Thursday, May 9, 2013

Syria in the Gunsights

By Reginald Johnson

Despite revelations by a UN official that Syrian rebels, and not the Syrian government, used chemical weapons in a civil war, officials of the Obama administration and others are still determined to create regime change in Syria, if necessary by force.

Carla del Ponte, who sits on a UN commission of inquiry on Syria, told Italian-Swiss broadcaster RSI, “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas.”

Del Ponte, who previously served on Western-backed international courts on Yugoslavia and Rwanda, said, “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals, and according to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. This was on the part of the oppostition, the rebels, not the government authorities.”

The commission of inquiry later issued a statement saying it had not yet reached official conclusions about whether poison gas was used in the Syrian conflict, and by whom.

Nonetheless, Del Ponte’s statements would seem to undercut the case being made by the Obama administration, advocates for war in the Republican Party and their many allies in the press, that the U.S. must intervene in Syria, to stop an out-of-control government from using chemical weapons against its own people.

However, in an echo of the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Del Ponte’s comments are being brushed aside by administration officials and others as being irrelevant or not worthy of attention. Without any evidence, they insist that government forces are using chemical weapons.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed doubts that the Syrian opposition had used chemical weapons. “We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime.”

Members of Congress, including Democrats, also keep pounding the drums for war, despite Del Ponte’s comments. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, submitted legislation that would officially authorize the Obama administration to arm the opposition groups.

“The Assad regime has crossed a red line that forces us to consider all options,” Menendez said in a written statement.

The New York Times reported that the U.S. and Britain are in secret talks about coordinated air strikes against Syria.

The talk of intervention by the U.S. comes as a major ally, Israel, launched a unilateral and devastating missile attack against a military research center near Damascus last weekend. Dozens of Syrian military were killed. Israel said the attack was done to stop the flow of Syrian aid to the group Hezbollah, which Israel views as terrorist.

The quick downplaying of Del Ponte’s claims about rebel use of sarin gas is reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq War, when Bush administration officials insisted that they had information showing that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, thereby justifying an invasion and regime change. Counter claims by a few skeptics, such as former UN weapons inspectors, that there were no weapons, were given little credence and got almost no attention in the press.

The US invaded Iraq in March of 2003, with a UN weapons inspection team still doing its work and having reached no conclusion. Months later, the team finished its work, with no weapons found. An administration-sanctioned inspection group reached the same conclusion.

The Obama administration would be violating international law in either plotting an invasion of Syria or sending lethal aid to opposition forces. The United Nations Charter, which the U.S. is party to, prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

If the U.S. is so concerned about a “humanitarian disaster” at the hands of the Syrian government, through the possible use of chemical weapons, it is incumbent on this country to bring its case before the Security Council, and appeal for some kind of collective action against Syria. The excuse that is used for not doing this is that Russia, Syria’s ally, would veto any proposed UN action.

But that excuse doesn’t cut it, since the U.S. has never even tried to take its case to the UN. They’re not about to do that, since, as Del Ponte’s comments show, the case against the government may have little basis.

People might also point out that the U.S. is employing a moral double standard in condemning Syria for possible use of chemical weapons, since America used chemical weapons --- white phosphorous grenades --- in Fallujah during the Iraq War.

But let’s face it. The reason why the U.S. wants to topple the Syrian regime has nothing to do with human rights or an impending humanitarian disaster. That’s simply the cover story. The real reason is that Syria is in the way, bordering Iran, and being an ally of Iran. The ultimate target here is Iran, which, like Iraq, is loaded with oil. The U.S. wants to overthrow the government of Iran and gain geopolitical primacy over the entire Middle East region. Installing a pro-western government in Syria is vital to achieving this goal.

As this sorry saga unfolds, once again the mainstream media is failing the test. Failing to ask the tough questions and failing to do balanced reporting. Reports by the main TV networks on Syria have been one-sided with a blanket acceptance of administration claims on such matters as chemical weapons and alleged atrocities by the Syrian military.

There’s also been little concern expressed about the contradiction in the U.S. support for the “rebels” since one of the primary opposition factions is affiliated with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that is supposed to be our sworn enemy. Even some of the commentary from the left on Syria has been weak, until recently.

Over ten years ago, many in the media, both electronic and print, did a very poor job in failing to ask more pointed questions of the Bush administration about their sweeping claims of WMDs and failing to give enough attention to alternative voices who were raising questions about the need to go to war.

Now, it appears the mainstream media is making the same mistake again.

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