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The Concept of WMD, and its Use against Syria, in the Propaganda Systems of Western States

May 20, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

John Mueller, the US political scientist who coined the term “sanctions of mass destruction,” to show that “economic sanctions…by large states…may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history” [1], wrote an article two years ago in Foreign Affairs, the major foreign policy journal of the US establishment, challenging the idea that Syria’s chemical weapons (when it had them) were a threat. [2] Mueller examined the history of chemical weapons since WWI to make the point that chemical agents are misclassified as weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

According to Mueller, chemical weapons accounted for less than one percent of battle fatalities during the First World War; it took one ton of Sarin gas on average, during that conflict, to produce a single fatality; and only 2-3% of those gassed on the Western front died, compared to a fatality rate 10 to 12 times higher among those who were struck by bullets or shrapnel from conventional weapons. [3]

In their official history of WWI, the British concluded that “gas made war uncomfortable…to no purpose.” [4] Accordingly, most handsomely funded militaries with generous weapons development programs or the means to purchase highly destructive armaments were quite happy to relinquish their chemical weapons. They are ineffective and conventional arms produce far higher rates of fatalities.

But in the course of challenging the view that chemical weapons are WMD, Mueller came close to making a far more significant point, namely, that the concept of WMD is used for propaganda purposes to vastly exaggerate the threat posed by official enemies that have “weapons of little destruction.” This is done by creating the impression that the ineffective weapons in the enemy’s arsenal are weapons of great destructive power, through the pairing of weapons of little destruction, like chemical agents, with highly destructive armaments, like nuclear weapons. Two auxiliary points are necessary here: (i) These “enemies” are comparatively weak militarily, without the massively destructive conventional arms found in the arsenals of major military powers; (ii) The previous point explains the “enemies’” possession of weapons of little destruction. To exaggerate to make a point, labeling chemical weapons as WMD is like calling the spears of hunting and gathering tribes WMD in order to turn primitive people into threats.

In 1992, the term WMD was explicitly codified in US law to include not only nuclear weapons but chemical and biological weapons, as well. Then, in 1994, radiological weapons—conventional bombs used to disperse radioactive material—were added. [5] But chemical, biological and radiological weapons have nowhere near the destructive capability of nuclear weapons, to say nothing of the destructive capability of the high yield conventional explosives in the arsenals of the US and other large militaries.

So why would the United States subsume a class of highly ineffective weapons under a rubric archetypically defined by nuclear weapons?

For the same reason the British quintupled their gas casualty figures in WWI—to justify a military intervention. For the British, making gas into a uniquely inhuman weapon demonized the Germans, the major users of gas. This could be used, it was hoped, to draw the United States into the war on the side of the Triple Entente. [6]

For the United States, in 1992, investing chemical weapons with the same kind of horrific aura that nuclear weapons have, served the political purpose of making Iraq, which had chemical weapons—furnished by the United States, which condoned their use by Iraq against Iran [7]—appear to be a unique threat—one that had to be dealt with by imposing what amounted to a blockade to starve the population into submission. The blockade contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, Iraqis—more people than could ever be killed by all of the chemical weapons in the US-supplied Iraqi arsenal—truly, sanctions of mass destruction, and far more terrible than chemical weapons.

So, WMD, applied to chemical, biological, and radiological weapons, is by design, a term of deception, whose purpose is the manipulation of public opinion to soften up attitudes to war against countries that (i) are an obstacle to US geopolitical designs and (ii) have one or more types of these weapons of little destruction.

These days, the concept of WMD as part of the propaganda system of Western states has been used against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. The nature of the government in Damascus, and the reason it finds itself in the cross-hairs of the West’s regime-change apparatus, can best be explained in the words of its president. “Syria,” asserts Assad, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [8] In other words, the Syrian government pursues Syria’s interests, not the interlocked political agendas of Washington and economic agendas of Wall St.

To demonize this obstacle to Western agendas, the charge is leveled at Damascus that it is responsible for at least one chemical weapons attack, for which no clear evidence has ever been adduced that implicates the Syrian army, and for which the use of chemical weapons would have been a transparent tactical blunder since it would have delivered to Washington a pretext to directly intervene militarily in Syria. For this reason it is highly improbable that the Syrian army was behind the attack. An additional charge, made now that Syria has abandoned its chemical weapons, is that it routinely uses chlorine gas as a weapon.

As a weapon, chlorine gas is exceedingly ineffective. It is lethal only in highly concentrated doses and where medical treatment is not immediately available. It is far less effective than conventional weapons. [9] Why, then, would the Syrian army use a highly ineffective weapon, which is deplored by world public opinion, and whose use would provide the United States a pretext to directly intervene militarily in Syria, when it has far more effective conventional weapons, which are not deplored by world public opinion, and whose use does not deliver a pretext to Washington to intervene? Unless we believe the government in Damascus is comprised of a collection of imbeciles, this makes no sense.

On the other hand, let’s look at this from the perspective of the opposition. It has a strong motive to use chlorine gas in order to pin blame for its use on the Syrian army to create a pretext for direct US military intervention. What’s more, the opposition’s major forces have a long history of using chlorine gas as a weapon.

Chlorine gas has been used by Sunni militants in Iraq for over a decade. It has been used intermittently in attacks against US and Iraqi forces and against civilians since 2003. There was a flurry of such attacks in Anbar province in 2007 as US forces were trying to wrest control of the territory from Al-Qaeda in Iraq [10], an organization from which sprang ISIS and al-Nusra, the principal militant groups in Syria today.

In light of the above, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out who’s using chlorine gas in Syria: the forces that have a motive for their use and a history of using them. Nor do you have to be particularly perceptive (only attentive) to determine that the insinuation of US politicians and leading news media that the Syrian government is weaponizing chlorine gas is a deliberate deception, on par with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell inventing a pretext for war on Iraq by concocting a deliberate fiction about Iraq concealing chemical weapons, a fabrication leading news media legitimized.

The concept of WMD provides a context in which the public is manipulated to see governments whose militaries have ineffective weapons, of a destructive capability far below that of the conventional weapons in the arsenals of major militaries, as uniquely inhuman and vastly destructive, thereby depicting these governments as dire threats and consequently as necessary targets for regime change. Syria’s relinquishing its chemical weapons stores has undercut the ability of Western governments to demonize Damascus as a user of WMD. Accordingly, the Western propaganda system, of which governments, leading news media, and leading human rights NGOs are a part, has invoked allegations of chlorine gas use by the Syrian Arab Army to bring WMD back into the picture.

But it should be made clear, first, that it is a corruption of the truth to equate weaponized chlorine gas, a weapon of little destruction, with nuclear weapons and veridical WMD; second, that the allegation that the Syrian military is deploying a weapon of little destruction when it has more effective weapons and use of chlorine gas would deliver a pretext to Washington to directly intervene militarily in Syria, strains credibility; and third, there is, not surprisingly, a complete absence of credible evidence that the Syrian army has used chlorine gas as a weapon. It is the propaganda apparatus of Western states—itself a weapon of mass deception–that advances the antitheses of these points.

1. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999.

2. John Mueller, “Erase the Red Line: Why WeShouldn’t Care about Syria’s Chemical Weapons,” Foreign Affairs, April 30, 2013.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid; The radiation dispersal range is equal to the blast range. Hence, anyone exposed to radiation would be killed first by the conventional blast. Adding radioactive material, then, to a conventional bomb is pointless—like shooting someone two days after he has been beheaded.

6. Ibid.

7. Glen Kessler, “History lesson: When the United States looked the other way on chemical weapons,” The Washington Post, September 4, 2013

8. President al-Assad: Basis for any political solution for crisis in Syria is what the Syrian people want,” http://www.syriaonline.sy/?f=Details&catid=12&pageid=5835

9. Anne Barnard and Somini Sengupta, “Syria is using chemical weapons again, rescue workers say,” The New York Times, May 6, 2015.

10. Kirk Semple and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. is investigating report that Islamic state used chlorine gas,” The New York Times, October 23, 2014.

Written by what's left

May 20, 2015 at 1:51 am

Western Hypocrisy Going Naked in the Middle East

May 14, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

The dictator of Bahrain—who, with the help of Saudi troops and tanks, ruthlessly crushed an Arab Spring uprising that demanded a representative democracy—is spending a leisurely day, today, in Britain, one of the world’s oldest parliamentary ‘democracies’, visiting a horse show with his fellow parasite Queen Elizabeth II. Britain is neck deep in the undemocratic campaign to topple the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, amply assisted by Saudi Arabia and other tyrannies of the Persian Gulf, who have provided arms, training and money to al-Qaeda and other Sunni religious fanatics to wage jihad against the secular, anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist, and anti-Zionist government of Assad. Assad must be toppled, the misnamed Friends of Syria aver, because he is a dictator who thwarted an Arab Spring uprising.

ParasitesSensitive to the legitimate demands inhered in the uprising, the Syrian government made major concessions, amending its constitution to open up political participation, and holding a multi-candidate presidential election, which Assad won. Is Syria a democracy? By Western standards, not yet, concedes Assad. But “if you want to compare me to your closest friend, Saudi Arabia, of course we are democratic,” Assad told a French journalist.

In response to news that traces of ricin and sarin have been found in Syria, former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, ever vigilant for opportunities to vilify Assad, pronounced the Syrian government guilty of hiding chemical weapons, even though UN inspectors say the discovery is not evidence of “a lingering weapons program” or “new use or production.”

“You’re dealing with a regime that is not very credible on weapons of mass destruction programs,” Ford insisted, to lend weight to his case. To be sure, his observation is incontestable, but not in connection with Syria and only insofar as it refers to the “regime” in Washington, which infamously concocted a fiction about Saddam Hussein concealing weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for war on Iraq. The accusations levelled at Syria are no less baseless, Ford’s transparently politically-inspired arguments notwithstanding.

The Bahraini king’s hobnobbing with ‘Her Majesty’ calls to mind Diderot’s observation that mankind will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest, though an updated version would need to include the rulers of the world’s currently dominant socio-political system, along with an expanded definition of priests to include mainstream journalists, think-tank experts and PR hacks, to say nothing of former US ambassadors, labouring to mislead public opinion into accepting yet another war on a country that seeks to chart its own course, free from subservience to the dictates of Washington and its political masters on Wall St..

Syria,” asserts Assad, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” And therein is the issue. Ford, the New York Times, and other instruments of the Western ruling class, want the Syrian people to work for the interests of Western bankers, high-level corporate executives and major investors, as the Saudis, Bahrainis, and other puppet Arab monarchies do. And they’re willing to lie, deceive the public, do deals with al-Qaeda, and wage wars of aggression, to get their way. Into the Middle East they stride, their hypocrisy going naked, with the new priests scrambling desperately to drape it with pleasing raiment.

Written by what's left

May 14, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Syria

New York Times Complicit in Spreading False Syria Allegations

By Stephen Gowans

The New York Times ran an article on May 12 suggesting that the Syrian government has held back some of its chemical weapons and is using them against rebel fighters. Significantly, the allegation was backed by no evidence, yet the newspaper chose to run the story anyway.

In their story (“Inspectors in Syria find traces of banned military chemicals”) reporters Somini Sengupta, Marlise Simons and Anne Barnard cited a conclusion drawn by an anonymous Western diplomat who was briefed on findings by inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The inspectors had reportedly found traces of toxic nerve agents in Syria. The diplomat was quoted as saying that there’s a “strong suspicion” that the Syrians “are retaining stockpiles which are being held back.”

However, a close reading of the article showed that there was not one whit of evidence to back up the diplomat’s suspicion. Indeed, at various points in the article, the story’s lead was challenged by the journalists themselves.

• “[S]mall amounts of banned agents [have been found. But these findings] do not necessarily indicate a lingering weapons program.”
• “[T]here was no clear evidence of new use or production of forbidden chemicals.”
• “There is no evidence that banned materials were used in weapons after Syria signed the treaty, or that Syria possesses sufficient quantities to use in future weapons.”

A fitting headline would have read “Western diplomat accuses Syrian government of hiding chemical weapons, on no evidence.”

In the same article the reporters refer to “mounting evidence that Mr. Assad’s forces had violated the terms of the international treaty banning use of chemical weapons … by dropping jerry-built chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas.” The mounting evidence turned out to be the testimony of witnesses who say the bombs have been dropped from government helicopters.

However, the quality of the evidence is untested, and virtually useless. There’s no way to determine whether the witnesses are authentic or simply opponents of the Syrian government who have an interest in spreading false allegations.

What’s more, there’s a compelling reason to believe that Syrian forces have not engaged in the action they’re accused of. Jerry-built chlorine bombs are capable only of briefly incapacitating a few fighters. Conventional bombs—which the Syrians have in abundance—permanently eliminate many more. Why, then, would Syrian forces risk worldwide condemnation to use an ineffective weapon, when they have more effective weapons at their disposable which world opinion does not condemn?

Sensing that their source’s allegation may be treated with suspicion, the New York Times journalists acknowledge that “Evidence of chemical weapons remains a fraught issue for global public opinion more than a decade after false claims of an Iraqi chemical weapons program were used to justify the American invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.”

No less fraught is the complicity of Western media in propagating similarly baseless allegations to serve an obvious political agenda.

Written by what's left

May 14, 2015 at 1:24 am

Posted in Media, Syria

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