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.