President Barack Obama delivers a statement on confronting the terrorist group ISIL in Syria, on the South Lawn of the White House prior to departure for New York, N.Y., Sept. 23, 2014.
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That comment and the political pressure for instituting another Mideast "regime change" were the backdrop for the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, which anti-Assad activists, the mainstream U.S. press, and the U.S. State Department immediately blamed on government forces.
In the ensuing days, Obama came to the edge of authorizing a retaliatory military strike before hearing from U.S. and other Western intelligence services that they had doubts about who had actually pulled off the attack.
Since then, the sarin case against Assad has largely collapsed (although to defuse the crisis he agreed to a Russian plan for Syria to surrender all its chemical weapons). The evidence now appears to indicate that radical jihadists released the sarin with the goal of goading Obama into joining the war on their side, i.e., a false-flag operation.
As the sarin case fell apart in 2014, the U.S. government shifted its emphasis toward chlorine-gas allegations. I first encountered this bait-and-switch tactic when I pressed a senior State Department official to back up or back off the increasingly discredited sarin gas claims.
While sidestepping the sarin case, the official asserted that the Syrian government almost surely was responsible for the more recent chlorine-gas incidents, citing the bombs' delivery by helicopter and arguing that only the Syrian government possessed such aircraft.
According to the U.N. report, however, that belief regarding the government's monopoly of helicopters may not be true, since rebel forces had captured air bases where operational helicopters were present. That means, at least theoretically, the jihadists could have staged the night-time attacks -- complete with prior alarms spread by activist first-responders, known as "white helmets," about the imminent arrival of "government" helicopters with chlorine bombs.
But the more nettlesome question, which the U.N. report does not address, is why would the Syrian government launch these strange attacks while realizing that any chemical weapons incident could prompt U.S. military intervention that could tip the war in favor of the jihadists and other rebels, especially since the chlorine attacks had virtually no military value.
While the makeshift chlorine bombs may have sent scores of civilians to get medical attention, very few of the casualties were fatal, according to the U.N. report. By contrast, the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack killed hundreds, with the U.S. government putting out an even higher (and almost surely exaggerated) number of 1,429 dead.
In both these cases -- the sarin and chlorine investigations -- U.N. officials were under enormous pressure from the U.S. State Department and Western governments to come up with something that could be used to justify "regime change" in Damascus.
The U.S. State Department and various anti-Assad non-governmental organizations also had a strong motive to play up any accusations of Syrian chemical weapons use. Obama's critics still hope to push him into an increased military intervention to remove Assad from power.
Significantly, the recent U.N. report was initially leaked to The New York Times, which has been at the forefront of agitating for another "regime change" operation in Syria. Not unexpectedly, the Times produced an article on Aug. 24 that applied no skepticism to the accusations and simply blamed the Assad government for two of the chlorine attacks.
The U.N. report wasn't officially available until the end of August, but even then it was extremely difficult to access at the U.N.'s Web site. This week, I finally reached a U.N. press representative who walked me through the maze of links required to get to the right page, but it turned out that the page had been off-line since last Friday, the press aide said. Finally, on Tuesday, I was sent a link that worked.
Though these technical glitches may well have been coincidental, the effect was to delay any critical review of the U.N.'s report. By the time its evidentiary and logical gaps could be examined by the public, the conventional wisdom had already solidified regarding the Syrian government's guilt.
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