Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 12, 2013

When truth is the first casualty of warfare

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:07 pm

Should we imitate this example?

You can include left journalism as part of the collateral damage from the August 20 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs. Written to defend Syria against Obama’s war machine, a number of articles have failed to pass the smell test. There is a sense that the ends justify the means as someone put it in a Facebook discussion:

If someone wants to “write some bullshit that has as much basis in the evidence as 911 [“truther” theories],” that’s fine with me…Anything to obstruct a U.S. imperialist attack on Syria gets a green light with me.

Maybe I am the only person on the left that is not fine with telling lies to oppose American intervention. Sometimes I feel like Joe Buck in “Midnight Cowboy” who stops dead in his tracks when he spots a bum sprawled out unconscious or maybe dead on a NYC sidewalk as others pass by in total indifference. Why should I get worked up over a little white lie that gets Bashar al-Assad off the hook? Just move along, nothing to see here.

It takes a scorecard to keep track of the bullshit that has been paraded out to clear the Syrian president’s name but here’s a go at it.

1. No chemical weapons attack took place at all.

This was the word of Bashar al-Assad himself on the morning following the attack. It was only the combination of Youtube videos of convulsing victims and bodies piling up at local hospitals that made this story impossible to accept, although I am sure that if the Syrian president had continued to defend it, there would be many good leftists willing to take him at his word.

2. An attack took place but in Latakia, not the Damascus suburbs.

This was the claim made on September 6th by VoltaireNet, a 911 Truther site that views every revolt against the “axis of good” as a CIA “color revolution” plot. It repeats the obtuse Russian Foreign Minister’s misunderstanding of how Youtube videos are dated as “proof” that the attack could not have taken place in Ghouta. Instead the visual evidence that showed up on August 21 was of Alawite children kidnapped from Latakia by jihadists weeks earlier and then killed. VoltaireNet chief Thierry Meyssan is an old hand at sniffing out such skullduggery. When Chechen terrorists held Russian schoolchildren hostage at Beslan in 2004, Meyssan told the world that they were operating under the command of the CIA that sought control of Russian oil. You get the same sort of thing nowadays with the claim that Israeli oil exploration in the Golan Heights explained Obama’s “red line” ultimatum.

3. The rebels probably did it since Carla del Ponte found them guilty of doing it in the past.

Del Ponte’s authority as a UN official has been invoked in many articles but none with more clout than the one written by long-time National Lawyers Guild leaders Marjorie Cohn and Jeanne Mirer. They took the word of former international prosecutor and current UN commissioner on Syria Carla del Ponte, who “concluded that opposition forces used sarin gas against civilians” in May. This is the same del Ponte that was viewed 13 years ago by Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair as conducting a tribunal against Milosevic as if it were “an organ of NATO and not the United Nations.” This del Ponte eventually became even too much for her bosses at the Hague who brought charges against her for harassing, bribing, and mistreating witnesses as well as tampering with evidence. Now I have no idea how del Ponte became transformed from a typical “humanitarian intervention” supporter in the early 90s to someone now committed to promoting Syrian and Russian interests but her psychological/political evolution is of less interest to me than her overall credibility. If she told me that it was going to be beautiful day, I’d hunker down in my bathtub to protect myself against a level-5 tornado, the first ever in Manhattan. Why people at the Lawyers Guild would take her at her word is puzzling to say the least, but maybe they think the same way as my FB correspondent. It is contagious.

4. The rebels had an accident.

This was the conclusion of MintPress News reporters Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh. A well-known rebel they call “J” told them: “We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” You have to wonder if Moe, Shemp, and Larry had joined the FSA. No attempt is made to explain how the accident, which took place in a tunnel, could have impacted eight separate villages that left others within the general perimeter unharmed. It is as if someone broke a bottle of sarin in Greenwich Village and killed people in Times Square, while leaving Chelsea unharmed. That none of this makes sense has not prevented the article from going viral. Sadly, it probably helped.

5. The rebels did it but it was no accident.

As you might expect, it takes an ex-CIA agent like Ray McGovern to sell this version on the basis of inside information. He states:

There is a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East — mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters — providing a strong circumstantial case that the August 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters… According to some reports, canisters containing chemical agent were brought into a suburb of Damascus, where they were then opened. Some people in the immediate vicinity died; others were injured.

In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.

So basically this is the same story as Mint Press but unlike the negligent homicide version, we now have first-degree murder. One imagines that McGovern got his information by calling up one of his pals from the old boys network of current or former CIA spooks who are like the character Robert Redford played in “Three Days of the Condor”. Actually, the source of this fable has more in common with Danny DeVito’s Penguin as Muhammad Idrees Ahmad reported:

The sources for VIPS’ [a group led by Ray McGovern] most sensational claims, it turns out, are Canadian eccentric Michel Chossudovsky’s conspiracy site Global Research and far-right shock-jock Alex Jones’s Infowars. The specific article that Giraldi references carries the intriguing headline “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” (His answer, in case you wondered, is yes.) The author is one Yossef Bodansky—an Israeli-American supporter of Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who led the 1982 massacre in Hama. Bodansky’s theory was widely circulated after an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. A whole paragraph from Bodansky’s article makes it into the VIPS letter intact, with only a flourish added at the end.

Giraldi references two more articles to substantiate his claim: one from Infowars and another from DailyKos. But both reference the same source, an obscure website called Mint Press which published an article claiming that Syrian rebels had accidentally set off a canister of Sarin supplied to them by the Saudis. The idea that an accident in one place would cause over a thousand deaths in 12 separate locations—with none affected in areas in between—somehow did not strike this intelligence veteran as implausible. But to its credit, Mint Press has since added a disclaimer: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified.”

What of VIPS’s “numerous sources in the Middle East,” then? It turns out they’re the same as Bodansky’s “numerous sources in the Middle East”—the sentence is plagiarized.

6. The attack was mounted by rebels but not against their own people as a “false flag” operation. Instead it was a military operation against Christians.

This is the argument put forward in an article by Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil titled—without a trace of irony–‘Flooding the Zone’ with Bullshit on Syria. While starting off giving the expected salute to Carla del Ponte and the Mint Press accident theory, they come up with something that is breathtakingly inventive:

Ghouta is home to a number of Christians, a population which is frequently targeted by al-Nusra and other extremist groups. That is, far from being a “rebel-held area,” those who died in the Ghouta attack were the type of people whom the rebels wish dead. They are exactly the sort of civilians whom the rebels have a history of targeting.

So you see, dear readers, there was never a “false flag” operation to begin with. The dead people were Christians who the rebels punished for backing Bashar al-Assad and rejecting Muhammad. So what if the suburbs were being shelled daily by the Baathist military? What do you expect from our authors, a coherent story? Don’t you know that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?

My first reaction, silly me, was to check my usual sources to verify the story. (Although I play a fact-checker on the Internet, I am actually a professional actor.) I started with a search on “Christian” and “Ghouta” on Nexis, a database of newspaper articles going back 30 years or so. Nothing turned up there or in JSTOR. A search on Sunni instead of Christian did turn up something interesting in Nexis, however. Long before the chemical weapons attack, back on January 30, 2012 when the revolt was not even a year old, the Guardian reported that Ghouta was a stronghold of Sunni resistance to al-Assad:

The insurgency, which is raging in towns and cities across Syria – with further protests in Aleppo yesterday – has now reached the capital. The suburbs are made up of conservative Sunni Muslim towns, surrounded by countryside and farmland, known as the al-Ghouta.

The area has seen large demonstrations demanding the overthrow of Assad and his minority Alawite regime. The Alawite sect has traditionally dominated Syria’s government and armed forces.

One activist in Saqba suburb said mosques there had been turned into field hospitals and they were appealing for blood supplies.

“They cut off the electricity. Petrol stations are empty and the army is preventing people from leaving to get fuel for generators or heating,” he said.

I was so impressed with the audacity of Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil in concocting such a tale that I could not resist finding out a bit more about the two lads who are students at the University of Arizona and work with a campus-based think-tank called the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC). The director is Dr. Leila Hudson, a vigorous supporter of an American attack on Syria (“military intervention must be decisive.”) Among the academic board of advisers is one David Dunford, who worked in Baghdad as Senior Ministerial Liaison to Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You also have retired army Brigadier General John Adams who worked in military intelligence. But I guess my favorite is Charles Mink, “a former Army interrogator” whose research includes U.S. counterterrorism policy in the Mid East during the 21st Century. Although Mink struck a rueful note about failed policy objectives in Iraq, he told the student newspaper that he plans “to become an interrogation instructor working with U.S. allies in the Middle East after he graduates.”

So how do our two intrepid journalists fit into such a toxic stew? I have a theory. Hear me out. I was told by a source in Turkey (don’t tell anybody, but it was my brother-in-law Hasan who was in military intelligence 20 years ago but now is an agent for belly dancers) that Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil are actually on Mossad’s payroll, a couple of Jewish guys  whose real names are Aaron Goldstein and Myron Rabinowitz. Israel told them that in order to grease the slids for a war on Syria they had to come up with such a wild cock-and-bull story that it would discredit the antiwar movement and make Obama seem reasonable by comparison.

That’s my theory. If you don’t like it, go read some other blog. Who needs you?

52 Comments »

  1. At least 2 of the attacks happened close to churches:

    http://tinyurl.com/ogyyedj

    Compare:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ghouta_chemical_attack_map.svg

    10% of the population of Damascus is composed of Christians.

    Comment by J — September 12, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

  2. Truly mind-numbing stuff. The first link above has a list of 357 churches in Damascus, two of which were located in Ghouta. I really fear for the sanity of the pro-Baathist left when they try to run such bullshit by people still in touch with reality.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

  3. Very impressive stuff Louis. Now then, I’m still waiting for something, anything that I may grasp upon that can demonstrate the legal or moral authority that allows the United States to draw red lines in the Syrian sand. Thank you in advance.

    Comment by Bill J. — September 12, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

  4. Now then, I’m still waiting for something, anything that I may grasp upon that can demonstrate the legal or moral authority that allows the United States to draw red lines in the Syrian sand. Thank you in advance.

    Are you some kind of fucking turd, baiting me like this? Interrogating me as if I was on trial in Moscow in 1938? I have no idea who or what Bill J. is but I have a 300 page FBI file. Piss off, troll.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

  5. No, I’m not a troll Louis, but I think my line of inquiry has some justification given the odd insistence of the Cruise-Missile Left that the US has the authority to act in judgement of the actions of the Syrian Government. Actions which will have the inevitable consequence of dead Syrians via US cruise missile strikes. Why are these deaths rationalized where those by the hand of the Regime are not? What exactly do arguments that augment the hypocritical and self-serving US justification for aggressive war on Syria do to benefit the people of Syria?

    Comment by Bill J. — September 12, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

  6. Go troll a website where there is actual support for Obama making war on Syria. Try this one, you jerk: http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2013 @ 11:30 pm

  7. In fact those 2 sites (which comprise 3 churches out of 21 listed by google in Damascus) are the most densily inhabited places of all attacks in Ghouta.

    Comment by J — September 12, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

  8. Yeah, densely inhabited with Sunnis. I see you idiots who are trying to turn this into a Sunni pogrom against Christians have failed to explain why Ghouta has been shelled continuously for months by Baathist artillery. You can believe this crap if you want–nobody else will.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2013 @ 11:41 pm

  9. Actually, an Al Qaeda/Al Nusra pogrom. There is a difference between jihadists and the common Sunni citizen.

    Comment by J — September 12, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

  10. That’s fine. Al Qaeda/Al Nusra pogrom. Whatever. Now explain why al-Assad kept firing heavy artillery against these neighborhoods if they were populated by his Christian supporters. Or maybe it was jihadists dressed up as Baathist troops that were secretly Mossad agents being funded by George Soros and preparing a color revolution in Kazakhstan after they were finished subverting Syria?

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

  11. Because there were no other way of getting rid of Jihadists and mercenaries.

    Comment by J — September 13, 2013 @ 12:10 am

  12. Because there were no other way of getting rid of Jihadists and mercenaries.

    ===

    If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it is jack-asses. Bye-bye.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2013 @ 1:01 am

  13. This is war. In war there is war propaganda from both sides. In this Syrian civil/proxy war between U.S.-Turkey-Saudi-NATO allied gang-Israel and Russia-China-Iran, there are two types of war propaganda. One that is pro-war and the other that is anti-war.

    I am for the anti-war propaganda and opposed to war propaganda.

    Comment by Bankotsu — September 13, 2013 @ 3:28 am

  14. A brief clarification:

    Some of the commentators have pushed back vis a vis the Christian population in Ghouta. FYI we didn’t say it was primarily a Christian area, we said Christians (which are an extreme minority across Syria) disproportionately live in and around the two major areas. Almost any part of Syria you choose, most will be Sunnis. I also said that class warfare was more significant than sectarianism among most of the indigenous rebels. So I said IF it was an intentional act, it is at least plausibly one carried out by the rebels against certain Damascus populations. Moreover, instances of rebel-on-rebel violence are also increasingly common.

    But my claim was much milder than you portray it. My major point is that the Obama Administration’s characterization of the intel is problematic. Even by their own evidence, if the regime carried it out, it was likely not with the blessing of al-Asad. And the fact that they continue to deny rebels have access or have used chemical weapons in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is disturbing. Those were the major points. We did not hang our opposition to the intervention primarily on our belief that the rebels may have carried out the attack–in fact, we were very explicit about this. We can just assume that al-Asad carried it out, this would still be the wrong course of action for America, Syria, and the world.

    We have now published two articles, deconstructing 5 justifications by the administration, only 1 of which had anything to do with who carried out the attack–moreover, the points we were arguing in the article were much different than portrayed here. The characterization of the view on his blog could only be the result of sloppy reading or intentionally misrepresenting our argument.

    Vis a vis SISMEC, you right about our director’s view. There are deep divisions within our group as to what the proper course of action should be on Syria. We are diversely comprised, with many from the military, many indigenous people from the region, and others who are journalists or academics. But the positions of others within our group serve as nothing other than red-herrings here. Our positions are our positions, their positions are their positions. Same with our respective backgrounds. If you want to try to call others out on supposed irresponsibility, try taking the high ground yourself.

    Finally, I am not a student but an alumnus at the UA and a recognized authority on Syria and Mideast geopolitics. I have an MA in philosophy from said university, which is the #1 ranked school in the world for political philosophy, tied with NYU and Harvard. In general, the UA is one of the world’s top research institutions. My co-author is a prolific writer whose work has been featured in Harpers, Al-Jazeera, Vice, and the New York Times. It’s strange that you spent so much time researching our director and some of our colleagues while misrepresenting us, our credentials, and motivations.

    Comment by Musa al-Gharbi — September 13, 2013 @ 4:32 am

  15. At the end of your article, you wrote that your brother in law Hasan,was in a military intelligence 20 years ago. This is perhaps a joke, but an unfortunate one. The one that connects you with people, who were behind the state run death squads in 1990’s in Turkey: Military İntelligence units were and are an active part of the state’s war against the PKK. As you may know 1990’s hundreds of Kurdish people and activists were summarily executed or disappaered. (This is the war that waiting to be noticed you are also not saying a word about the war against Kurds in the Kurdish parts of the Syria against Kurds, waged by the Syrian opposition including factions belong to Al Nusra) In Turkey since 1984 50.000 people died and the Kurds are still fighting for their rights. While supporting the Syrian opposition you have somehow neglected or ignored the write about the plights of Kurds in Turkey, which is a key NATO ally and the one that recipient of arm shipments from the USA. Now, as opposed to the left, which you so adamantly criticise, our PM Erdogan is all for the Syrian Opposition while denying their natural rights to the Kurds. By the way please also note the fact the Christians in Syria actually have much more right that they have in Turkey.

    ”I am all with Syrian opposition: Turkish PM Erdoğan”

    http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/i-am-all-with-syrian-opposition-turkish-pm-erdogan-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=54319&NewsCatID=338

    Comment by lahy — September 13, 2013 @ 5:35 am

  16. On this rather ill-informed discussion of churches and the chemical attacks: People really should get a grip on the geography before they come up with nonsense like this. The churches J identifies are not in Ghouta – I think he’s deceived by the fact that they are near what is labelled as Ghouta Street (or road) – but you usually name roads after somewhere they are going, not where they already are. In fact the area around the churches was unaffected by the attacks – they are approximately two miles from the nearest affected area and 3 miles from the main centre of the attack in Zamalaka. Indeed, the map suggests that there are no churches in the areas hit in the attacks.

    Comment by Brian S. — September 13, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  17. Bankotsu, you must be confused from having watched too many Red Scare movies from the 1950s. Propaganda is not the same thing as lying. The socialist movement, before it became corrupted by Stalin, understood propaganda to mean the transmission of complex ideas to a relatively advanced sector of the population in contrast to agitation, which consisted of simpler ideas to the masses.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2013 @ 11:52 am

  18. FYI we didn’t say it was primarily a Christian area, we said Christians (which are an extreme minority across Syria) disproportionately live in and around the two major areas.

    You wrote in a deliberately unclear manner. Any attempt by the ordinary person (as well as someone like myself who has access to scholarly databases at Columbia University) would be at great pains to verify your statement. Most people automatically assume after reading what you wrote that this was a targeted attack on Christians and proof that it was not even a false flag operation or an accident as the woeful Mint Press article claimed. If Christians were the target, why haven’t the usual suspects (RT.com, PressTV.com, SANA) echoed your “analysis”? Serious journalists tend to back up claims such as these with some kind of evidence. You state that “those who died in the Ghouta attack were the type of people whom the rebels wish dead.” How do you know? Did you check the bodies at the morgue to see if they were wearing crucifixes? Did they have first names like Luke, Paul, Matthew or John? You say that you are have an MA in philosophy. Congratulations. So do I. I don’t know what you got out of your degree but my reading of the Socratic dialogues taught me that the Truth is paramount.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  19. you have somehow neglected or ignored the write about the plights of Kurds in Turkey,

    I have dealt with the Kurdish issue in the past:

    http://www.swans.com/library/art10/iraq/proyect.html

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

  20. @Brian S.

    I attached for comparison a map of attacks from wikipedia with a scale of 1Km. So, I am sorry. Do you know how to correct the mistakes from wikipedia? I got the link for that map in a Louis post in his discussion list.

    Comment by J — September 13, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

  21. Re Musa Al-Gharbi: I have read all his recent articles closely when they first appeared and have commented on them elsewhere. They are both pieces of shoddy propaganda, riddled with inaccuracies and distortions all of which serve the self-images of the regime. There is not a single sentence free of these failings. Al-Gharbi seems to be unable to even represent his own writings accurately: here he says “we said Christians disproportionately live in and around the two major areas.” In fact he wrote “Ghouta is home to a number of Christians” – no statement about “disproportionately” at all. So, he has managed to take one of the few true statements in his original article and turn it into a false statement – an alchemist in reverse. If he wants to substantiate this assertion perhaps he would care to furnish us with a list of the Christian settlements in Ghouta.
    I noted in my comment in another place that he appeared to have a poor grasp of the geography of Ghouta, referring to ” the neighborhood of Ghouta in the capital of Damascus (as if its a single centre). Things are no better here with his new reference here to Ghouta’s “two main areas”. What “two main areas” ? I notice he never names any of Ghouta’s actual ppulation centres. I am beginning to suspect that he would struggle to even find Ghouta on a map.
    His “class warfare” thesis at least provides some comic relief in this otherwise monotonous trail of nonsense, positing as it does an illterate peasantry lobbing missiles into the upper class areas of Damascus – more or less the reverse trajectory of the actual military assaults in the region.
    Things get even worse when it comes to his knowledge of the politico-military disposition in the Ghouta region: “the attack was carried out on an area which was actually under government control at the time, rather than a rebel-held area.” (Counterpunch article of 29 August) . Others have noted the oddity of the 4th Division shelling areas “under its control” . But Al-Gharbi can’t resist the temptation to add “on this particular population that overwhelmingly supports the government” . But hang on a minute, if the population of Ghouta (assuming he knows where that is) overwhelmingly supports the government and the areea is under government control, who exactly are these illiterate peasants shelling the area and where are they doing it from? Outer space?
    To escape from this regime-fantasy zone and get a real sense of the spirit of East Ghouta try: http://beta.syriadeeply.org/2013/09/ground-view-eastern-ghouta-free-fear/#.UjMjaG2mU40

    Comment by Brian S. — September 13, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  22. @ J re mapping of attacks. You can zoom in and out on Wikipedia maps: just make sure you use the correct scale indicated in the lower right hand corner to jusdge distances. Here is a map set to about 1km/cm centred on Zamalka – the epicentre of the attack. You churches are in Dwel’a to the southwest, an you can locate the other main centre of attack in Al Moadayeh – 20km to the southwest.https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=zamalka+syria&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF-8&ei=KiYzUqrVCq2p0AW1z4C4Cw&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAg
    Sometimes you can get clearer info from Wikimapia(which has tools for measuring distances) – especially if you can transliterate Arabic.
    For an excellent map which summarises all we know about the attacks look at p.1 of the Human Rights Watch Report: http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/10/syria-government-likely-culprit-chemical-attack (Download the full report to get the clearest map)

    Comment by Brian S. — September 13, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  23. Sorry : should have read “make sure you use the correct scale indicated in the lower LEFT hand corner”

    Comment by Brian S. — September 13, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

  24. @Brian S.

    Probably google did not update you maps, and I just noticed it did not do it here at work. I will zoom in and show the churches at one of the attack zones, it will probably won’t show the church sign for you:

    http://tinyurl.com/kknlcox

    Comment by J — September 13, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

  25. In fact, the reason I brought up that many victims were likely Christians is because of an account I received from people who live in the affected area and reported to our director (who is Syrian) that their family and many other Christians were victims of this attack. This email was forwarded directly from the director to our broader group.

    Again, the whole “truth is paramount” nonsense… I mean, you still haven’t acknowledged that your attacks on the other group members were largely red-herrings, and that you may have mischaracterized our own backgrounds and intentions. You also failed to acknowledge that you misrepresented the overall aim of that section, which was not necessarily to argue that the rebels carried out the attack, but only to point out incongruities with the Obama Administration’s claims, etc. Again, it was not essential to us that one adopt a view that the rebels carried out the attack, as we are explicit about. So it rings pretty hollow and self-righteous to me all this “truth is paramount” crap.

    Cramming extremely complex issues into the space of an editorial is difficult–things are inevitably lost in translation. You can only be so detailed, so specific. And you also have to write primarily for a non-specialized audience to make it accessible to the broader public. And you have to write everything in a compelling-enough manner to get the reader to want to read it, to share it–to want editors to publish it, etc. So one is going to be able to find faults like this in just about anything, written by anyone, which is designed as an editorial for the general public. If you write things which are designed to advance positive claims rather than critiquing others, and even in many of your critiques–if someone wants to troll you, they are going to be able to point these things out. You do the best you can within the constraints you are given. Such is life.

    Comment by Musa al-Gharbi — September 13, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

  26. “Among the academic board of advisers is one David Dunford, who worked in Baghdad as Senior Ministerial Liaison to Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You also have retired army Brigadier General John Adams who worked in military intelligence. But I guess my favorite is Charles Mink, “a former Army interrogator” whose research includes U.S. counterterrorism policy in the Mid East during the 21st Century. Although Mink struck a rueful note about failed policy objectives in Iraq, he told the student newspaper that he plans “to become an interrogation instructor working with U.S. allies in the Middle East after he graduates.”

    So how do our two intrepid journalists fit into such a toxic stew?”

    As for Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil at SISMEC, Deepa Kumar, among others, talks about neoconservative and realist factions within the US military, intelligence and foreign policy establishments. Each has the same objective, the facilitation of US imperialism, but they argue over the means for doing so, with neoconservatives preferring the unilateral projection of US power, while realists emphasize working through coalitions.

    My guess is that SISMEC fits more into the realist camp, and that the article is consistent with an overall realist concern about the consequences of launching attacks upon Syria to implement a neoconservative program of destabilization that goes back to at least 1996 and the Project for a New American Century report. Hence, the article published by al-Gharbi and McNeil fits into this elite struggle over the direction of US policy.

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 13, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

  27. @Brian S.

    I saw your earlier comment against my work (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=9922#comment-76662) and didn’t respond because it wasn’t particularly salient. For one, all of the ad hominem stuff–a poor substitute for arguments. Similarly, you critique my claims in “The Numbers Game” vis a vis the popularity of the movement. I didn’t say the number was only 30,000, I said it could be anywhere between 30,000 to the hundreds of thousands. FYI, it was a relatively recent source when I wrote the article, publishing in a quarterly journal is a process which takes months, so anything is somewhat dated when it goes to print. But even more recent estimates consistently put rebel forces around 100-200k max–again, my thesis holds up pretty well comparing these numbers to the larger Syrian population.

    Similarly, you critique the Doha poll, the elections, etc. Individually, none of these things conclusively prove that most of the public supports the regime. Collectively, they begin to form a fairly strong circumstantial case. I’m very clear that this is how the evidence is supposed to be understood. Any indicator you look to to gauge popular sentiment suggests that the public is ambivalent or opposed to the opposition. I will be offering more and more recent evidence in the third essay out this weekend. In any case, there is NO empirical evidence offered by you or anyone else which would suggest that most of the population supports the rebellion or wants to see al-Asad deposed. That’s what you’d have to do to unseat my position. What credible empirical evidence can you offer that most of the population supports the rebels. Please. I’ve dying to hear it. I’ve been making this demand for two years now with no response. And until someone can provide a good response, the little sniping is so much noise.

    Del Ponte, in investigating human rights abuses, was directly involved in looking into this evidence. It was within the purview of her mandate. She is someone with a very strong reputation, and most media who covered her statement also called her the “Chief UN Investigator,” as evidenced in the relevant links. When you are speaking in the popular discourse, you have to at some point adopt some of the popular language, descriptions, etc.

    As it relates to government shelling of Ghouta, I acknowledged that there were pockets of resistance which remained. That doesn’t contradict it being a government-held area, or even that most of the population supports the government. Al-Nusra is currently occupying Muloola, a historic Christian town. The government is attacking it too. Would you say, therefore, that most citizens of Muloola support their al-Nusra occupiers and oppose the government? Or might they hope the government is successful in purging these rebels. The latter, unquestionably. So your claim that the government is shelling the area somehow proves that most of the population supports the rebels–ridiculous.

    Regarding HRW reports, they have been unabashedly anti-regime and pro-rebel since the beginning of the uprising. They also play fast-and-loose with facts and narratives, as I demonstrate in my “Distortions, Lies, and ‘Death from the Skies.'”: http://www.sismec.org/2013/04/13/distortions-lies-and-death-from-the-skies-2/
    So lets not pretend as though HRW is a disinterested or neutral party here. This is a chronic problem for them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Human_Rights_Watch

    If you want to critique someone’s sources, you should offer up solid ones yourself.

    Comment by Musa al-Gharbi — September 13, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

  28. @Brian S. II

    Also, regarding the “class warfare” thesis– it’s pretty well-established which indigenous elements comprise the bulk of the opposition and where they hail from and what motivated their revolt:

    Robert Goulden, “Housing Inequality and Economic Change in Syria,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2 (2011): pp. 187-202.
    Raymond Hinnebusch, “Syria: From ‘Authoritarian Upgrading’ to Revolution?” International Affairs, Vol. 88, No. 1 (2012): 95-113.

    You can also look at the names of prominent rebellion leaders, and what that indicates about where they are from.

    Other sources will be cited to reaffirm this thesis in the third and final essay in the series. The “illiterate” business was your own misleading rhetorical flourish. Again, if you want to hold others accountable, try being accurate yourself–starting with accurately representing the claims of your interlocutors.

    You again misrepresent me vis a vis Ghouta. I did not say here, or in the original paper, that the population of Ghouta is disproportionately Christian. Both here and in the essay, I say that Christians disproportionately live in and around Damascus and Aleppo. The population of Ghouta, as noted earlier by others, is about 10%. This is the average for Syria. The Ghouta Christian population is higher than most other Sunni areas further from Damascus and Aleppo–but relative to the overall population trend in Syria which includes the higher-concentration Christian zones in the main cities, Ghouta is about average. Again, this does not undermine my claim at all.

    Comment by Musa al-Gharbi — September 13, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

  29. The corollary of your article – that truth is dead – means we are perilously close to a larger-war situation.

    This whole Syria business, especially since August 21st, has spiraled out of control. The situation in Syria remains as it was on August 20th; in the flux of civil war. The situation in the rest of the world has changed considerably. Obama looks like a fool; the whole foreign policy establishment in america has come dangerously close to being an object of ridicule. Putin is master of the situation.

    I personally think that the chemical warfare attack was likely a false-flag operation. Simply, who benefits?
    Prior to the 21st, media coverage in America was about Snowden, the NSA, Manning, and a stream of embarassments and setbacks. Egypt and Syria were stutters in comparison. Not to mention the trench warfare of the looming budget battles, the typical beltway nonsense about fed chairman picks et al. Now everyone and their mother is suddenly itching to give forth their profound statesmanlike opinions on international law and diplomacy, syrian demographics, and military strategy. It is this profusion of noise that has really disturbed me.

    We have bought into the Syria-distraction (or prelude) hook line and sinker while ignoring the guiding issues. What is Israel’s role in this? (They are suspiciously quiet, for a reason…. same with coverage of Iran….) China is wisely staying out of this as much as possible.

    A strike will beget terror attacks or counter strikes in Israel or against American allies in the region. Or indeed against military bases in the area. Which will justify retaliation. Which will lead us down a slippery slope. And then we will forget all about NSA civil liberties violations, the rights of Manning, the heroism of Snowden and Assange, and instead will be shipped off to the front.

    Comment by Abraham Marx — September 13, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

  30. What I see through out the US Left is an extreme short sightedness. Now that Obama has fumbled his way into a near political and military disaster the US Left has joined the Alex Jones set by immediately asserting that the current potential US military intervention is the entire endgame of the two years of at first peaceful civilian pro-democracy movement and now a mixed bag of armed insurgency against Assad. It’s either all about an oil pipeline or absorbing the Syrian banking system into the global system. This to me seems to suggest that there was no authenticity to the Syrian democratic movement, that it was all a conspiracy by Wall Street. Conspiracies do exist everywhere, but it seems like the US Left feels more secure with simple black lines, rather than complexity. Not a good sign.

    Comment by Deran — September 13, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

  31. @Brian S

    See how close are the churches to the attack zone. I put some directions linking each one:

    http://goo.gl/maps/VzY0i

    Comment by X — September 13, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

  32. @Abraham Marx. To draw a conclusion on a subject like responsibility for the chemical attack on a single logical principle, even a useful one like cui bono, is poor reasoning – especialy when there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence to the contrary. And who does benefit? – certainly not the jihadi forces – the only ones who could conceivably undertaken any thing like this even in principle – they have been expecting to come under attack in any US operation, and have no interest in US intervention.

    Comment by Brian S. — September 13, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

  33. Musa al-Gharbi: “In fact, the reason I brought up that many victims were likely Christians is because of an account I received from people who live in the affected area and reported to our director (who is Syrian) that their family and many other Christians were victims of this attack.”

    Well, that cinches it. With this assurance and Ray McGovern’s rock-solid testimony that spooks told him the jihadists did it, who am I to quibble? I would only recommend that you and Ray sit down together and come up with an alibi that jibes–like was it Christians who got offed or was it anti-Baathist Sunnis in a “false flag” operation? I’m beginning to wonder if it was the “Smoking Guy” from X-Files who rounded up a bunch of space aliens into a hit squad to spill the sarin gas in Ghouta.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

  34. Musa al-Gharbi: Del Ponte, in investigating human rights abuses, was directly involved in looking into this evidence. It was within the purview of her mandate. She is someone with a very strong reputation

    Yeah, so strong it reeks.

    Carla Del Ponte investigated over illegal evidence

    Former war crimes prosecutor accused of allowing bullying and bribing of witnesses in trial of alleged Serbian warlord Vojislav Seselj

    Ian Traynor, Europe editor
    The Guardian, Wednesday 18 August 2010 13.12 EDT

    Carla Del Ponte, the former war crimes prosecutor who put Balkan warlords and political leaders behind bars, is to be investigated over claims she allowed the use of bullying and bribing of witnesses, or tainted evidence.

    Judges at the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague today ordered an independent inquiry into the practices of Del Ponte and two prominent serving prosecutors, Hildegard Ürtz-Retzlaff and Daniel Saxon, after complaints from witnesses that they had been harassed, paid, mistreated and their evidence tampered with.

    It is the first time in the tribunal’s 17 years in operation that top prosecutors have faced potential contempt of court rulings.

    During her eight years as chief prosecutor, Del Ponte, a determined Swiss investigator now serving as her country’s ambassador to Argentina, was a combative and divisive figure. She left her post in 2007.

    The allegations against her concern the working practices of her team of investigators in the ongoing prosecution for war crimes of the Serbian politician, Vojislav Seselj, a notorious warlord.

    “Some of the witnesses had referred to pressure and intimidation to which they were subjected by investigators for the prosecution,” said a statement from the judge in the Seselj case. “The prosecution allegedly obtained statements illegally, by threatening, intimidating and/or buying [witnesses] off.”

    One Serbian witness said he was offered a well-paid job in the US in return for testimony favourable to the prosecution.

    “The statements mention sleep deprivation during interviews, psychological pressuring, an instance of blackmail (the investigators offered relocation in exchange for the testimony they hoped to obtain), threats (one, for example, about preparing an indictment against a witness if he refused to testify), or even illegal payments of money.”

    An independent investigator, expected to be a French magistrate, is to report on the allegations within six months. Prosecutors in The Hague rejected the allegations while promising to co-operate with the inquiry.

    “We believe our staff have conducted their work in a professional way within the rules,” said Frederick Swinnen, special adviser to Serge Brammertz of Belgium, who succeeded Del Ponte as chief prosecutor.

    Seselj, who surrendered to the tribunal seven years ago, has been alleging prosecution dirty tricks for years. He is routinely disruptive in court, trading insults. He has already been sentenced to 15 months for contempt of court after revealing the names and addresses of protected witnesses.

    Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti, who ordered the Del Ponte investigation and who is presiding over the Seselj trial, has himself come in for strong criticism for “bending over backwards” to accommodate the accused.

    Antonetti said the tribunal was taking the allegations seriously and refused “to allow any doubt to fester concerning a possible violation of the rights of the accused and concerning the investigation techniques employed by certain members of the prosecution”.

    While tribunal experts believed the judge was conducting an exercise in political correctness, today’s unprecedented decision was the second blow this month for prosecutors in major international war crimes trials.

    In the trial, also in The Hague, of the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, the prosecutor’s decision to summon Naomi Campbell as a witness this month backfired badly when the supermodel failed to supply explicit evidence linking Taylor to “blood diamonds” and warmongering in Sierra Leone.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

  35. @louisproyect

    Again misrepresenting my view. I didn’t say it was “cinched” that it was Christians being targeted by extremists, I said it was PLAUSIBLE, among many possible interpretations, to include the Administration’s own account. And again, I insisted that its largely irrelevant which account ends up being true, invading Syria is the wrong course of action. This has been my consistent position, for instance see my “Red Lines Drawn in Syrian Blood” (http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/29/red-lines-drawn-with-syrian-blood/)

    As it relates to del Ponte, I said she has a strong reputation, not that she was perfect. Investigating anything as controversial as she does, you are going to get stained by a number of charges and accusations–some of them may even be well-founded. Obviously, the investigation against Ms. del Ponte did not result in her being sanctioned; in fact, she was appointed to this significant role on the Human Rights commission–so it is likely that the accusations in the article above didn’t pan out. If this did not occur to you, I am shocked. And if it DID occur to you, then you are being disingenuous.

    Still no concession of possibly getting carried away in your own polemic, perhaps imperfectly embodying the ideal you are trying to ram down everyone else’s throat, vis a vis my other critiques. Perhaps that sort of integrity is too much to hope for in the blogosphere. Perhaps there is no point in continuing this dialogue because my interlocutor is disinterested in approaching any kind of consensus. Such is life.

    Comment by Musa al-Gharbi — September 13, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

  36. @Brian S.

    My larger point is precisely the fact that there is circumstantial evidence everywhere, muddling the whole thing. Truth is the first casualty. And the sheer volume of speculation, noise, and argument over this “minor” point – a gassing, and not the first one, took place- is being used by people who don’t care what the truth is, or who manufacture ‘truths’ daily, to shift the topic of global conversation from the Global Empire’s Surveillance Program, and its drone war drug war and undeclared terror war, to the useless moralizing against “that butcher Assad.”

    Even assuming Assad gassed his own people, the american powers have every reason to focus on this issue, which they have let simmer and simmer for at least two years, in order to distract from their own embarrassment at the hands of Snowden. That Obama has fucked all this up by being indecisive and embarassing to himself is not quite the point, and didn’t have to be. They are trying to gin up a war to please Israel, distract the public from real problems, and to reclaim even a fragment of the moral holier-than-thou tone that the string of leaks and disclosures have torn away from them.

    The lame duck is trying to fight his way out of the oven by turning up the heat on Assad and the rest of the world.

    Comment by Abraham Marx — September 13, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

  37. Musa al-Gharbi: “Again misrepresenting my view. I didn’t say it was “cinched” that it was Christians being targeted by extremists, I said it was PLAUSIBLE.”

    Clearly, we haven’t different ideas on what plausible means. When I use it in a sentence, it would be something like “It is plausible that Norman Finkelstein did not get tenure at DePaul because the Israel lobby pressured the administration.”

    This, on the other hand, does not sound like an exercise in plausibility: “those who died in the Ghouta attack were the type of people whom the rebels wish dead. They are exactly the sort of civilians whom the rebels have a history of targeting.” The next time you write propaganda for Bashar al-Assad, you should remember that not everybody is a trained seal ready to clap for such lurid tales.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 13, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

  38. I feel that I’m lacking credibility. Will killing strangers help?-Dennis Perrin via twitter

    Comment by Bill J. — September 13, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

  39. @lousproyect

    Surely you are joking?!

    NOT EVERYONE is ready to embrace these possibilities?! Very few are! The position you have been taking is very much in line with the popular discourse position, and you’re making it sound like you’re a rebel! So few would be able to accept that Bashar al-Asad is responsible! And on and on with the implicit assumptions throughout.

    A consistent and explicit theme of my work on Syria is that I am not “pro-Assad.” You don’t have to be pro-Assad to avoid depicting him as a villain in some B-list movie–if for no other reason than to help develop maximally effective and efficient strategies to resolve the conflict in Syria. Similarly, you don’t have to be pro-Assad to be skeptical of the opposition’s aims, methods and composition. It is important to define, and then promote, the will and interests of the Syrian people–that is what my research aspires to do, and I believe yours as well.

    I’m sure my third piece will assuage some of your concerns, if you are willing to read it with an open mind. It’ll be out on Monday on Counterpunch, entitled, “The Endgame/ Ending the Games” in Syria. It will conclude my trilogy. Please, I encourage you to let me know what you think of it (if you’d like, you can email me, my address is on my website). In the meantime, I will disjoin this conversation.

    Comment by Musa al-Gharbi — September 13, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

  40. @X #32. Yes you have identified churches closer to the attack zone than previous posters. But only one of these (C: Irbeen church) is actually in the zone. A & B in Harasta are not. While Irbeen was affected by the attack, it was not nearly as severely as nearby Zamalka . So it looks as if Zamalka was the main target and Irbeen affected by spillover. This is consistent with eye-witness testimony.

    Comment by Brian S. — September 14, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

  41. @Musa al-Gharbi #28 -29 & passim: There are no ad hominem attacks on you in my Northstar post – they are criticisms of your disingenuous methods in constructing arguments and handling evidence.
    There’s no point in retailing all of these – Louis has already dealt with one example. But to take a couple of the most egregious cases:
    Carla Del Ponte: you wrote “the United Nations experts … ordered their own investigation. Subsequently, Carla del Ponte, the chief UN investigator, declared the evidence her team had gathered suggested strongly that it was the rebels who used the sarin gas in the disputed attacks” That is a passage clearly designed to imply that del Ponte was the “chief UN investigator” of a chemical weapons team (otherwise why not indicate what her actual position was). This of course was false. And of course Del Ponte’s team subsequently disowned her statement – a fact that you omitted then and don’t even acknowledge now.
    The Doha Poll: you wrote “the last major scientific poll conducted in Syria was carried out by the Doha Debates”. But it wasn’t” “scientific” (there was no sampling of the Syrian population) and it wasn’t carried out in Syria (it was a telephone poll of a pre-existing panel which happened to include 98 Syrians). Ironically, your preceding paragraph is a discussion of the conditions for a proper statistical sample – none of which were met in the Doha survey. So you can’t even plead ignorance.
    You try to cover your tracks on this misrepresentaton by changing the subject – arguing that taking this spurious piece of “evidence” out of the equation doesn’t prove that the opposition has majority support. Of course it doesn’t but that isn’t the issue – what is at stake is your claim that the Doha poll demonstrated that Asad had majority support among Syrians.
    I look forward to the next installment of your work and I will certainly be looking at it closely. Given that we have started this debate here, I wonder if Louis could be persuaded to host a discussion of it when it appears. If not I’ll deal with it elsewhere and let you know the venue.

    Comment by Brian S. — September 14, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

  42. Brian, I am winding down my examination of the “bullshit” put forward by Mint Press, Ray McGovern et al, but would be more than happy to put up a guest post by you.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 14, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

  43. @Brian X 41.

    But by the picture contained in http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/10/syria-government-likely-culprit-chemical-attack , it seems the there were 2 attacks, with very a great “smog” area, which includes all Harasta…

    Comment by X — September 14, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

  44. @X #44.If you are talking about the map, I think you are misreading it: the large green area radiating out from Zamalka to Harasta is nothing to do with the chemical attack (that’s marked by the two deep red areas: Zamalka and Ain Tarma in the East and Moadamiya in the West) The green shading indicates the area was “opposition contested” – in other words it wasn’t under the control of the regime but was / is an area of conflict between regime and opposition forces. Hence the regular shelling of it in the preceding days. If you look at the second picture Map of the 330mm chemical rocket impact – you can see how Irbeen was almost certainly affected: is just on the northern edge of the strikes in Zamalka and Ain Tarma.

    Comment by Brian S. — September 14, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

  45. @Louis. Thanks. I hope to be able to take you up on that. Timing depends on how much work it takes to debunk this next installment.

    Comment by Brian S. — September 14, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

  46. […] You can go here to read the letters, including one from Brian Slocock who dismantled Musa al-Gharbi and ST McNeil’s Counterpunch article alleging that Christians were really the victims of the chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta, not Sunni opponents of the Baathists. You can see the exchange between Slocock and al-Gharbi here. […]

    Pingback by Buyer’s remorse over the Arab Spring | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 14, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

  47. @Brian S.

    Debunk?! The purpose of the invitation was in the hopes that we, who can all agree that armed intervention is a bad idea, who all are striving for an outcome that best meets the will and interests of the Syrian people—that we could engage with one another in good faith and hopefully come to some kind of consensus. The invitation was to build bridges, not to throw down a gauntlet. Of course, people can read whatever they want for whatever reason they want, but if all you are interested in is sniping from the sidelines, there is no reason to waste time responding.
    But I am curious as to whether you believe you’ve debunked any of my work?

    THE NUMBERS GAME

    In your critique you pointed out that the Doha poll was not scientific. You are right, that was loose on my point. I stumbled across the poll just as I was getting ready to send it to the editors, and didn’t scrutinize it enough. So, replace “scientific poll” with “poll.” It’s weaker evidence, but still evidence. As I pointed out in my piece, it can suggest that Bashar MIGHT be popular, not that he is. Well, it was not intended to be taken on its own anyway, so little loss. When you consider the high numbers who attended the counter rallies, the high numbers who turned out to the polls—which the opposition called on people to boycott, and they didn’t. Paired with the low turnout in the protests, and even lower amount who took up arms—it forms a pretty consistent pattern. I mentioned a number of other trends in that and subsequent work as well. It’s a circumstantial case, but that’s all I claimed it to be. And in the absence of countervailing evidence, it is a pretty powerful case.

    And there really ISN’T any countervailing evidence. Again, please provide me any kind of reliable empirical evidence that most of t he population supports the insurrection over the government. In fact, show me evidence that more than 2% of the population has taken part in the protests or the armed rebellion. Please. I’ve been making this demand for two years now, and all I get is deflections—this was your response here as well.
    Do YOU believe that most of the population supports the rebels over the regime? If so, WHY?

    I do not make the arguments I do because I support Bashar al-Asad (I don’t). If there was ANY compelling empirical evidence that most Syrians support the insurrection, I would happily abandon my position. But in 2 years of arguing, no one has furnished me this evidence, despite my incessant demands. I would prefer a belief based in abundant circumstantial evidence than one based on no evidence at all. Until someone can provide compelling empirical evidence that most of the Syrians side with the rebels, the ASSERTION that they do is nothing more than a dogma.

    If you agree that most of the population probably doesn’t support the armed insurrection, I don’t know why you are wasting your time arguing the point. In any case, you have certainly not “debunked” my arguments about popular support.

    FLOODING THE ZONE

    As it relates to Carla del Ponte, you want me to say she wasn’t on the Chem. Weapons team? I already said it. But she was a chief investigator on the human rights commission, and the chemical attacks fell within her purview accordingly. She viewed the evidence closer than any of us.
    You said her team distanced herself from her statements—yes, but misleading. They distanced themselves because the UN investigation was not supposed to lay blame, just to confirm the use. So Ms. Del Ponte had overstepped what the investigators were supposed to be doing, and for a team that she was not even directly part of. So the distancing was political. They did not DENY that there was compelling evidence that the rebels used the weapons, did they? No.

    I referred to Ms. Del Ponte the way I did because that is how she is described in the popular discourse, as is evidenced by the links I provided in-article. I adopt the descriptions getting tossed around, why? Because getting into the nuances you raised is a distraction, and not a terribly useful one. She was the lead investigator of a UN team investigating crimes against humanity and had full access to the chemical weapons evidence, which fell within her purview in light of the team she WAS in charge of. So the nuances you introduce are not particularly helpful. You are right that, for diplomatic reasons, the team distanced themselves from Ms. Del Ponte overstepping her mandate in revealing WHERE the evidence pointed (the investigation was only supposed to determine IF they were used), but neither she nor her team has subsequently DENIED THAT THERE IS COMPELLING EVIDENCE POINTING TO THE REBELS HAVING USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN THE RELEVANT INCIDENT. So introducing your little nuance does nothing to undermine my point.

    Also, in the initial argument on the other website, you said that the rebels didn’t have delivery systems to shoot chemical weapons from rockets. This is false. I point out in my second paper (which you didn’t look at, far from debunking) that it is well-established that al-Q obtained chem. Weapons, AND ballistic delivery systems for them, from raiding Gaddhafi’s arsenal during and after the NATO invasion. Multiple sources to that effect. It is also well-established that arms from Libya are a huge part of the rebel arsenal in Syria.

    As it relates to Ghouta, we have established that a church fell into the affected area. We have established that while the Christian population of Ghouta is average for Syria as a whole (10%), it is significantly larger than the Christian populations of many Sunni areas further from Damascus and Aleppo. I have indicated that the only reason I even raised the possibility is due to eyewitness accounts I had personally received about large numbers of Christians being killed. It is almost certain that Christians WERE victims of the attack, the question was were they the TARGET of these attacks. I said it is a plausible scenario, nothing more.

    We have established that the regime having shelled the area does not prove that most of its citizens support the rebels. Consider the al-Nusra occupation of the Christian town of Muloola, which the government has also been besieging for some time. Would you therefore argue that most of the Christian population supports the al-Nusra Front and hates the government? Obviously, the government pressing an area is not proof that most of its citizens are sympathetic to the rebels. Are there pockets of resistance, perhaps substantial, perhaps even longstanding? Sure. I have acknowledged as much repeatedly. But how would that prove that MOST of said population supports the rebels? Moreover, how would that preclude Christians being targeted for an attack? That is, in what way would your arguments have “debunked” by own?

    As it relates to the “class warfare” thesis you derided, I provided multiple evidence streams to support it, none of which you critiqued. I could provide plenty more upon demand. It is a pretty well-established fact. If you disagree, who do you think comprises the armed militias? And what is the EVIDENCE for your position? Or is it another dogma? How exactly have you “debunked” that claim?

    And again, I said that this possibility was one among many. I went through them—and the point was not to argue that the rebels DEFINITELY did it or the regime didn’t. The only purpose of that section was to demonstrate that the Obama Administration’s case was not as straightforward or conclusive as portrayed. That there are compelling reasons for doubt. But one is free to accept the Administration’s arguments, I never suggested otherwise, I just said there is room for reasonable disagreement. If you aren’t persuaded even that far, frankly, it doesn’t even matter for my overall case.
    I said repeatedly in several of my works, including all 4 of them from Counterpunch, that it really doesn’t matter who carried out the attack. Even if no attack took place at all, Washington would still be drumming up another pretext for changing the balance on the ground, and it would still be the wrong course of action. I said, we can even just accept the Administration’s case at face-value, despite its problems, it would still be wrong to carry out these strikes. That was the point of the first essay, and the following two are aimed at showing why, REGARDLESS OF WHO CARRIED OUT THE ATTACK, it would be the wrong course of action. So the fetish on the first section of the first essay—not only did you not really “debunk” the claims in that section, but you didn’t even really address the POINT of the project at all, let alone undermine it.

    You did not resort to ad hominem attacks in your original argument, but you certainly did here. Or need I reproduce them for you? And not just against me, but against my colleagues, whose view and backgrounds are TOTALLY IRRELVANT to those of myself or my co-author. My objection stands, ad hominem attacks are a distraction, and a poor substitute for real arguments, and generally they speak worse of the person who made them than the person being targeted. You have also consistently misrepresented my views, owing to the same disingenuousness, sloppiness, and other vices you are accusing me of.

    I have granted all of the concessions you have been waiting for—again, how have you “debunked” by arguments? I feel like I’m talking to someone in a parallel universe or something. I engaged in this discussion in the hopes of clarifying my position, hoping we could reach a consensus among people with like aspirations and what I hoped would be mutual good will. In the absence of any serious desire to work towards a resolution, there is little point in carrying on a “debate.” If you just want to stand in your ideological corner and stick to your positions without evidence supporting them, while trolling my own work, please, do. I won’t engage further, I have better ways to spend my time. If you want to approach my work with an open mind, if you want to offer constructive feedback, if you want to work towards attaining a consensus in good will—any of those things—then I would love to talk with you further. Just let me know.

    Comment by Musa al-Gharbi — September 15, 2013 @ 12:02 am

  48. @ Musa al-Gharbi. #48. I’ll save the bulk of my comments until your opus is completed. But (as they say) to flag up a couple of points:
    1.Doha: You keep arguing that there is no evidence that most of the Syrian population supports the rebels – but as I have pointed out that was not the issue. What WAS at issue was your false claim of evidence that the majority of the population supported Asad. (And nothing of significance can be drawn from he Doha poll as your own discussion of survey sampling ably demonstrated)
    2. Carla del Ponte : as I demonstrated, the syntax of your sentence on her statement was highly misleading – running together a phrase about the weapons inspectors with one about her statement, while failing to point out her actual status. You say “you want me to say she wasn’t on the Chem. Weapons team? I already said it.” You acknowledge it here – but you didn’t say it in your article where it counted. Moreover you continue to confuse matters : she’s not a “chief” or “lead” anything and the’s not an “inspector” of anything – she’s a member of a Committee chaired by Paulo Pinheiro.
    You say: “the UN investigation was not supposed to lay blame, just to confirm the use.” You continue to confuse the two bodies: its the job of the Chemical inspection team to “confirm the use” and of the Committee to which del Ponte belongs to evaluate any evidence of who is responsible. That’s the reason she overstepped her remit – she pronounced on the former before the inspection was carried out, and the latter before the evidence was evaluated.
    You say “neither she nor her team has subsequently DENIED THAT THERE IS COMPELLING EVIDENCE POINTING TO THE REBELS HAVING USED CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN THE RELEVANT INCIDENT (your emphasis). I hate to break the news to you – but that is exactly what they have done.
    3. On “class warfare” you say you have provided “multiple evidence streams” on the class character of the opposition. I think its a bit of a misjudgment to come onto a left-wing blog and condemn a political force for being plebian, but (AGAIN as I have already said) the issue is not whether the rebel forces come from the popular classes but whether the VICTIMS of the attack did. So let me get this straight – you are claiming that Zamalka is an upper class residential district.?
    A final very minor point – but one I regard a matter of honour: you say “we have established that a church fell into the affected area.”. Actually I established it (and that it was on the fringe of the affected area.).

    Comment by Brian S. — September 15, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

  49. Brian S and Louis etc please excuse the intrusion, just butting in here because I think people might want to see what is now being censored now at TNS. I am on permanent moderation apparently and I suppose the same for the rest of the cruise missile Marxists.

    ‘Well you have enough to go on with now Brian! Matthijs is shouting it out as loud as required for even the deaf. If he wanted the rebels to win he would put forward his ideas on how we leftists in the west could work (in any way at all) towards that goal. He however want’s to be ‘meta-level’.
    How about we think about how Assads air power ought to be destroyed? Is that meta?

    How about we consider the FACT that even the threat of his air power being destroyed brought on this latest reward for using his chemical weapons on a few of the hundred odd thousand that he has caused to be killed, because his mob would not allow free and fair elections.
    How about we remind everyone that the left has a fighting element that has always united with bourgeois forces to knock over tyrants like Assad. How about we start by telling everyone that the only way to make this site useful is to let a hundred flowers blossom and that it is essential to have a method of holding people to account?

    How about uniting with me Brian in a demand for a ‘junk file’ for censored comments to stop people bullshitting and provide a check?
    Even you know that this ‘re-launched’ site is doomed if it keeps going up the ‘wrong way go back’ lane that it’s now on. So what about a unity ticket on that one issue?

    But it’s nice to see Ben back (what a surprise) now who doesn’t like waffle for breakfast? But here is a direct question Ben; do you support Assad’s air power being attacked with US cruise missiles?’
    end

    So people might think that’s the end of TNS as a site for open debate, but the truth is that it was always being dishonest on Facebook with 5 of the top 8 threads (by numbers involved) excluded from the facebook TNS!

    Breathtaking how blatantly dishonest they are really but not at all surprised. What could they possibly say to win an open debate against views that are so genuinely put in an open honest and aboveboard manner that they have to censor. The Australian contributors that are openly M-L are now disappeared and we will be called Stalinists. Oh well people can go back to believing that they have dealt with our views and have a solid foundation to move on from! Boring as bat shit..

    Comment by patrickm — September 16, 2013 @ 7:04 am

  50. @patrickm
    Stop fighting an uphill battle against the grad school clique that took over Binh’s mighty effort. They steal ideas and present them as their own; or reject anything that tries to pop their bienpensant scholasticism.

    Comment by Abraham Marx — September 17, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

  51. […] 
http://louisproyect.org/2013/09/12/when-truth-is-the-first-casualty-of-warfare/
” Muhammad Idrees Ahmad reported, here: […]

    Pingback by The U.S. Left and Syria - by Michael Pugliese @ The International Marxist-HumanistThe International Marxist-Humanist — October 14, 2013 @ 6:14 am


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