By Stephen Gowans
British foreign secretary William Hague says there’s no doubt that the Syrian military is responsible for last week’s alleged gas attack which killed scores of people in Syria. So too do the editors of major newspapers in the United States and Britain. US officials have also said the Syrian government is responsible, though at the same time they admit they are still trying to ascertain the facts. The Wall Street Journal could report, as a consequence, that there’s an “emerging consensus” that the Assad government was behind the attack. The consensus, however—and it’s one limited to Syria’s political enemies—is backed up by not a scintilla of evidence.
You might wonder why journalists haven’t challenged Hague’s assertion that the only possible culprit is the Syrian government. After all, there is another possible culprit: the opposition.
In May, Carla Del Ponte, a member of the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria, told reporters that that the commission had gathered evidence that chemical weapons had been “used by the opponents, by the rebels.” 
Last month, the New York Times reported on an investigation that “had found evidence of crudely manufactured sarin, a nerve agent, delivered via an unguided projectile with a crude explosive charge — not the sort of munitions stockpiled by the Syrian military.” 
And the Wall Street Journal reported that, “Islamist rebel brigades have several times been reported to have gained control of stockpiles of chemicals, including sarin.” 
What’s more, the Syrian government “said its soldiers had found chemical supplies in areas seized from rebel forces.” 
Doubtlessly, the last statement will be dismissed on grounds that the source is the Syrian government, and that Damascus is an interested party, motivated to provide misleading information. But the Syrian government is only as much an interested party as are the rebels, William Hague, the White House and French officials. That, however, hasn’t stopped Western journalists from accepting the pronouncements of their own leaders without question. You might call it chauvinist journalism.
Still, chauvinist journalists could at least evince a modicum of scepticism. After all, their leaders have a history of fabricating evidence to mislead public opinion. Think no further than Iraq’s phantom weapons of mass destruction. Or, given recent talk about using NATO’s 1999 terror bombing of Serbia as a model for intervention in Syria, we might consider the tens of thousands of corpses NATO promised that forensic pathologists would uncover in the “killing fields” of Kosovo, but didn’t.
So, why are newspaper editors taking William Hague, along with US and French officials, at their word?
Three possibilities suggest themselves, none of them encouraging. The editors are:
• Gullible, chauvinists, or both;
• Enslaved to a business model of keeping costs low by simply echoing what people in power say about what’s going on in the West’s former colonies (journalism as stenography);
• Knowingly complicit in misleading public opinion to give license to their governments to pursue neo-colonial agendas.
As mentioned, there’s not one iota of evidence to back up Hague’s assertion. U.S. intelligence is “still trying to determine whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a deadly chemical weapons attack against his people earlier this week. “  The State Department says that the facts remain to be determined.  And while much has been made by the media about the statement from Doctors without Borders that hundreds died from what appears to be exposure to a neurotoxin, the organization could not say “who was responsible for the attack.” 
No one, however, should be surprised if supporting facts are provided soon. As the New York Times explained, the White House doesn’t have a smoking gun…”yet.” The rush to judge Assad guilty on no evidence makes clear that the conclusion has already been arrived at. We’re just waiting for US intelligence to assemble the “facts”. 
It pays then to be equipped to resist the propaganda assault. There are plenty of reasons to dismiss the “emerging consensus” among Assad’s political enemies. It is based on a story that is full of holes.
What could the Syrian government possibly hope to gain by gassing civilians? If the aim was to kill a few hundred people, conventional weapons could have done the job far more readily, and without the unwelcome consequence of handing the United States, and hated former colonial powers, a pretext to resume their meddling in Syrian affairs.
And wouldn’t it make more sense to kill armed rebels, not unarmed civilians?
Also, why would the Syrian military undertake this pointless act at precisely the time a UN team has arrived to investigate possible use of chemical agents? Only if we believe the Syrian government and military are made up of complete imbeciles does the story hang together.
I have no more evidence for what I’m about to say than the Americans, British and French have that the deaths in Syria were due to a chemical attack launched by the Syrian military, but all the same, if we’re to compare scenarios for plausibility, the more plausible scenario is that the rebels staged the attack to provide their allies in the West with a pretext to step up their military intervention. There’s reason to believe they have access to chemical weapons. They have a motive (they can’t topple Assad without Western intervention.) And as they’ve documented themselves with endless atrocity videos, they have no squeamishness about killing large numbers of people in gruesome ways.
So, no, Mr Hague, it is not at all clear that Syrians were killed by a gas attack launched by a government you seek to overthrow. It seems more plausible, on the other hand, that your allies in the opposition did the deed.
1. Syrian rebels may have used Sarin” Reuters, May 5, 2013.
2. Rick Gladstone, “Russia says study suggests Syria rebels used sarin”, The New York Times, July 9, 2013.
3. Margaret Coker and Christopher, “Chemical agents reflect brutal tactics in Syria”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2013.
4. Ben Hubbard, “Signs of chemical attack detailed by aid group”, The New York Times, August 24, 2013.
5. Bradley Klapper and Robert Burns, “Obama weighs options for military action against Syria as U.S. naval forces move closer”, The Associated Press, August 24, 2013.
6. Ben Hubbard, “Signs of chemical attack detailed by aid group”, The New York Times, August 24, 2013.
7. Ben Hubbard, “Signs of chemical attack detailed by aid group”, The New York Times, August 24, 2013.
8. Mark Landler, Mark Mazzetti and Alissa J. Rubin, “Obama officials weigh response to Syria assault”, The New York Times, August 22, 2013.