Tuesday 11 April 2017

Should We Believe Uncle Sam?

Righteous Wrath, Or Unlawful Attack? In light of the Gulf of Tonkin and WMD fabrications, one might have thought that the default position of “responsible” commentators, when presented with US justifications, would be one of extreme scepticism. And yet, in New Zealand and across the Western World, the US assertion that the chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun was the work of the Syrian head-of-state, President Bashar al-Assad, has been accepted without question.
THERE IS AN ASSUMPTION among New Zealand foreign policy “experts” that what the United States tells us should be believed. If, to take the most recent instance, the US Government informs the New Zealand Government that the Syrian Government is responsible for using chemical weapons against its own people, then that intelligence should be accepted by all responsible commentators. More importantly, it should reinforce all subsequent commentary concerning New Zealand’s diplomatic and military responses.
But, is this willingness to take the justifications of the United States at their face value really all that responsible? Surely, the first obligation of all those in a position to comment on the tragic chemical release at Khan Sheikhoun and President Trump’s retaliatory missile strike on Syria, is to be guided by America’s record? Shouldn’t we be examining past justifications for US military adventures before offering New Zealand support for this latest attack on a sovereign state?
Because the United States’ post-war record really isn’t all that flash when it comes to justifying its military assaults on other countries.
America’s most costly military engagement of the post-World War II era, the Vietnam War, was justified with what was later exposed as a carefully constructed falsehood. The so-called “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” of 22-24 August 1965, which prompted the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” of the United States Congress, which, in turn, authorised President Lyndon Johnson to assist any Southeast Asian  government endangered by “communist aggression”, never happened.
That America’s allies, including New Zealand, were somehow persuaded that a US naval force, including a fully-equipped aircraft carrier and at least one destroyer, had been threatened seriously by three North Vietnamese patrol boats, tells us much about the influence of Cold War paranoia on Western decision-making in the mid-1960s.
The exposure of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident as a fabricated pretext for US military aggression in Indochina should have encouraged America’s friends to treat any future justifications for US violations of the United Nations’ Charter with considerable caution.
To the eternal credit of the Labour-led government of Helen Clark, it was not persuaded by the United States’ repeated claims, peaking in January and February 2003, that the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, remained in possession of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs) and must, therefore, be overthrown by an American-led invasion.
Thirty-eight years after the non-existent Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Clark rightfully insisted that any such invasion could not be supported by New Zealand unless and until it had been authorised by a resolution of the United Nations’ Security Council.
In an attempt to persuade the UN Security Council to pass such a resolution, the US President, George W. Bush, sent his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to make the case for military intervention. The hapless Powell appeared before the Council on 5 February 2003, equipped with all manner of diagrams and slides. His “evidence” even included a “model” phial containing the deadly Anthrax virus!
The Council was not persuaded and refused to authorise an American-led invasion. A wise decision, as it turned out, because when, in defiance of the United Nations, the US, the UK and Australia invaded Iraq in March 2003, Saddam Hussein’s claims (backed-up by UN Inspectors) that Iraq had destroyed all of its WMDs, turned out to be true. In spite of the most exhaustive searches, the US was unable to locate any WMDs whatsoever.
There’s a schoolyard chant: “Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me!”
In light of the Gulf of Tonkin and WMD fabrications, one might have thought that the default position of “responsible” commentators, when presented with US justifications, would be one of extreme scepticism. And yet, in New Zealand and across the Western World, the US assertion that the chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun was the work of the Syrian head-of-state, President Bashar al-Assad, has been accepted without question.
Colin Powell and Nikki Haley Show and Tell the UN Security Council ..... Lies?
In a diplomatic atmosphere alarmingly reminiscent of Cold War fear and suspicion, the alternative explanation offered by Syria’s ally, the Russian Federation – that Syrian bombs struck a warehouse in which rebel munitions, including deadly chemical agents, were stored – has been dismissed out of hand.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Bill English, responding to the US missile attack, said:
“We of course would rather see the Syrian differences resolved by diplomatic processes but the Security Council hasn’t been able to condemn it or do anything about it.
“So we can understand the US taking action to prevent that kind of chemical attack occurring again – and we support action as long as it’s proportionate.”
Clearly, the events of 1965 and 2003 have left no trace upon Prime Minister English. Nor, it would seem, upon New Zealand’s “expert” commentators. Neither the lessons of history, nor the UN Charter, count for much against the unchallengeable word of Uncle Sam.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 11 April 2017.


Unknown said...

So you think that NZ should be taking into account events 52 years when making foreign policy decisions??!! If the same logic applies then you will not trust Syria because they attacked Israel in 1973 during Yom Kippur! Have you ever considered that Syria might actually be guilty of the chemical war attack because they know the war has been too gutless to do anything to past attacks or that they think that no one would ever dare do anything to criticise Putin and Russia or Iran.

Unknown said...

You have misunderstood the argument. Chris' post is not about who has attacked who in the past, but the reliability and validity of the 'pre-texts' that have justified such actions. Your critique re: Syria is irrelevant to this question.

Nick J said...

Richard Swan, you are onto something. Every 52 years is to some a long time frame, I think with foreign policy it may be too short. Leopards spots evolve very slowly, never seen a plain leopard yet.

On that note you may ask why Tsar Vlad is hanging around the Levant? Its the same reason Tsar Josef, Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Catherine had for a Mediterranean presence, it is called "warm water access" either side of the Bosphoros. That of course makes him like all prior Russian autocrats (yes that's what they have, nothing abnormal despite US calls for "democracy" in Russia) open to Western criticism.

You might also want to consider the real US interests in the region, you might be surprised to learn that it is not to trade in sand (the Yanks are creating sufficient new deserts themselves in their south west). No it is called control of the Gulf oil trade routes, a game they have been playing since 1950 (prior to this the British did it for 50 years). Thats a mere 68 years of foreign policy stability. They certainly dont want to let oil and gas from the Shiite Iranians get to Europe overland, no sir, no control there.

Polly said...

No, but there is one man in the American government that may qualify for trustfulness, that is Rex Tillerson, Sec: of State who is well known to most countries in the world.
He is basically arguing that the Russian's are either lax or incompetent inasmuch that did not check out the Syrian loading of the chemical at the airbase.
I would imagine that many Syrians have vengeance and hatred for the Saudi backed rebels who are living amongst the occupied Syrian rebel townships.
If Tillerson is right then a terrible plot by local Syrian forces has been played against Russia and Assad.
Tillerson will be in Russia in next few days , he needs to share his intel with Russia and Assad.

Bill said...

It matters not one bit whether or not New Zealand foreign policy “experts” believe what the United States tells them, the attack on Al Shayrat airbase was illegal and contrary to international law. New Zealand should resist being dragged into yet another criminal venture.

The manufacturers of these devices used in the assault will be rejoicing. The pliant US Taxpayer will just have to dig deeper.

David Stone said...

It would seem there is a need to sell to the western public the belief that Assad has crossed a red line. The complete illogicality of it, and the complete lack of evidence, and the readily available alternative explanations; all cauterised from any statements made by western world leaders' on the subject . There is no narrative but "Assad did it".
They can't possibly all be so certain , so in agreement, on the evidence, So the inevitable conclusion is that they all have agreed privately that they must sell this story to the public whether it is true or not. And almost certainly they all know it's not.
It is the vehemence and obviously orchestrated unison they speak with that reveals the falsehood in a situation where serious doubt at least cannot be denied , there must be a vital ulteria motive.
Having allegedly gassed his people on this occasion, and seen the world's reaction, supposing he might not have known what it would be already,how illogical will it be when he "defies" the warning of Haley ,Tillerson et al , and provides the complete imperative for US to mount a full scale attack, when he appears to do it again. Will the world still swallow it?
Because of course it's going to happen.
I suspect that it vital to the US that Idlib is not taken by Syrian/Russian forces allowing independent journalists and camera crew in first to record and show to the world what they find there in facilities like the depot/ factory whatever that Russia says the bombardment of produced the toxic fumes that killed people in the nearby village. I bet it's full of American made ordinance and Turkish and American chemicals for manufacture of poison gasses, if not American made chemical weapons ready to use.
America needs to get there first, and her vassals all need to cooperate.

Gerrit said...

The war in the middle east has a long way to go as yet. Once the Syrian conflict basically is "bombed out" (or there is nothing left to fight over) there is the Kurdistan problem to solve. Some 30 million people will be fighting for their homeland in Western Turkey, Northern Iraq, Eastern Iran, and Northern Syria.

They are USA backed and whilst currently fighting ISIS their ultimate aim is the establishment of a homeland taking a fair chunk of mainly Turkey.

The war in the middle east is far far far from settled.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There is no narrative but "Assad did it".

Yes there is. Several new sources are carefully considering the evidence, including the Guardian. Some of them conclude that Assad did it, some of them are less sure. But if he did do it, and I suspect he did, that's what the narrative is probably going to be be. I'm less sanguine about the reasons for the American air strike. But that's another matter.
What I can't really understand is the blind belief in Assad's innocence. For which it seems to me the only evidence – real evidence – is that America said he did it. And if it's ever shown that he did do it, I guarantee everyone will go really really quiet. Perhaps you should all ask yourselves "what evidence could be presented that would convince me of his guilt?" And if the answer is "none", you should perhaps look at your beliefs.

Let me see – if independent investigators find evidence of the storage of sarin gas at the place that was bombed I would change my mind in a New York minute. I don't think that's going to happen.

mikesh said...

A couple of months ago ISIS kidnapped about 400 pro government civilians from somewhere, and I understand some of these turned up as victims in the Idlib incident. One would have to ask: why would they kidnap civilians unless they had some use for them. It now looks as if they intended to use them as unwilling actors in a propaganda movie.

The whole incident has an odour of 'false flag' about it.

Incidentally, 52 years ago Bashar al Assad would probably have been a babe in his mother's arms.

Victor said...



I would add that the apparent craziness of Assad's possible/probable sanctioning of this attack would only have been craziness if he had possessed for-knowledge of the past week's turn-around in US policy.

Otherwise, from the regime's point of view, this would have been just another Hama.

Time changes perspective and a week can sometimes be a very long time in both politics and war.

The important thing now is for there to be limits to the damage caused by the US strike to global peace and security.

In this respect, my first piece of advice to Tillerson would be to turn a deaf ear to the egregious Boris. One narcissistic publicity seeker breathing down your neck should be enough for anyone.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for a Russian explanation of how sarin damage can be achieved when the chemicals aren't ready for use.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Victor & Geurilla Surgeon.

I find it difficult to express my deep disappointment that the two commentators I respect the most on Bowalley Road cannot seem to grasp what is unfolding before their eyes in Syria.

Neither historical precedent, nor the journalism and testimony of award-winning and highly respected observers of US foreign policy have been enough to sway either of you from the official (i.e. US) line in relation to the Khan Sheikhoun incident.

My prediction is that a year from now - if we're all still here! - the truth about what happened in that unfortunate town will stand revealed. And then, I fear, Victor and GS, you will have some atoning to do.

Victor said...

And if that happened, Chris, I would most certainly repent.

I'm sure you would do likewise if the contrary case were proved.

Sanctuary said...

This is getting tedious. What has played out recently in Syria can be quite reasonably interpreted from a left wing perspective - I refer you to Richard Seymours fine take on matters at http://www.leninology.co.uk/2017/04/the-multilateral-bombing-of-syria_10.html - without resorting to dark false flag conspiracies.

Of course, accepting that much of the world's foreign policy springs from vested interest's opportunism sprung from the fuck ups of their enemies is not as satisfying as imagining either the Illuminati are orchestrating world affairs via the minutiae of implausibly located chemical weapons or we are in the embrace of the devious combinations and schemes of highly intelligent desiccated and cynical diplomats. But there it is.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Chris. I think possibly I've not explained my position well enough. I think the odds are that Assad used chemical weapons. I don't think that we should necessarily disbelieve the Americans all the time. Even so the possibility exists that it was someone else, or more correctly perhaps the airstrike hit a store of sarin. You could perhaps explain how and why the gas which is normally stored in a binary fashion so as to be safe, was stored already mixed and therefore very dangerous. You should also explain perhaps why the Guardian who put people on the ground found no evidence of any sarin storage and the place that was bombed. I'm sorry you're disappointed, but it seems to me that you are somehow desperate to believe that the Americans are lying. I believe they're using it as an excuse to make Trump look good, but not necessarily that they're lying about the actual cause of the deaths. You are the one that made the accusation, I think you need to pull out a little bit more evidence than you have presented to make a decent case.
You seem to base your case on the idea that Assad is rational. How on earth you would judge this I don't know, but even Brendan says it. And he's the one who allegedly believes that you should be "qualified" to make judgements like this. Well if you don't have to be qualified I think I can safely say that no dictator is ever entirely rational. They live in a paranoid world. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao – all innately suspicious and deeply paranoid. Perhaps not so much irrational as entirely focused on preserving their position, and willing to do anything to make sure they survived. Assad could possibly even be worse as he was brought up by a dictator. I don't know why he would do this, except he might think it was necessary to instill fear. Another thing that dictators trade in.
I have already said what would change my mind, perhaps you could explain what would change yours? And I will quite freely if proven wrong right about it in future comments. And I'm sure if proven wrong you would be willing to do the same.
But I doubt that we will ever know for sure one way or the other. Because I doubt that there will ever be an independent scientific investigation. Too much at stake for whoever did it.

Bushbaptist said...

There is something very odd about this attack supposedly caused by sarin by that does not cause blistering on the skin.

Like Chris it seems strange that Assad would do this at this time. He has nothing to gain and a lot to lose by doing so. Things are rarely what the seem to be.


mikesh said...

@guerilla surgeon

I find the 'false flag' theory far more plausible than the 'irrational Assad' theory.
It would be all too easy for ISIS to release chemicals to coincide with a bombing raid in such a way as to make it appear that the bombing raid was responsible. I don't take Putin's claim about a bomb hitting a storehouse containing chemicals very seriously. I think Putin was groping for an alternative explanation which didn't involve accusing ISIS of something without proof.

There is also the fact that ISIS kidnapped about 400 pro government civilians in late January, and that apparently some of those civilians turned up as gassing victims. It looks like this was the reason for kidnapping them in the first place.

David Stone said...

If people here have time and a computer at hand it might help with gaining a picture to investigate as widely as time and interest allows, the opinions of ordinary Syrians. It is they who have a legitimate right to chose what happens in their country. Their view of the strife it is in, the causes of it, and their wishes for the future. I think the realisation will be that their views and priorities are very very different from the priorities being promoted on their behalf by our media and our governments .
We shouldn't be arguing among ourselves what is best for them , we should be trying to divine what they want.
I am very sureIt is certainly not Regime change .: but ask them.

Bushbaptist said...

GS you need to look at the time line regarding Assad. He was voted in twice in what was regarded as a free,open and fair election by all the observers including the Yank one. The last election was not valid because of the civil war that is raging in Syria.

He was "Benign" until he refused to allow the Saudis to put an oil pipe line through his territory and suddenly he became this nasty despicable dictator. That pipe line would have allowed cheap undercut oil to flow into Europe which is Russia's main market and seriously hurt the Russian economy. That was the plan by the Yanx - destroy the Russian economy and get control of the oil.

The start of the disturbance has the fingerprints of the CIA all over it. Same scene as Ukraine, Libya and Egypt. The Yanx just can't help it, they must de-stabilise every area they touch.

Victor said...

I also think we're starting to miss the most important point here.

Who caused this massacre is ultimately less important than the use the Trump administration is making of it.

The ghastly fascistoid America Firsters have apparently been elbowed out by the equally ghastly neo-cons. It's "W" on steroids but in a far more dangerous global environment.

Looking back to last year, I wonder how many Americans voted for quite this scenario. Not a lot, I suspect.

David Stone said...

I'm with you on all your last Victor

Bushbaptist said...

A good look at the situation in Syria:


mikesh said...

Since my previous comment I have come across a post by Mike Whitney on Counterpunch which provides quotes from various ex US Intelligence sources based on what they have picked up on the 'grapevine'. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/12/syria-where-the-rubber-meets-the-road/) I think perhaps I was underestimating the strength of the 'bombing of a warehouse full of chemical weapons' as an alternative explanation.

Bushbaptist said...

Bashar al-Assad,
on the verge of a military victory against the terrorist insurgency in
his country and on the eve of peace talks that would secure his position
as president, decided to use chemical weapons he didn’t have
against a target of no military significance in front of as many
cameras as possible to cross the one red line that would insure his own
government’s downfall.
Soon after, the Academy Award-winning White Helmets–noted for their
Oscar-worthy performances, persistent proximity to Al Qaeda, and
financial dependence on USAID–bravely risked their lives, handling Sarin
victims barehanded against every protocol in the book.
Without presenting a shred of evidence, President Donald Trump boldly
launched a military strike against Shayrat airfield because “national
security interest,” promising to help the “beautiful children” (*offer
does not apply to babies in Gaza, Yemen, Pakistan, or basically anywhere
That military strike, a volley of 59 Tomahawk land attack missiles of
which 23 actually made it to their target, failed to take out a single
runway or even keep the airbase from operating for even 24 hours, but
was a complete success for ExxonMobil, Raytheon and Donald Trump.
No one could question the wisdom of striking Syria (except Donald
Trump). And no one could oppose such a move (except Russia).
The Trump Train, still convinced by candidate Trump (“dropping bombs on
Assad” and “look what happened after Gaddafi“) concluded that this was
7th dimensional backgammon to make China afraid of the US’ willingness
to spend $100 million in a fearsome show of failing to destroy a single
Throughout the world people rejoice as a horrible secular regime in
the Middle East is replaced by yet another peace-loving band of ragtag
human rights campaigners and child beheaders motivated by a desire to
subdue the armies of Rome in an apocalyptic confrontation in Dabiq.
(*actual ISIS belief)
The chemicals for the previous “red line” attack in Syria have since
been proven to come from Libya with US approval, but that’s probably not
relevant to this case.
The CIA has released declassified report after declassified report
showing that the plan to topple Syria’s government has been in the
works for decades, but this just shows that they were right all along.
The mainstream media unquestioningly asserts
that the story is true because the US government says so, but that’s OK
because we all know the msm is full of unbiased truthtellers and dig
hard to get the raw facts on every story. (“beauty of our weapons“)
Even members of congress think the story is a load of hogwash, but
that’s OK because they’re probably crazy.
Meanwhile the White House has released a report on its intelligence
about the chemical attack that refutes its own version of the story, but
that’s OK because when has the White House ever lied people into war?

Brewerstroupe said...

Attack on Khan Sheikhoun timeline
April 4, at 8 a.m*., Abdullah al-Gani and Muaz al-Shami, freelance journalists who have links with radical groups located in Idlib, provided Orient News and Al-Jazeera with the video footage made by the White Helmets. The graphics show the consequences of the alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun. According to Muazz al-Shami, sarin gas was used in the attack.
Yesterday, (April 4) from 11:30 am to 12:30 p.m. local time, Syrian aviation made a strike on a large terrorist ammunition depot and a concentration of military hardware in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun town,” Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konoshenkov said in a statement posted on YouTube.
“Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem explained that the first reports of the chemical attack appeared several hours before the government airstrike”

* The video footage shows clearly that the sun is high in the sky - it could not have been filmed that day.

Charles E said...

I agree that it does not make sense that Assad or the Russians would do this but so far the best evidence is that they did. So perhaps the evidence is fabricated. Possible. I would normally not back the Guardian but they can't get everything wrong.
All I am sure of is that you Chris are hopelessly biased and clearly fall into the USA bad Russian soooo... misunderstood and fundamentally good camp. Ridiculous. The Russians are the masters of fake news (not just under Putin, forever) whereas the yanks are mere amateurs AND have a free media. The free media in Russia were murdered by Putin fans long ago. So I expect the truth of this will come out and it is likely you are wrong Chris, due to a refusal to believe there are more evil people out their than the Americans. GS makes sense to me for once.
And while we are at the doubt bias game, how about the possibility Putin did that underground bombing in St Petersburg last week or so? It makes perfect sense to me. Of course I have absolutely no evidence at all. Snap.

Guerilla Surgeon said...


This is why we need an independent scientific investigation- without politics.

mikesh said...

"I would normally not back the Guardian but they can't get everything wrong."

Illogical. Even if they sometimes get things right, this is not a reason for believing they got it right this time.

Brewerstroupe said...

Charles E.
"so far the best evidence is that they did."
The timeline is irrefutable evidence that they did not.
I repeat:
8am. April 4 the white helmets' video is delivered to Al Jazeera and Orient News showing the sun high in the sky - it can only have been filmed the previous day or earlier.
11.30 - 12.30 April 4th the SAA bombs a weapons depot in Khan Sheikoun.

Charles E said...

Very hard to keep that secret as loads of people would have had to be involved B. Conspiracies with dozens of participants and almost impossible to maintain so that should come out and be formally corroborated if you are right.
However in the last Gaza war there was a very successful completely fake bit of news that took most media around the world including the BBC and Guardian, who never retracted it once shown to be fake as they were all too happy to leave people believing Israel committed an atrocity. It involved the filming of a boy wandering over the ruins of his demolished house being shot by a sniper. I saw it in TV One. It turned out it was in Syria. And it was not the only one so I guess it is routine for non state fighters to use such propaganda tactics. Especially where the world is all too eager to believe the worst of the stronger side.

Brewerstroupe said...

Charles E
I had rather hoped that you would reply with some evidence to counter my assertion that at "8am. April 4 the white helmets' video is delivered to Al Jazeera and Orient News showing the sun high in the sky - it can only have been filmed the previous day or earlier.
11.30 - 12.30 April 4th the SAA bombs a weapons depot in Khan Sheikoun."

I am unsure as to what relevance an incident in Gaza has to that topic.
Perhaps we can take that up if you link to it though I suspect Chris might regard it as off-topic.