Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 11, 2017

“Experts” coming to Bashar al-Assad’s rescue

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:43 pm

On April 5th, I wrote an article just as the Assadists had begun circling the wagons over the sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun. The very first article written in Assad’s defense appeared in Information Clearing House establishing the “false flag” tone that would be repeated endlessly. I predicted that the relatively obscure author of this initial piece would be followed up by people with more authority.

Indeed, if you Google Syria and “false flag”, you will get 556,000 results—most of them linking to conspiracist outlets like 21st Century Wire, The Duran and Zero Hedge. As I have seen in propaganda offensives like these, you can count on such explicitly over-the-top, pro-Assad websites to act as the shock troops in a propaganda offensive, to be followed within months by Seymour Hersh articles in the LRB and other high-toned purveyors of mass murder apologetics.

As surely as night follows day, several high-profile “experts” have come forward to get Assad off the hook and as might be expected, their opinions are getting wide circulation in the Assadist propaganda network.

Patrick Lang

The first one I ran into was a former Defense Intelligence Agency Colonel named Patrick Lang whose “proof” of Assad’s innocence appeared on a blog titled Intel Today. Lang makes assertions without bothering to provide evidence. For example, he claims that there was no sarin gas attack, only the accidental release of toxic chemicals after a Russian jet bombed an al-Nusra arms depot. They included organic phosphates and chlorine that were spread by the wind, killing civilians. You must ask yourself how he knows that this was the case. Who told him that? A little birdie?

Using the mantle of authority, he winds up his spiel:

We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called “first responders” handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through “Live Agent” training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

This, of course, was the same claim made by Paul Antonopoulos in his Information Clearing House Article. How could it be sarin when first responders treated the victims without wearing protective clothing? In fact, the NY Times reported on first responders becoming ill in the early minutes following the attack but more critically sarin gas quickly loses its toxicity. I understand that Assadists agree with Donald Trump that the NY Times is a purveyor of “fake news” but surely the Center for Disease Control can be trusted: “Because it evaporates so quickly, sarin presents an immediate but short-lived threat.”

Lang’s conversion to the anti-imperialist cause is recent. Only 10 years ago, he was advocating a strike at Iran to end its nuclear program. He told the NY Times:

“You are talking about something in the neighborhood of a thousand strike sorties,” said Mr. Lang. “And it would take all kinds of stuff — air, cruise missiles, multiple restrikes — to make sure you’ve got it all.” Other former officials say fewer bombing runs would be needed.

When he isn’t writing Assadist propaganda, Lang writes fiction (I guess there’s not much difference) about the Civil War. Guess what. His hero is a confederate spy.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Moving right along, we meet Lawrence Wilkerson, another former government official who was Colin Powell’s chief aide during the war on Iraq. Wilkerson was interviewed by Abby Martin on Empire Files, a Telesur program that is in line with Venezuela’s tawdry support for the Assad dictatorship. This interview appeared on the Kremlin-supporting 21st Century Wire as vindicating Assad even though it was conducted in 2015. It has also appeared on Veterans Today, another Assadist outlet.

Oddly enough, Wilkerson describes himself both as a Republican and a firm supporter of Thomas Piketty’s ideas. The first 6 minutes of the interview consists of him reeling off the standard denunciations of US foreign policy and plutocracy that makes him sound like a Green Party candidate but afterwards goes off the rails wehen Martin asks him how he could have written Powell’s infamous WMD speech to the UN.

At 15:00 in the Youtube clip, he directly addresses claims against Assad for using sarin gas. He says that he spoke to everybody he knew in the “intelligence community” if they could confirm Assad had ever used chemical weapons and they all said no. You think maybe Patrick Lang was the first guy he phoned?

While he is speaking, a still image of a Global Research article headlined Syria UN Mission Report Confirms that “Opposition” Rebels Used Chemical Weapons against Civilians and Government Forces appears during Wilkerson’s voice-over. This article claims that the UN documented rebel use of sarin gas just before the East Ghouta attack, which supposedly proves that they used it in there as well but this is falsified by a December 2013 UN report: “However, in the absence of primary information on the delivery system(s) and environmental samples collected and analysed under the chain of custody, the United Nations Mission could not establish the link between the victims, the alleged event and the alleged site.” [emphasis added]

It never fails to amaze me that Assadists can advance such easily falsifiable claims. Do they think that everybody operates within their Islamophobic comfort zone?

Scott Ritter

Finally we come to the guy who would seem most trustworthy—Scott Ritter, whose claim to fame was debunking WMD hysteria in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

The Huffington Post, a magazine generally free of conspiracy theorizing, allows Ritter to hold forth on Assad’s innocence in an article titled “Wag The Dog — How Al Qaeda Played Donald Trump And The American Media”.

Showing utter indifference to documenting his findings, Ritter states:

International investigations of these attacks produced mixed results, with some being attributed to the Syrian government (something the Syrian government vehemently denies), and the majority being attributed to anti-regime fighters, in particular those affiliated with Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

For a thorough dismantling of Ritter’s crude conspiracism, I recommend Stanley Heller’s New Politics article.

In journalism school, you supposedly learn that reporting involves answering: who, when, where, why and how. So “who” are the groups conducting international investigations? RT.com? Press TV? Abby Martin? Alex Jones? Paul Antonopoulos? Fuck if I know.

But I would recommend the Wikipedia article on chemical attacks in Syria. A chart indicates that most of them take place in rebel-controlled (or formerly rebel-controlled) areas like Idlib or Homs. The only ones taking place in government-controlled areas are in Jobar, the very locale the UN admits could not be verified.

Ritter offers up the Russian narrative, namely that the jihadists controlling the town were involved in making crude land-mines laced with a mixture of chlorine and white phosphorus that were used in Aleppo. I invite my readers to find a reference to such a weapon ever being used in Aleppo or anywhere else on the planet. Other than Mintpress, RT.com and Sputnik News of course.

Ritter takes aim at the White Helmets, who he claims exploited the sarin gas fatalities to depict Assad as a war criminal. When you are writing this sort of propaganda, smearing these first responders as al-Qaeda operatives is de rigueur.

Moving right along, he refers to townspeople reports of “pungent odors” at the time of the attack. Since sarin gas is odorless, this falsifies the claim that it was used. However, speaking of falsehoods, there is no reference anywhere to odors except in a Wikipedia article that cited a Syria Deeply article to that effect. Apparently, Ritter did not bother to check the Syria Deeply article since it makes zero references to odors. Wikipedia evidently screwed up and Ritter failed to notice that.

Doubling down on his false reporting, Ritter claims that White Helmet first responders also referred to a pungent odor. Good luck trying to find a reference to this anywhere.

Lang, Wilkerson and Ritter loom large on the Assadist “left” because this is a milieu that has little interest in or background in Marxism. For them, everything is a conspiracy. History does not take place because of the class struggle but because secret agents plot to make things happen. If you want to read an article that encapsulates the mindset of these three nitwits, just go to Infowars and you’ll see them beaten by their own game. How we ended up in 2017 with a left mired in conspiracy theories about Syria is up to future historians to unravel. All I can say is that anybody with a functioning brain must break with this shit for the sake of their sanity and for the sake of revolutionary change.

 

20 Comments »

  1. Kareem Shaheen , a journalist working for The Guardian visited the town and wrote
    ‘Residents said the silos had been damaged in air raids six months ago, and had stood unused since then.“You can look at it ; there’s nothing there except maybe some grain and animal dung, and there’s even a dead goat there that suffocated in the attack,” one person said. Residents responded in disbelief to the Russian allegation.
    There was no evidence of any building being hit in recent days or weeks near where so many people were killed and wounded by a nerve agent. The homes across the street appeared undamaged from the outside. There was no contamination zone near any building. Instead, the contamination area radiated from a hole in a road.’

    It’s true that the apologists who repeat the Russian story as being in any way plausible don’t bother with looking into things at all carefully. There is one expert you havent mentioned that said the Russian story was possibly true, and that was Gerry Smith of OPCW, on Channel 4. He said sarin ‘could have escaped’ after conventional bombing of a warehouse where it might have been stored. He didn’t seem to care to ask whether there was evidence that any such warehouse had been hit. I find it a bit worrying that someone so close to the OPCW operation to supposedly rid Syria of chemical weapons was so open to the Russian story. Also most experts, like Hamish de Bretton Gordon have said that bombing, hitting a warehouse, wouldn’t release sarin the way it being weaponised and dropped from above would. As for it not being sarin there is news now that Turkish authorities , overseen by the World Health Organisation have said it was sarin.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 11, 2017 @ 7:48 pm

  2. But your own credibility is compromised by calling these people “Assadists” because they don’t have to be on Assad’s side just because they present information counter to the official line.

    I wish the media would acknowledge and help debunk these theories, rather than ignore them. The alt-right and other news agencies have acted in an alternative universe because we did not want to justify their positions with a response. But this has only helped to strengthen their power (because it is sold as information the media or gvt doesn’t want you to know – and therefore keeps from you).

    We don’t need to give these “experts” equal time – as has been our practice in the past in trying to be fair to all sides and opinions. But we need to find a way to publicly discuss the faults in their arguments. Thank you for trying.

    Comment by Ted Wells — April 12, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

  3. Calling people Assadists just because they repeat Assadist propaganda like performing aquatic animals? How terrible. There is of course no such thing as an ‘official line’.

    Comment by John Gamey — April 13, 2017 @ 7:42 am

  4. Theodore Postol

    Theodore Postol is Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security policy at MIT.
    His expertise is in ballistic missile technologies.
    Prior to coming to MIT, he worked as an analyst at the Office of Technology Assessment and as a science and policy adviser to the chief of naval operations.
    In 2001, he received the Norbert Wiener Prize from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for uncovering numerous false claims about missile defenses.

    Postol has criticized the unclassified intelligence assessment released by the Trump White House blaming the air forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the April 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack.
    Postol concluded that the assessment “contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft” .
    He says that the photographic evidence used in the assessment points to an attack by people on the ground using a 122mm artillery rocket tube filled with a chemical agent and detonated by an explosive charge laid on top of it.

    https://www.scribd.com/document/344995943/Report-by-White-House-Alleging-Proof-of-Syria-as-the-Perpetrator-of-the-Nerve-Agent-Attack-in-Khan-Shaykhun-on-April-4-2017

    Comment by prianikoff — April 13, 2017 @ 9:03 am

  5. Postal “bases his conclusions on a single photo. There are many pictures – and some of them seem to reveal other parts of the munition. It is a good idea to investigate the ground best claim, it would also seem to be a good idea to lo at all the photos first.” (Aron Lund)

    The OPCW/UN Joint Investigative Mechanism will investigate munition remnants and sarin signatures.

    Postal meanwhile , nearly four years after Ghouta, repeats his misunderstandings of that event. The writer Aron Lund, along with many, many, others has pointed out that everyone knows the maps of the White House 2013 assessment were ‘garbage’, Postol can’t seem to accept the maps were inaccurate. That the SAA controlled areas in Qaboon-Harasta, well within his own calculated lower rocket range. It is still with the Hersh-Postol mindset, diy rockets and kitchen concocted sarin, and never mind that Volcano rockets were known to be used by regime and allies, and a Soviet-era M14 140mm artillery rocket is ‘certainly not a “homemade” munition’. He works with Maram Susli, a particularly hysterical pro-Assad commentator and shares his work with her. He does not appear to be a disinterested munitions expert. He has cloth ears for any information that counters his narratives.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 13, 2017 @ 11:34 am

  6. Sorry, I should re-read what I post. I meant to write, ‘Postol’, and ‘ground blast claim’ and ‘look at all the photos first’, should be written.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 13, 2017 @ 11:38 am

  7. Dear Louis (or any one else), could you direct me to any factual evidence about this attack that has not been provided by jihadis or their supporters, like the Guardian? Much appreciated.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 14, 2017 @ 3:49 am

  8. Moral outrage? When the Empire has its boots on your throat? And its mad dogs are ravaging your home?
    By now, there should be no doubt whatever that the dominant discourse is fully controlled by the ruling class; and the presstitues eagerly comply and profit from the continuous agitation of their big lies.

    On Cuba, you were spot on concerning “Stalinism”, the specter that has haunted the pretend “Left” into paralysis, much to the benefit of the criminal ruling class and its lackeys.

    On Syria, however, siding with the “humanitarian” liberals, proclaiming a “moral” outrage that is fully in sync with “our own” ruling class, comes across more as a capitulation than anything else. But it does play well for the Chomsky crowd.

    It doesn’t matter what Assad is or is not. The Syrians must take care of their own.
    But … “As long as invading armies are at the door, dissent is treason.”

    The danger of the imperialists gaining control cannot be minimized, and would be a disaster of world-historical proportions. For one, remember how the victorious imperialists celebrated their subjugation of Libya, and utterly destroyed that society.

    But the greatest danger facing the Syrian ruling class, as well as the imperialists’ regional client states, would be a multi-national mobilization for social-political revolution. Such a movement would inevitably collide with economic issues, and the colonial borders.

    Even simple minimal programs, like agrarian reform, literacy campaigns and health services, elicit murderous resistance from the imperialist powers and their local thugs. A cursory look at the 20th century history of Latin American and Caribbean countries would serve witness to the murderous savagery of imperialism, of whatever stripe.

    And what happened to the Arab spring “revolutions”? What was learned from those events?
    Or the OWS childishness or the “autonomen” idiocy.

    It seems the lessons of the 20th century can’t compete with the nostalgia for the simpler glory days of Social-Democracy. But then, even a superficial read of Marx and Engels’ historical works would show that nostalgia to be delusional.

    Learn. Organize. Struggle.
    A party, a party, and again, a party.

    Y.M.

    Comment by Yoshiro M. — April 15, 2017 @ 4:51 am

  9. Putin and Rouhani are Syrian? Who knew? What has your wonky little homily to do with the blog post?

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 15, 2017 @ 11:51 am

  10. “Moving right along, he refers to townspeople reports of “pungent odors” at the time of the attack. Since sarin gas is odorless, this falsifies the claim that it was used. However, speaking of falsehoods, there is no reference anywhere to odors except in a Wikipedia article that cited a Syria Deeply article to that effect. Apparently, Ritter did not bother to check the Syria Deeply article since it makes zero references to odors. Wikipedia evidently screwed up and Ritter failed to notice that.”

    Sarin deployed on the battlefield is almost never pure Sarin. The one exception is Aum Shinrikyo’s Tokyo and Matsumoto attacks. Iraqi Sarin was 45-65% pure. Syrian Sarin is more pure, but is nonetheless the crude product from the binary reaction that produces it. That means it will be contaminated by volatile amines, such as isopropylamine or hexamine, which are have strong fishy/cat pee odors. Likewise, hydrogen fluoride will be a major impurity, which has an acrid odor and is extremely irritating to eyes and the respiratory tract. The reports of odors are most likely true and they in no way contradict that Sarin was used.

    As for Postol: he chooses to rely on dubious associates for his chemistry knowledge when he has access to some of the finest minds in the world at MIT. That says a lot about him.

    Comment by DDTea — April 15, 2017 @ 11:07 pm

  11. DDTea, I LOVE your comments on Bellingcat. You are the man. Or maybe you are the woman.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2017 @ 11:36 pm

  12. I should add that after I wrote this article, I discovered from MSF that there were pungent odors but that they were explained in the same way you just did. I forgot to update the article but am glad you chimed in.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2017 @ 11:39 pm

  13. The author of the piece at Information Clearinghouse is “Deputy-Editor at Al-Masdar News”, an online journal with close ties to the Syrian intelligence services (and from which this piece was lifted). See also the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Masdar_News. It’s a dirty one.

    Comment by Evan Siegel — April 16, 2017 @ 3:04 pm

  14. Ritter is reportedly a child/minor sexual predator guy. He’s fallen very far from his days as a conscientious challenger to the Iraq war. https://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/magazine/scott-ritter.html
    I don’t take anything he says seriously anymore.

    Comment by anthonydimaggio612 — April 20, 2017 @ 4:40 am

  15. The unrepentant Sectarian is (of course) perfectly ready to sell the women of Syria and Iraq into sex slavery and genocide, just as long as he gets to slander real leftist in the process!

    Comment by Lee Sun-sil — April 22, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

  16. Lee Sun-sil, is your IQ too low to discuss the technicalities of sarin gas? Maybe you should eat sardines. They supposedly are good brain food. If you don’t care for the taste of sardines, you might want to shove them up your ass.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 22, 2017 @ 10:33 pm

  17. This place is clearly infested with those who were “objectively pro-Saddam.” Me, I believe anything the NYT or Judith Miller’s heirs say.

    Comment by Curveball — April 23, 2017 @ 6:04 am

  18. Curveball, you strike me as a drooling imbecile. Why is it when the topic of sarin gas attacks comes up, this blog attracts such knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing renegades from Global Research?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 23, 2017 @ 11:25 am

  19. I wonder about Postol’s credentials as a universal expert on ballistic missiles. He took his undergraduate degree in physics and a doctorate in nuclear engineering and his earlier research work was focused on the microscopic dynamics and structure of liquids and disordered solids using neutron, X-ray and light scattering techniques, along with molecular dynamics simulation. This is very different from testing and deployment of actual missile systems, especially air-to-ground systems.

    Postol was responsible–and deserves great credit–for exposing the fraud perpetrated about the “infallible” Patriot anti-missile missile during the first Gulf War. This he did by exposing discrepancies in fraudulent research reports. And of course, he worked on a great many weapons-related things whereof we cannot speak and must remain silent, so he may have had some direct experience there, though he does not seem ever to have been much involved in the operational aspects.

    How many missiles of a relevant type has Postol ever actually seen fired or inspected after the fact? Operational knowledge at that level is very different from combing through research reports for evidence of fakery.

    Leaving aside the rather lurid “Syrian Girl” involvement, I can’t find anything that suggests Postol has that sort of knowledge.

    The whole business of insisting that the Sarin gas payload must have been released by an explosive charge laid across a gas-filled tube and then detonated strikes me as very odd. How does Postol know that the pictured deformation can’t happen in a real-life operational scenaro? You would have to have actual experience–i.e., actually to have seen missiles of the relevant type after being fired–to know this for sure.

    The chemistry arguments for a false flag operation or an accident scenario of some kind seem to have been, you should excuse the expression, pretty well exploded by now. The delivery system arguments are also greatly weakened (Clay Claiborne had a terrific expose on Linux Beach recently). But nobody has focused on whether Postol’s expertise in missiles was ever actually of the kind that would qualify him to make the comments that he made about that aspect of things.

    It would be very interesting to find out.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — May 12, 2017 @ 10:54 pm

  20. Just a quick addition on the odor question,

    Matsumoto there seems to have been a smell


    “People near open windows, or in air-conditioned rooms, were severely exposed to toxins. Some victims had seen a fog with a pungent and irritating smell floating by very slowly. But the cause of the deaths and the poisonings remained a mystery for the first two days.”

    also

    ” In July 1994, just after the Matsumoto Sarin incident, inhabitants in the vicinity of a cult facility reported foul smells.A criminal investigation team from the Matsumoto Sarin incident analysed the chemical process for the synthesis of Sarin, and found that dummy companies operating on behalf of the cult had purchased large quantities of chemical raw materials. In addition, a Sarin hydrolysis product was detected and removed for forensic investigation from the soils taken near the site of the foul smell.”

    https://www.opcw.org/news/article/the-sarin-gas-attack-in-japan-and-the-related-forensic-investigation/

    Also on the train.

    In this book, last full paragraph on page 134.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=W4EmDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA134&lpg=PA134&dq=tokyo+sarin+odor+mustard+rubber&source=bl&ots=DAev10ks3r&sig=cUy5y-3xt1qX4EmlJE5PI6g8RLM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-rZqi0-jUAhVE5SYKHW8mBloQ6AEIVjAH#v=onepage&q=tokyo%20sarin%20odor%20mustard%20rubber&f=false

    Comment by RobTN — July 1, 2017 @ 11:04 pm


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