7 Dec 2012

Syria, a weapon of mass deception?

Without wishing to delve too far into The Who’s back catalogue, as things grow ever tetchier around Damascus, we need to remind ourselves in the UK that we won’t get fooled again.

Once more, weapons of mass destruction could become weapons of mass deception at screaming high volume these past few days. From the western media who, in the heated atmosphere pre-Iraq and under pressure from Bush and Blair, brought us the Baghdad WMD story, now we have the “Damascus chemical weapons threat”.

William Hague has said any use of chemical weapons would invite an immediate western military response. The Americans too.

Protesters march in Syria

Yesterday the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said : “The president of the United States has made very clear that there will be consequences. There will be consequences if the Assad regime makes a terrible mistake by using these chemical weapons on their (sic) own people.”

And the president: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” Well, that was Obama back in August, and recent days have only ramped up the bottom line: you use chemical weapons – we bomb you.

But just to be old fashioned: what’s the evidence of any threat? What’s the basis for all this? What, in short, are they all talking about? Yes, by all accounts Syria has nerve and chemical agents. But possession does not mean threat of use. Israel is not credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons against Iran, despite possessing them.

Equally, as yet there simply is little credible evidence Syria is threatening to use chemical or nerve agents against its own people. Finally, after days of evidence-free rhetoric from the US government and their ever-obedient Westminster franchise, it was left to UN boss Sec-Gen Ban Ki Moon to point out today that there is, as yet, no confirmation that Syria is preparing to use them.

“Recently we have been receiving alarming news that the Syrian government may be preparing to use chemical weapons. We have no confirmed reports on this matter,” Ban said after visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. Vague US “intelligence reports” are routinely and often unquestioningly trotted out in US papers as the basis for Obama, Panetta and Clinton wagging their fingers at Damascus.

This then gets taken up elsewhere, and the story built upon nothing is soon accepted as global fact when it’s nothing of the kind. After Iraq and WMD, if the CIA or MI6 say it’s cold at the north pole, any sensible person would seek at least a couple more sources or would fly there and check. So they should look to produce the evidence that Syria has begun mixing chemicals as a preparation for use (and thus an excuse for the west to consider bombing) or perhaps stop theregular calls for it to be stopped.

Readers and viewers, meanwhile, should question why, and why now, there is suddenly a supposed chemical weapons “threat”? Where’s the proof? What is the evidence? The past should be a lesson to us all.

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