Rush to Western Strike on Syria slows, but does not Stall

What is known is that during heavy bombardment of Ghouta in Rif Dimashq on August 21, rockets were fired that did not explode and instead released gases that killed several hundred people, most of them non-combatants, and injured hundreds of others.


US intelligence agencies released an intercept on Wednesday showing that after the attack, a ministry of defense official made outraged inquiries from a local commander as to what in the world he had done.

The intercept would be consistent with local Baath chem warfare units routinely mixing a little deadly sarin gas into crowd control gas, killing small numbers of rebels with each deployment, but in this case making an error and getting the mix wrong. Thus, around a thousand were killed instead of dozens. British intelligence seems to have come to a similar conclusion

Apparently there are new, Jordanian-trained, guerrilla forces in Rif Dimashq near the capital that account for the local commanders’ panic and desire to forcefully push them back.

The intercept does not prove that Bashar al-Assad knew about or ordered the chemical weapons attack. It does not, however, disprove that the Baath regime has a systematic policy of low level use of chemical weapons.

It does put paid to the crackpot conspiracy theory, advanced by the regime and the Russians, that the rebels gassed themselves.

The character of the evidence released seemed to slow the Obama administration’s march to a military strike on Damascus, which had been expected by today, Thursday, but now seems likely to be delayed until next week at the earliest.

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon showed some unusual backbone and demanded that the UN weapons inspectors be allowed to finish their task. They have taken blood and soil samples from Ghuta and won’t be done in Syria until at least Monday.

The Arab League condemned the Syrian regime for the chemical weapons use but rejected the idea of Western military intervention.

Mobilized youth movements in the region such as Tamarrud in Egypt also rejected Western military intervention in an Arab country.

Unlike in Libya, there is no regional multilateral framework, or public opinion support, for an intervention.

The British push for a UN Security Council resolution appears to be going no where. Even the British parliament is pushing back against unilateral British military action in Syria in the absence of a UNSC resolution.

Belgium and other European Union countries are not convinced of the legitimacy of a strike. Germany is nervous about anything that looks like illegal aggression, for historical reasons.

In the US, Speaker of the House John Boehner and other representatives, along with many senators, want President Obama to seek their advice and consent before taking a step that could lead to another US war in the region.

President Obama has probably boxed himself into rather uselessly tossing a couple of cruise missiles onto Damascus next week. For a thoughtful man he often seems to lock himself into undesirable courses of action by ill-considered and hasty public remarks. But whatever he does, it seems clear that it won’t have the kind of multilateral framework he prefers, and he’ll have to cowboy it.

Wasn’t that where he came in?

52 Responses

  1. It is interesting and curious to me that you think anything could be a “crackpot” theory in this day and age in this place. And erroneous one? Sure….but nothing would surprise me. And particularly not the possibility that some ‘bright boy’ on the so called rebel side, got an idea in his head that given the fact the UN–on that very day in question–landed in Syria, it might be a good plan to ‘give them something to talk about’.

  2. Putin sensed Obama weakening so he sent two Russian warships to the Mediterranean. Putin is the real cowboy here. Ya gotta have some stones to play world politics and Putin’s got ’em in spades.

    So, Assad and Putin make Obama and the U.S. back down. Rolling over for these thugs is sets a REAL BAD PRECEDENT. Assad used WMD and it looks like he’ll away with it.


    Wonder when the next WMD attack will happen and where?

    I hope Putin doesn’t get too happy and decide to NUKE AMERICA just ’cause he can. :(

      • Yes, wait. It would be much better to have as many countries on the U.S. side as possible. It isn’t that the U.S. can’t do the bombing alone, but it would bolster the justification if more nations were on board. A few pundits claim that merely bombing a little then leaving won’t be that productive. On the other hand, do we want America involved in a full-scale war? Meet with Putin. Talk this over. Negotiate. Have more than one nation arm the rebels, if intent is to topple Assad.

      • And when you aren’t wrong, you shouldn’t back down to people who have nothing but silly conspiracy theories and no evidence.

  3. Crackpot? How about the entire Iraq War under Bush?

    Russian crackpot is far less damaging than US crackpot.

    Best article I read on Syria today: link to

    – Dov S. Zakheim

    Dov says the Russians & Chinese have far more on the ball in Middle East attitudes and history than do the Americans.

  4. I find it interesting that the US, who is/has been involved in chemical warfare is so outraged. Vietnamese are still suffering from our wide spread use of Agent Orange. Course that was “defoliant” as we play childish word games. Or the use of spent uranium shells. But uranium isn’t a “chemical”. Or the mass usage of US chemicals by Saddam when he was doing our bidding. Course “we” didn’t use them. As far as “crackpot” theories, much of what goes on is based on some crackpot theory. What amazes me is how easily people ride along with the crackpot theories. From my neighbor, I’ve learned that the forest fires of the western states/Alaska have been set by terrorists who are trying bankrupt the country.

  5. According to the constitution, only congress can declare war. If this principle is violated, then why do we even have the constitution anymore? And if bombing another country is not considered an act of war then words no longer have any meaning. If the constitution is dead and words don’t have meaning, then how can the government expect to run a civil society? Capricious law.

  6. Professor Cole,

    Is the idea of having a ” Jordanian-trained, guerrilla forces” fighting against a government forces consistent with International law? If so then what is the problem with Al Queda? and if not where is accountability for it?

    Furthermore, who appointed US president and UK prime minister as judge, jury and executioner in International laws? Isn’t there suppose to be international court that should deal with these issues consistently regardless of who does it?

    • You misread or misrepresent the post. It says that the loyalists to Assad have formed militias against the opposition forces.

    • “Jordanian-trained” is not accurate; they weren’t trained by Jordan.
      Jordan is trying to stay neutral, and the US State Department blackmailed/ extorted King Hassan into allowing the FSA training camps, C4ISR and Logistics base to operate from Jordanian territory.

      These forces, the Eric Prince-assembled “Free Syrian Army,” is trained IN Jordan, but BY the CIA and MOSSAD.
      Only a handful are Syrian; the rest would fit the definition in Wikipedia of “Mercenary.”

      That is, if reports from the Syrian government can be trusted.

  7. Regarding the intercept:

    Identify the Syrian Defense Ministry official and the army officer transmitting and receiving the intercept.

    How do we know that their conversation, presumably in Arabic, was interpreted correctly?

    How do we know these individuals’ actual positions in the Syrian government?

    The link to the article on the British response also cited doubts by U.S. officials whether this “proof” is strong enough to rely upon in taking concret action against Assad’s regime.

    Remember Operation Northwoods!

  8. Where is the left? We have all this tedious preening about MLK, and prattle about homosexual marriage. Meanwhile, in August (of course), 99 years after WWI started, mindless missile-rattling is consuming the world, and I haven’t heard of so much as a picket line or a telephone tree.

    Rand Paul has been way ahead on this issue, as far as I can see.

    • I would consider following VA Red Senator Scott Rigell, who authored the letter to the Admin signed on to by how many now, 116 members of Congress of mostly Red but some from both parties in both houses, telling our imperial ruler that he at least ought to go through the formality of advice and consent before lighting the fuses on those Tomahawk skyrockets, or playing that wonderful tune, “Send In The Drones.” link to

      Rand and Ron are the worst sort of smarmy opportunists, far as I can see. No sale there, when this is their actual vision of Howitoughtabe: link to

      Not that an exercise demanding a little A&C really means much to us ordinary people, when made by the Congresscritters who also feed at the MIIC trough and for decades have never met a war they didn’t love or were too timid to resist Caesar on. Rome and Byzantium and Berlin were filled with Crackpot Realists and rent seekers and lobbyists and militarists too, and it might bear reviewing a bit of wikihistory for context in what invariably, with minor detail changes, happens to Skyrocket Empires…link to

      Second verse, see WW II. Both of which ended with the Bad guys running away wit all the loot they could carry, some to be embraced warmly by our OSS-CIA-ETC., some to retire comofortably to South America…

    • I would love to see the revival of the healthy classic Old Left.
      Hardcore on class issues, conservative on social and ethnic issues.

    • Rand Paul is broken clock (speaking of crackpots). John Boehner is playing politics only. He doesn’t care, as long as he gets to pick at Obama. Wake up to Paul and Boehner as the hypocrites they are.

  9. Professor, there’s more discussion about that word “crackpot,” joined at the hip to that other word, claimed as self-descriptive by some here, “realist.” One piece of that discourse appears here,–Crackpot-Realism-and-Military-Intervention-in-Syria#, under the title “‘Crackpot Realism’ And Military Intervention In Syria.

    It appears some actual, honest Serious Observer of our Empire at work and play have distilled out most of the essence of “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb — Bomb, Bomb Anywhere-ism:”

    The benefit of crackpot realism is that the ordinary prudence of advocating avoidance of war can be depicted either as sloppy and unrealistic sentimentalism or as the irresponsible avoidance of the burdens and duties of a superpower in a dangerous world. In its refined form, crackpot realism wears the camouflage of idealism: military invasions are really aimed at humanitarian rescue, spreading democracy, or peacekeeping. In those cases, the crackpot realist can even affect a morally censorious tone: How can any serious person be in favor of letting Saddam Hussein remain president of Iraq? Or Bashir al Assad in Syria? Or whoever the Hitler du jour might be.

    The original piece is here, link to There’s a lot more to it, so aptly descriptive of those who claim “normalcy” inheres in displays of Folly.

    Maybe worth a read, and some remarks on how “we” can escape the seductions of the seeming logic and actual disingenuous or just plain dishonest blandishments of “crackpot realists?”

  10. I love how the current favored media and official expression is “pinprick strikes” or “targeted strikes.” If someone lobbed a cruise missile into the US and hit , say, the Pentagon or a military target of any sort, would that be shrugged off as a “pinprick strike?” What about any killed civilians? Shrug, right?

    Let’s see — what nation got into an utter tizzy over a couple of small bombs in Boston not long ago? What people became completely overwrought and apoplectic? Of course, this is far more important and tragic than what happens EVERY DAY on an unbelievably larger scale in Iraq (which we broke and declined to put back together). or Afghanistan. Or Syria.

    Americans are very accepting of inflicting miseries on other countries and other innocents but convinced that their own pain is somehow more deserving of sympathy and vengeance than anyone else’s.

    It’s too bad more nations can’t fight back, we’d not be so blase about starting wars and lobbing missiles and bombs at helpless victims in the name of our cause du jour.

    • Language controls, as propagandists and politicians know. Now we are going to “retaliate against Saddam.”

      ‘Retaliate: v. tr.: To return like for like, especially evil for evil; To pay back (an injury) in kind.’

      It’s a strong word that lets the hearer think he is on the side of “right.” What’s the “kind” Saddam “liked” us with, that we will justify “pinprick bombing” as just “returning evil for evil?”

  11. I can understand an outraged Syrian Ministry of Defense official dressing down a local commander and demanding an explanation for what may have taken place. However, it would be interesting to hear what the local commander told his superior officer in return. Lets hear the entire conversation, word for word, rather than make a case for war on the basis of the “outrage” in the voice of a Syrian official.

  12. The predictions and deductions people have been making about the chemical attack in Syria should count every bit as much when assessing their credibility as their predictions and deductions about Iraqi WMDs.

    There will be people who were right, and people who were wrong. Once that is sorted out, I hope we don’t end up with yet another “Iraq War Pundits” situation, in which the people whose deductions, predictions, and responses to the administration’s case turned out to be completely wrong are still holding forth, and being listened to, as if they hadn’t just completely blundered.

    That the people who get this question wrong should approach similar questions in the future with a little humility is something everyone can agree on, right?

    • Does that suggested norm apply across the board, so that predictions, deductions and pronouncements about all matters of state, and “misstatements of fact,” get the same deductions from credibility or doses of humility, “going forward?”

      • It does apply to all matters of state, but I’d say that charges of WMD usage, or planned usage, made as part of a case for war need to be weighed very, very heavily.

        It is a BFD to get that wrong.

  13. .

    Dear Professor Cole, “US intelligence agencies released an intercept ……” that such dispositions are released
    may be factual but these agencies are without any credibility
    whatsoever is factual as well. “Guilty by omission” is an
    approximate phrase to characterize yours and other’s assumptions about facts, as gleaned from the lead article
    in CP this day, the previous UN inspection found sufficient ground to suspect non- government actors of just the very atrocity these ‘intercepts’ purport lay blame .
    Excuse me Sir but I am not so naive as to permit any
    so called ‘evidence’ of British or CIA origination knowing
    from personal experience that the “authorities” fabricate
    any justification instantaneously yet as we may gauge from
    Mr. Musa al-Gharbi information these planned invasions were underway BEFORE said deployment of chemical weapons.
    Dr. Cole your context seems rather narrow in scope
    and rather flimsy if the ‘facts’ have been created
    for a retroactive purpose for which one should, by now.
    be all too familiar.

    • link to

      Sorry it took so long, but here’s a former MOSSAD officer saying that US officials didn’t collect this phone call, Israelis did.

      The Cable article clearly says that US Intel officlals “overheard” the phone call, implying that the US IC collected it.
      Why would a site like Foreign Policy lie about who was the source ?

      • Well, in all fairness the dude at Foreign Policy may not know that he was being lied to.

        His American source may have told him about that phone intercept, and the reporter may then have simply assumed that the USA intercepted it.

        He was in no position to know that the USA has hearing this second-hand from the Israelis, and it isn’t likely that his spook-friend would have volunteered that particular bit o’ information.

  14. I think we can all agree that Assad is a brutal and horrid leader and his fellow Ba’ath acolytes are part of a scummy regime that we can only hope disappears soonest. But what if Assad and/or his higher-ups did not give the order to deploy chemical weapons against the rebels? What if the orders came from officers further down the military chain of command? Obviously, that’s still reprehensible but it would also complicate the story and weaken the West’s storyline.

    Let’s hope our military takes the extra time to verify what’s going on before letting the missiles fly. We’ve waited this long to act. I’m sure that we can wait a few days more.

  15. The average American has seen neighbors returning crippled from AfPak and Iraq, and opposes intervention 9 to 1, despite MSM efforts. Low quality democracy, ain’t it?

  16. “Getting the mix wrong” is supposed to excuse or exonerate the government? What I worry about is that much of the population of Damascus may have been exposed to levels of the gases that caused no immediate injury but will predispose over long time periods many thousands to cancers, etc. These gases are undoubtedly powerful carcinogens, among other things.

  17. The comments here have shifted pretty dramatically from “Where’s the intelligence?” to “I’m not going to believe the intelligence” over the past 24 hours.

    • Joe from Lowell, your observation is correct. I think it is to be expected from the readership of this blog, which has memory of the ‘gulf of Tonkin resolution’, ‘the yellow cake of Iraq’, the ‘wmd trucks of Iraq’,the ‘nuclear program of Iraq’, etc etc.

      Trust once lost is hard to regain with statements like ‘trust me’. It is exactly that the people of US DO NOT TRUST their government!!

  18. Given the Republican eagerness to impeach Obama, I hope that Obama seeks Congressional authorization for whatever military strikes in Syria that he is contemplating.

    Otherwise a Syrian crisis could morph into an American constitutional crisis.

  19. Just another nail in the coffin of Syria which is already dead and partition of Syria and Iraq are on the horizon. A referendum here and there and a fence make good neighbors.

  20. [It does put paid to the crackpot conspiracy theory, advanced by the regime and the Russians, that the rebels gassed themselves.]

    I fail to see any magic at im the actions of the Saudi special forces and the Salafists. What is exactly the problem for them to kill a few hundreds civilians?

  21. Leo Tolstoy: “And so once more the men who reaped profit from it all will assert with assurance that since there has been a war there must needs have been one, and that other wars must follow, and they will again prepare future generations for a continuance of slaughter, depraving them from childhood”.

    Laura Nyro: “I can’t study war no more”.

  22. Agreed Ban Ki Moon lacks backbone.
    I have always felt that he was put in place to do a job that has little to do with the officially appointed one.

    A false flag scenario still isn’t out of the equation.
    There have been warnings of this potential for almost a year.

    link to

    link to

  23. Other than that, Lawfare has a reasonable summation here:

    link to

    I had an interchange with Richard Haas of the Foreign Policy Council the other day, after his statement. It appears very much as though the U.N. is very much a ‘Tool of Trade’ in regard to American Foreign Policy. To be employed where convenient and ignored when not.
    My communication, thusly:
    Hello Richard,

    Just writing to point out what would appear to be an inconsistency in U.S. policy.

    It is an imperative for any recognition of a Palestinian State be approved by way of the Security Council, but, in the case of any intervention in Syria, to quote you – “To say only the UN Security Council can make something legitimate seems to me to be a position that cannot be supported because it would allow in this case a country like Russia to be the arbiter of international law and, more broadly, international relations.”

    If the United Nations is, in fact, obsolete, as your statement would appear to indicate, perhaps you would like to make this a little more apparent in your next media release?

    Thanking you for your time and trouble in relation to this matter.
    Kind regards,

    Changing the music to suit *your* dance is not conducive to a party atmosphere, unless you are the only one at the party.

  24. With regard to:

    “And when you aren’t wrong, you shouldn’t back down to people who have nothing but silly conspiracy theories and no evidence.”

    There are plenty of examples of this.
    Off the top of my head, Colin Powell pointing to a decidedly fuzzy, high resolution satellite image of a garbage truck as ‘proof’ of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. You know: the rational for the Iraqi second front.

  25. As B a FD as a” war of choice” run on an idiot grandiose policy and sold via a ration of fraud? As fake baby steps in the supposed direction of ” doing something” about greenhouse gases? As creation and implementation of a world-girdling permanent-war AllHailTheGenerals Global Network-Centric Interoperable Vastly Expensive Murderously intrusive Panoptocon Thingie?

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