving by those green buses and I wonder if the Syrians and Russians have put a contract out on the White helmets as they arrive in that province.
            Not sorry to hear this at all. These were the same people that put children in cages and drove them around town as well as women. No sixty-four virgins in the future of these bubbas.

          3. WJ

            Sputnik, Global Research, and two or three other sources are now reporting that British, Israeli, and Jordanian operatives were embedded in Ghouta and recently captured. There was, apparently, a coup to be stage in March, with Israel and US air support no less. The intelligence of the coup prompted Russia/ Syria to clear out Ghouta as rapidly and forcefully as they did. I am not 100% sure of the reliability of this report at the moment. Next few days will determine whether it’s accurate or no.

    2. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Sic Semper Tyrannis had a recent request (urgent!!) to Gen Mattis for more thorough confirmation of events before determining action.

      SST is hosted by a former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, who presumably knows more than the rest of us about how often, and how duplicitously, the US policy makers have been duped into foolhardy, idiotic action that further degrade our claims to world leadership. We Yanks are, if nothing else, pretty damn gullible; and if we are so gullible, why should anyone else respect us?

      The history of human affairs is fraught with miscalculations, misjudgments, and disaster.
      I think that many of us are reacting to a sense that the margins of error are being shaved to a hair’s breadth, and that no sensible leadership would have let things get to this dangerous point.

    3. Skip Intro

      After so many lies and false flag WMD operations, the military infotainment complex is bound to tell the truth eventually… this could be it.

    4. Sid Finster

      Of all the participants, the Syrian government has the most to lose and the least to gain by using gas.

      To give but one example, we know that the Pentagon has launched bombing attacks on Syrian Army positions in order to scotch Kerry’s attempt as a face-saving peace deal. That anyone thinks that they would not resort to gas is absurd.

    5. kgw

      “but it does sound like there is good evidence the Syrian government used gas.”

      Source, please.

      1. Donald

        The NYT has a couple of articles on it today, as I mentioned above.

        Here is one–

        The other cites the White Helmets specifically and I tend to discount that–not saying it is utterly worthless, but all the claims from partisan groups, whether Russian or Syrian government or rebel or US government, have little weight. But Cockburn’s argument in the article I linked in another response has swayed me a bit–this is a pretty elaborate hoax if it is a hoax. Is every single person claiming an attack occurred a White Helmet or a rebel propagandist? Maybe, but right now I am leaning towards thinking it happened and Assad’s side did it.

        None of this means I support intervention. I think the US has gotten away with what is a massive state sponsored terrorist campaign against Syria for the past several years. Which particular atrocity story is or is not real is secondary. But I wouldn’t base my opposition to our policies on the truth or falsehood of any particular event.

        1. witters

          “I wouldn’t base my opposition to our policies on the truth or falsehood of any particular event.” I think that “our” most revealing. It is why, it seems to me, you are “leaning towards thinking it happened and Assad’s side did it.”

          1. Donald

            Sorry, but your ad hominem mindreading skills are way off. I say “ our” because as an American I feel some responsibility for our war crimes. Our support for the Syrian rebels is arguably our worst crime since the invasion of Iraq.

            Plenue’s response was useful and a strong counterargument. Yours was a gratuitous insult which contained no facts and no references.

        2. WJ

          Is every single person claiming an attack occurred a White Helmet or a rebel propagandist?

          In this case, yes.

  14. oaf

    “written the story before the facts arrive.”
    …When they do arrive; they will simply be reframed , to suit the preemptive spin….

  15. camelotkidd

    It must be a coincidence that every time Trump or someone in his administration talks about leaving Syria there’s a chemical weapons attack. After all the lies that were promulgated before the invasion of Iraq, the corporate media deserves zero trust when it comes to war. The New York Times, with it’s pair of prevaricators–Judy Miller and Michael Gordon led the way. While Miller has decamped to Fox, Gordon is still hard at work. Let’s also never forget that the US has been planning regime change in Syria since the 1940’s.

  16. Edward E

    Waiting to see what becomes of these reports by Maxim A. Suchkov. Jordan and Israel intermediary rolls between RU US “I will be meeting #NATO officials + individual member states’ reps tomorrow, so will summarize the views and the mood from the other side tomorrow. Hopefully this all can be settled smoothly”

  17. cocomaan

    I find the timing of the gas attack highly suspicious given that Trump had just announced that we were going to pull out of Syria.And the Pentagon immediately said they were not going to cooperate.

    Also, Trump has said that he does not typically advertise when and where he will strike. Especially not how (“very smart missiles”). It’s easy to conclude that Trump is posturing and will do an ineffectual/token attack like he did last year on a Russian air base. He will hopefully then continue to pull out troops from Syria.

  18. steven

    This isn’t about chemical weapons use any more than it was about WMD in 2003, incubator babies in 1990 or bayoneting Belgian babies a 100+ years ago. Even the most totalitarian governments apparently feel obliged to come up with pretexts to support their imperial ambitions, if only to motivate ‘the troops’. This is so old hat even GW Bush sarcastically mocked the next for such a pretext when questioned about the absence of WMD in Iraq post-invasion. (This is so old hat the West’s ‘enemies’ probably COULD use a weapon of choice because anyone with half a brain in the West would not believe the braying of its ‘leaders’ – even if it was completely stupid and inexpedient.) Believe anything else and you are indeed a “sucker”.

    As near as I can determine, it IS about definitive control of a pipeline root so Arabian autocrats can dump their oil and natural gas on Europe at a price so low Russia can’t compete. The ‘win’ for Western policy makers is depriving Russia over any leverage it might obtain from supplying Europe’s energy and maybe the funding to compete with the US for a say in world affairs. Another possibility of course is preserving the oil ‘backing’ for the US dollar and the euro.

    If Trump would stop running his mouth, there seem to be a couple of ways out of this mess:
    1. Russia, the Saudis and their buddies could cut a deal and divide the European energy market
    2. If it has enough oil, Russia and China could cut a deal, turn their backs on the rotting edifice of Western civilization and just wait for its dispossessed to rid themselves of the parasites in control of their lives.

    Naked Capitalism readers could perhaps speed this last option along a little by conducting Reality 101 courses as an antidote to the West’s MSM mental pollution for information starved public in their immediate vicinity with public-invited Meetups.

    Just a thought. I’m more than a little tired of just ‘talking’. If not now, on the eve of destruction, WHEN??

    1. Sid Finster

      “Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.

      In our time political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.

      But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

      All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

      Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.

      War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.

      Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.

      War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. (On the manipulation of language for political ends.)

      We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

      If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

      In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”
      –George Orwell, 1984

      1. steven

        We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

        A Naked Capitalism mission statement?

        If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

        I’m hoping Orwell was wrong about that one, unless by “people” Orwell meant the West’s 0.001%.

        P.S. “route” not “root”, sorry.

    2. polecat

      If this rationale about SA and the West vieing for control of cost and delivery of petroleum resources vs Russia is true, and I don’t doubt for a moment that it isn’t, what does this say with regard to ‘fighting’ global heat-engine change (and that’s assuming we (collectively) can do anything to mitigate said climate effects of a vastly complex set of atmospheric dynamics) …. doesn’t this high-stakes geo-political game of resource jenga* negate any realistic co-operation amongst the citizens of Terra ??

      *My question doesn’t factor in the effects of a global nuclear war.

      1. steven

        *My question doesn’t factor in the effects of a global nuclear war.

        Ah!! Nuclear winter – that’s the 0.001%’s answer to the threat of climate change.

        But more seriously, if we wish to have a viable future for our species, we need to go all out for some combination of renewable energy, conservation and controlled reduction in the numbers of our species. US and Western bankers, notoriously short-term in their thinking, may want hang onto the Arabian oil backing the money they create. And neo-conservative ‘great gamers’ may want to use that oil as a foundation of national power. But if either is allowed to do so, all that will remain of the earth is a smoldering ruin.

        P.S. – a more plausible Putin conspiracy theory. Extreme weather events and methane escaping from a melting permafrost aside, what country is most likely to benefit from global warming?

        P.P.S. – As Putin and older Russians know, there will be no winners in another world war. But if the West is stupid enough to insist on one, Russia is much better situated to survive it than the densely populated and technology dependent West.

        1. polecat

          Steven, thank you for your reply

          I sincerly believe that, as you’ve implied, due to the west’s unthinking short-termism, greed, and power-mungering, the glowing gaunlet finally will be dropped, and then we will see Hell, every which way to Sun day, as ol’ Chuky is want to say, and no holds barred !
          I truly wish we had rational, and peaceful leadership … but it seems nowhere to be found. At this point, I put more faith in Tucker Carlson (HeyZeus, help me !) to lead us out or the abyss, then someone such as Bernard Sanders, who, inefectively, keeps dropping his foreign balls !! Good luck to all us mopes.

      2. WJ

        I am not sure it isn’t more fundamentally about Israel. A failed Syria means air access to Iran.

  19. marym

    Syrian Refugees Entering the U.S. Is Down to Trickle

    In the last five months, 11 have been accepted, a sharp contrast to the final years of the Obama administration when thousands arrived
    Refugee admissions to the U.S. from all countries this fiscal year are down considerably from past years, according to State Department data. Halfway through the year, which began on Oct. 1, the U.S. has admitted 10,548 people. That is on track to be the lowest total since at least 1980, when the current refugee program was established by law.

    The article also says

    Mr. Trump and administration officials have said they prefer to aid displaced people closer to their homes. The State Department said the U.S. has provided nearly $7.7 billion in humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian crisis since it began in 2012.

    but recently

    President Trump’s administration has frozen $200 million earmarked for Syria recovery efforts…

    [CBS News Kyle] Atwood reports the decision was relayed to the State Department Friday in a call that White House chief of staff John Kelly made to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. There is some recovery funding that will continue for the next few weeks, but all future money is on hold.

    In the CBS report, it sounds as if Trump was taking a *declare a victory and go home* position:

    We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it — sometimes referred to as ‘land.’ We’re taking it all back quickly.

    (Maybe he thinks “we” also “took the oil” – who knows?

    Basically, imo, he says stuff, and then he says other stuff, and most of it involves doing harm. Bomb, eliminate aid programs, take the land, deny refugee status, …. it’s all the same to him.

  20. RBHoughton

    Why is the OPCW so slow to investigate? The moment allegations of chemical weapons use are made a team should be in the air en route to the scene. We have had western governments making allegations and still the OPCW does not move. Are they not organised with stand-by teams to take action as soon as required. What are they waiting for?

    1. WJ

      They are better than nothing, but are not totally above politics and there is doubtless hemming and hawing about the make up of the team.

    2. Plenue

      Well, for the first few days at least Douma was still filled with jihadi headchoppers (who most likely did the attack, if there even was one at all). Now that those nutjobs have all been bussed out, it’s safe for inspectors to come in. The first OPCW team is supposed to start work on Saturday (tomorrow), with Russian military police providing security.

      I think things have moved quite quickly actually, considering the area was until very recently an active warzone

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