Syrian Chemical Attack: Diabolus Ex Machina

Just when everyone’s attention had moved over to Egypt, and coinciding with the presence of UN investigators, come reports of a massive chemical attack in Damascus. Foreign Secretary William Hague immediately denounces the Assad regime in his most florid terms, crossing his fingers that he may yet get the chance to play armchair general, the Libyan intervention evidently not having sated his blood-lust.

The case for intervention has been going nowhere for some time. The video of one of Hague’s heroes cutting out a dead soldier’s heart and taking a bite was a set-back for those who wished to lay down a simplistic narrative of white hats versus black hats, and with the continuing intransigence of the Russians at the UN and a certain measure of success for the government forces, the Nato allies, notably Britain, the US and France seemed to have pulled back from their early bellicosity. Now along comes this latest outrage.

I am reminded of something. Back in the Bosnian Civil War, the case for military intervention against the Serbs was founded on a series of attacks on market-places in Sarajevo which were blamed on the Serbs. These, coming at key moments in the diplomatic chess game, provided the narrative of one side, the Serbs, being evil monsters and the other side, the Izetbegovic government, innocent victims. However, the authorship of these attacks was disputed, and a number of key figures in the UN forces put the blame for the attacks on the Bosnian government, claiming that the attacks were intended to swing world opinion against the Serbs and towards military intervention against the Serbs. Whatever the case, this was the effect.

The Bosnian War is significant to me for the following reason: I remember my own views on the war being wholly one-sided, and only much later, having read various accounts of the war from different perspectives, did I come to the conclusion that I had been duped by the media coverage, which only presented one side of the conflict. This is not to say the Serbs were the good guys, but rather there were no good guys, and rarely are there in sectarian blood-baths*. I would never be so trusting of establishment media again. It is not only what they tell you, but what they fail to tell you.

Returning to the latest chemical attacks in Syria, the question poses itself: Cui bono? Clearly the Assad regime stands to lose far more than it could gain from such an atrocity (a point made by Fawaz Gerges in the Guardian). This does not, in itself, mean that the regime was not responsible. After all, who knows now how heavily rational calculation weighed in the decision to launch this attack? The Syrian government has of course denied it was them. There will very likely not be one agreed version of events. It is almost inconceivable that the hawks in the British and French governments will revise their public stance of assuming Assad’s guilt, whatever else they may know or learn in secret.

*To further illustrate this point, I would refer to Robert Fisk’s “Pity the Nation”, on the Lebanese Civil War, where readers can choose their favourite faction from the long list of participants.


  1. I would not cite Robert Fisk on any matter – apart from how to be a good liar. But I do not support intervention in Syria.

    Largely for selfish reasons – the next time I am in Castle Nimrod looking at the road to Damascus, I do not want to see the TURKISH military looking back at me.

    The secular officers have been largely purged from the Turkish military – the most powerful military in the regime is now under the control of the Islamist government.

    The Iranian threat is largely nuclear (and Mr Fisk’s friends – the Lebanon based “Party of God” terrorist movement who serve Iran), but Turkey is a conventional problem.

    Assad (murdering scumbag that he is) acts as a buffer against Turkish power.

    Still what do I know? I am only a British tourist – the wise government of Israel thinks now is a wonderful time to get rid of an armoured brigade and two squadrons of fighter aircraft.

    Ten out of ten for saving money – but some economies are false economies.



    1. “I would not cite Robert Fisk on any matter”

      The book I cite is very good as far as I remember. You are free to find your own compendium of Lebanese Civil War factions and their various crimes.



  2. Better a blank sheet of paper than something that is written by as professional a liar as Robert Fisk is.

    The point about a professional liar is that they do not lie all the time – the point is to establish trust, and that is done by providing true (and good) information. But the lies will be slipped in (where they can do the most damage).



  3. For those readers who are interested in such things, there was a story back in January which was covered by the Mail but then memory-holed, pertaining to a hacked email from within a British defence company, which stated

    “We’ve got a new offer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington. We’ll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have. They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.
    Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?”

    I am not of course in any position to judge the significance or authenticity of such matters.



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