Actually knowing something, remembering history or having experience of the world, is becoming a disadvantage. How much easier it would be to join in with the flow of opinion about Syria, to listen happily to, and read contentedly, media reports on the subject.
As it is, I feel something close to a physical pain as I do this.
Today’s frenzy over alleged use of poison gas in Syria is the 2017 version of Anthony Blair’s WMD in Iraq. Why can you not see it? Did you think they would do it in exactly the same way again? You are being assailed through your emotions, to act first and think long after, and far too late.
How *can* trained journalists (and experienced diplomats) be so lacking in the desire or ability to question what they are told? How come that they accept without hesitation reports which have not come from their own staff, but instead come from within terrifying war zones where gangs of fanatical murderers are the only law? One or two at least have the decency to refer to the new reports of gas attacks as ‘suspected’ or alleged, but most present them as established fact. ‘All the hallmarks’ means, in such cases, what? Though millions believe this has been proven, past accusations of gas use by Damascus have never been independently shown to be true.
Well, how can facts *be* independently established about such events? Not easily. Alas, that makes it appallingly simple to make propaganda without ever facing serious checks.
The pressures on anyone communicating with Western media from such places can only be imagined.
And then there is this simple point. Why would the Syrian government use gas at this stage in a war it has recently begun to win with conventional munitions? You don’t have to believe that the Assad state is saintly to ask this question, and I don’t believe that. Please see Carla del Ponte, for the UN, who has in the past accused the *rebels* of gas use.
Wicked and brutal they may well be, but they would have to be stupid and possibly mad to do such an thing, just as an important conference convenes in Brussels to discuss the future of Syria.
The military advantages would be tiny. Chemical weapons have not been widely used since the 1914-18 war not because soldiers have been especially tender, but because, though very nasty, they are not an especially effective weapon of war. In the 1939-45 war, many barbarous things were done, especially by largely lawless nations such as Germany and Japan, and indeed by the USSR. But gas was not used on the battlefield.
The political and diplomatic disadvantages would be huge. If Syria could be shown (as it has not yet been) to have used gas to kill children, it would mean total diplomatic isolation, and renewed calls in Britain and the USA ( which only a few days ago abandoned its aim of overthrowing Assad) to intervene against Assad.
Well, here are some thoughts as to why this has happened now. This has come just as Russian policy in the area had begun to look successful. That would never do. Never underestimate the current desire in Western foreign policy circles to increase hostility between Russia and the USA. It comes as Britain’s absurdly close and servile client relationship to the despotic and aggressive (ask a Yemeni) Saudi Regime is underlined by a visit to Riyadh by Theresa May. And it comes as Egypt’s tyrant General Sisi, who we are not allowed to call a military dictator, though he is, and whose forces gunned down hundreds of demonstrators in Cairo, visits Washington.
Two points occur. One, the Western powers, by consorting with such people, demonstrate that their exaggerated disgust at the Assad government is selective and unreal. Two, they demonstrate that our continuing desire to be on good terms with Saudi Arabia lies beneath our whole foreign policy in this region. And which state loathes President Assad more than anyone? Why, Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, which despises Assad for his Alawite heresy, and hates him for his alliance with Shia Iran.