| by Ahnaf Kalam |
Bashar al-Assad has dropped as many as 13,000 illegal barrel bombs on civilians in 2016 alone. He is known to regularly use chlorine gas on his people, and, along with Russia, deliberately targets hospitals and rips through UN aid convoys. Prior to the Syrian civil war, he and his father terrorized Syrians for nearly five decades.
Even considering all of this, some of President Trump’s most ardent supporters as well as many prominent anti-war libertarians are insisting that last week’s chemical attack was carried out by rebel forces –– or even less plausibly, –– was a staged false-flag attack which involved paid actors who were pretending to be dying from violent convulsions in pools of their own vomit (an act orchestrated by the sinister neocons to pull Trump into war). Such a conspiracy would, of course, require a considerable amount of time, money, and Hollywood magic to fake scenes of horror that American mainstream media outlets wouldn’t even broadcast to the public.
Among the conspirators are the usual alt-Right figureheads and their Twitter armies of green frogs in red hats: Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Alex Jones, and others including distinguished anti-war apostle, Ron Paul. All of whom have been disenchanted with the president’s spontaneous departure from his non-interventionist platform which they had found so attractive during his campaign. One article from InfoWars –– of which President Trump is an avid self-proclaimed follower –– goes as far as to assert that the attacks were orchestrated by the White Helmets, which they claim is a George Soros-funded al-Qaeda front.
Ron Paul, for instance, boldly asserted that there was “zero chance” that Mr. Assad could be behind the chemical attacks in Syria, and that President Trump’s decision to retaliate was a “win for the neoconservatives who’ve been looking for Assad to go.”
Perhaps Mr. Paul and others crying false-flag would be shocked to know that there is, in fact, ample evidence indicating that the Assad regime carried out the attacks. First is that the chemical agent in question has been identified as sarin gas which the Assad regime has admitted to stockpiling. Second is that the sarin gas was known to have been deployed via air strike. No rebel group in Syria currently has an air force. Further, the planes had been tracked by US radar back to the Syrian air base –– which would subsequently be bombed by US tomahawk missiles.
Contrary to the claims of Moscow, which contradict the claims of Syrian officials, the attack was not simply a rebel strike on a terrorist compound containing chemical weapons. According to chemical weapons experts, destroying a compound containing a nerve agent like sarin gas would, in fact, eliminate the agent, not disperse it.
Apparently still mystified by the idea that negotiations with Russia, Syria, and by extension, Iran could still work, and convinced that the United States can simply beg and plead the non-aggression principle all the way to global stability, Ron Paul, in an interview with Russia Today, also had the following to say:
“The peace talks have ended now. They’re terrified that peace was going to break out! Al-Qaeda was on the run, peace talks were happening, and all of a sudden, they had to change, and this changes things dramatically! I don’t expect peace talks anytime soon or in the distant future.”
This narrative is common among anti-war skeptics. After all, why would Assad gas his own people on the eve of peace talks? What would he have to gain by doing so? Well, let’s put it this way: when Obama, whose administration explicitly opposed the Assad regime, failed to act on his red-line in 2013, Mr. Assad kept on using chemical weapons knowing that the Americans were all bark and no bite, and that the worst reprimand he would receive after committing war crimes against civilians would only be a nasty letter from the UN.
What then would the US have to lose by failing to enforce its red lines again? A lot. It’s status as a world power intent on preserving liberty and democracy around the world, it’s legitimacy as a de facto enforcer of international law where the UN has proved useless. By not asserting influence against anti-Western powers, the United States would risk a shift in the global balance of power away from the US and the West in favor of dictatorships and state sponsors of terrorism.
For Mr. Assad, who was perhaps under the impression that the new American president would at worst be neutral with regards to Syria and at best would reconcile US relations with the Kremlin, why wouldn’t he take the opportunity to test the new American administration assuming that Trump would likely do even less than Obama would in this regard? Especially with Russia watching his back both on the battlefield and in the Security Council.
Assad’s chemical attacks were just that: a test of the new American president, effectively calling the President’s bluff to remain neutral. Trump’s response was an equally measured test assuring, not only Syria, but Pyongyang, Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran that the US would no longer be taking a back seat to violations of international norms.
White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, on Monday, went a step further and declared that the US would effectively move its red-line further back and respond forcefully if the Assad regime continued to use illegal barrel bombs (as it has been doing since the beginning of the Syrian civil war). If the message that the Trump administration wants to send is that international norms will be enforced, then the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons like chlorine gas, its use of collective punishment tactics like mass starvation, and Russia’s deliberate bombing of hospitals and its desecration of UN aid convoys, –– all of which constitute war crimes –– should presumably also warrant a forceful response. After the White House’s recent statements hinting at regime change in Syria, perhaps it’s a safe assumption that the Trump administration will move its red lines as far back as necessary to facilitate the removal of Bashar al-Assad.
Risking a power vacuum in a region where so many parties have so many conflicting interests could, as many fear may be the case, lead to an outcome similar to what happened in the aftermath of Iraq. The glimmer of hope in all of this, however, is that the Trump administration has the luxury of hindsight with regards to the Iraq war. After all, our mistake in Iraq was not the initial invasion, but rather, our premature withdrawal from the conflict. Perhaps we can be hopeful that if the US pushes for regime change in Syria, the current administration, with knowledge from past failures, will be better equipped to deal with the impending consequences of removing a dictator in such an unstable region.
Though, given our recent muscle-flexing towards Pyongyang and China, one can only hope that if the US is to pursue an aggressive policy against Assad, we will still have the capacity to deal with enormous foreign policy challenges on multiple other fronts.
Ahnaf Kalam is a Bengali-American ex-Muslim and writes on issues of politics and religion. You can follow him on Twitter @AhnafKalam
Pictured: An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer