Trump accuses Syria of Planning Gas attack as Haley attacks Russia, Iran

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Trump administration is making noise about striking Syria, on the grounds that Damascus is planning to use poison gas again.

Trump’s Neoconservative ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted:

The statement is said to be from “the White House” but is otherwise not characterized. Why does the White House think this? Why did Trump himself not tweet about it if it is coming from him?

The last time Syria stood accused of using poison gas on a rebel population, killing some 70 civilians, Trump fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the air base from which the poison-bearing aircraft took off, on April 6. It was a largely symbolic action, having no real impact on the regime or even the operation of the Shu`ayrat air base.

The odd thing about the breathless announcement late Monday was that earlier that day Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned his Russian opposite number, Sergei Lavrov to discuss tamping down the violence in Syria. They want to extend the current ceasefire in some areas, which did in fact lead to less violence in the “deconfliction zones.

As for the substance, it is true that the Syrian Arab Army sometimes uses chemical weapons on the battlefield. As I understand it, many units of the army have chem auxiliaries for those instances where they might be overrun by the enemy. The army at one point was down to 35,000 troops, from a peak of 300,000 before the civil war. It is evil and against international law, but some of their officers think the only way to level the playing field is to release some gas. The Syrian Conquest Front, formerly the Nusra Front, which held the territory where the early April incident took place, is not known (unlike ISIL) have a chem capacity. The Syrian government is.

But so far the chem use by the Syrian Army appears to be occasional and ad hoc and it isn’t the sort of thing the White House could have gained intelligence about beforehand.

It is almost as if there were a faction of hawks around Trump who wanted to derail any Tillerson-Lavrov cooperation and maintain a condition of undeclared war with Russia and Iran. We haven’t heard a lot from CIA director Mike Pompeo, unlike most others in the Trump cabinet. But if I had to guess who is behind Monday’s “statement” . . .


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “U.S.: Syria Planning Another Chemical Weapons Attack”

33 Responses

  1. well it keep some people’s attention off of the fight over the new trumpcare. if Trump can keep people focused on one thing while he does another, it will work for him. anyhow a war with anyone or intensifying a current war will keep people interested in him, not their problems the countries problems and hey, war is always good for business. One might also say Tillerson is a tad out of the loop and this is one way of Trump keeping him guessing also.

    • Is this another lie (to distract Americans), or did his Trumpness just compromise another intelligence asset?

  2. Seymour Hersh has an article ‘Trump’s Red Line’ on Trump’s decision to attack Syria after the Khan Sheikoun gas attack. Published in Die Welt, because the London Review of Books got cold feet. See link to

    The last words, quoted from a security adviser, are prophetic-
    “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

  3. Curiouser and curiouser.

    The need for (almost any version of) an America vs. Mid-East actors War is extremely strong in some quarters.

  4. This announcement by Trump this morning is frankly farcical! Clearly, this is just a precursor to another missile attack on Assad’s assets because he is gradually getting his country back which is starting to annoy the American military. The worst thing about this ludicrous announcement is that our own defense minister in the UK, that old fool Michael Fallon, has said on the radio this morning that he will support anything America does, even without knowing any of the facts or having any evidence whatsoever. No wonder we British are being targeted by terrorists!!

  5. Netanyahu reportedly told Trump an Iranian presence in Syria is not acceptable to Israel which means US policy will continue to support the anti Assad forces.

    Even to a novice like myself Haley’s comment sounds like an open invitation for US backed militias to undertake a false flag operation.

  6. It’s in response to the Seymour Hersh article that purports that US intelligence knew there was not a chemical attack by the Syrian Air Force. Can’t have Trump’s signature “Presidential” moment marred by the fact that Syria didn’t drop chemical weapons, and the intelligence shown to him confirmed this.

  7. Juan, what do you make of Sy Hersch’s piece claiming the administration knew the Assad government had nothing to do with the chemical release that prompted the tomahawk missile attack?

      • Thank you for the response. It appears I along with other readers disagree with you on this topic. Assad would be insane to launch a chemical attack while his forces are winning on almost all fronts. He may be a brutal dictator but certainly not mad. I am uncomfortable with the idea that we are expanding into another war zone under false pretenses. Also my apology for misspelling Mr. Hersh last name in my earlier post. Juan, thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion on your blog. Enjoy your perspective on all topics.

        • Assad would not be insane to launch chem attacks. He has been doing small ones here an there all along when his troops got in trouble. It is strategic and makes perfect sense (however morally vile and illegal it is) for a small army trying to level the playing field. Saddam did it at the Iranian front. Also in that war, there were regime apologists who tried to blame Iran itself, which is ridiculous. I’m not saying you are an apologist; but there are Baath apologists being paid to muddy the waters and you are falling for fake news. All of the chem attacks in Syria have occurred in rebel-held territory. Are they gassing themselves? The people giving them shelter? It is ridiculous. Plus they don’t have the technical expertise to do it, whereas the regime is known to retain stockpiles.

      • What exactly do you disagree with? Not challenging, and will accept a link if you have written a response already. I often see people say they believe Assad’s government is capable of this attack and are guilty, but disregard all questions that put the attack in question.
        1) The Attack was never investigated on the ground. There was no corroboration.
        2) Reports on the ground do not suggest Sarin use; there was a cloud observed, a smell reported, and rescuers could be seen operating without required protective gear, all of which points to it not being Sarin.
        3) According to Reuters, Russia had informed the United States in advance that there would be a bombing in this town.
        4) It’s not a practical use of the weapon, to small an attack over to wide an area to be really effective.
        5) A United Nations team had certified that the Assad regime had surrendered all chemical weapons.

        I also challenge the assertion that the Assad regime has been performing small attacks. They have been accused of performing small attacks using chlorine, but nothing has been proved, and again most of the accusations never made any sense. The public was just led to believe that Syrians are evil, and so would use a very ineffective weapon, that would cause more international condemnation than any tactical gain could hope to recoup.

        So, I’m wondering why you believe the Assad regime would make such an obvious strategic blunder for little to no tactical gain?

        • It’s strange Richard. We are supposed to just believe Professor Cole about these gas attacks. The American national security institutions have done nothing but prevaricate since at least the Bush years (I didn’t follow the foreign policy of the Clinton presidency as closely as the Bush one, the Reagan administration was equally as rotten at its core as Bush II). I don’t see any reason we should accept them at their word now, particularly when it goes against all good sense. Opthalmologists (Bassad al-Assad’s chosen profession, he moved to politics only after the death of his brother) with nice Western wives are not generally inclined to rash steps or particular cruelty.

          From what I can tell, the worst thing Bashar al-Assad did in his life was to allow the CIA to set up dark sites in Syria at the time of the second Iraq war. Current American treatment is a peculiar way to pay back your friends.

          The only logical explanation is that Israel is driving the Syria policy, as Israel has publicly announced several times that their principal interest in Syria is extending the civil war as long as possible (2013) and that Israel has been providing medical services and material support to ISIL in Syria.

          What is very curious about Professor Cole’s antipathy for Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government is that he is usually one of the most balanced commentators in the American blogosphere on the Israel-Palestinian issue.

        • “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”
          ― Mark Twain,

        • I’m not sure which gas attack you are referring to, but the original one was extensively investigated and Human Rights Watch had people there on the ground within a day or two. Here’s a report that summarizes the UN to

      • Sy Hersh isn’t the only one to challenge the assertion that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have raised serious questions about the US narrative. As far as a weak army leveling the playing field, the alleged attack in April that led to Trump’s Cruise missile attack made neither strategic nor tactical sense for the Syrian army. But as a false flag it made eminent sense.

    • The American govt. Has 3 separate and distinct power centers. The WH, the Dept formerly known as State ( aka the International Chamber of Commerce), and the MIC. They do speak as one voice, but 3.

  8. The provenance of the warning about an imminent Syria gas attack is obviously shady. Supposedly it came from within the White House. That suggests neo-fascist Sebastian Gorka, perhaps aided by crackpot neocon ideologue Ezra Cohen-Watnick.

    (Remember when Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith were ‘stovepiping’ bogus WMD tales to justify the invasion of Iraq?)

  9. “As for the substance, it is true that the Syrian Arab Army sometimes uses chemical weapons on the battlefield. As I understand it, many units of the army have chem auxiliaries for those instances where they might be overrun by the enemy.” I thought I had faithfully read all your posts for the last 2 years, I do not remember the source for the existence of these “Chem auxiliaries”, any photos, references? Wikipedia says Al Nursa”In December 2012, the chemical plant SYSACCO 29 kilometers (18 mi) east of Aleppo was taken by rebel fighters from the Al-Nusra Front. The factory produces chlorine among other chemicals.[11] On 5 November 2014, the Syrian UN-ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, said “terrorist organizations stole about 200 tons of [chlorine gas] from” the factory.

      • Actually no, the small attacks since 2013 were all chlorine. The only time Sarin was suggested as a weapon was the 2013 attack, which again had many more questions than people want to answer.
        Like, why would Syrian forces use Chemical weapons on a strategically unimportant neighborhood, just walking distance from where Chemical Weapons inspectors were staying, having just arrived in the country? Why were rescuers and doctors seen in the videos not affected by the residual of the Sarin gas, considering they were not using protective gear?
        Why according to MI-5 analysis of the samples, did the substance not match known Syrian Chemical stores? Why did an MIT study show that the tubes recovered could not have delivered the payload the distance the US government accused?

        • Questioning this is not like drinking JFK conspiracy kool-aid. The many details support Hersch’s version.

          There are two scenarios to weigh: what happened in Syria and what then happened in Washington.

          Whatever else Asad may have done helps establish his own pattern of behavior, but it doesn’t seem ton fit the circumstances of this case.

      • Gareth Porter in his groundbreaking report showed that the Turkish intelligence provided training and assistance to Nusra in 2013 chemical attack.

        • Yes, the initial US response to the earlier episode also stunk.

          What I’ve noticed is how hamstrung US politicians are by the emotional PR optics of such weapons.

          It would be easy, and irresistible, not to try a false-flag with a target so big, powerful, and demonstrably gullible.

          Obama may have even suspected something amiss. His red line “promise”, was merely that such an attack would “change the calculus”, not that it’d trigger any particular action. He hardly hesitated to grab for that Russian lifeline. Later, note how he described that act of resisting political pressure as one of his proudest moments.

          Trump’s knee, in this case was clearly flailing. We need to expect more fishy “provocations” along these lines.

  10. In Syria the US is losing a war(again), this time to Iran (again), therefore the panic to do something with bombs and rockets on innocents. The neocon press loved the last performance and would do so again.

  11. “Also in that war, there were regime apologists who tried to blame Iran itself, which is ridiculous.”

    Yep, apologists like . . . the U.S. State Department, the CIA and the DIA, because of course Saddam was our boy back then and Iran was doubleplusungood.

    The U.S. intelligence community will inevitably blame chemical attacks on whomever the current official enemy happens to be.

    If their bosses wanted to blame the Pygmies of central Africa I’m sure they could whip something up.

    Not that I expect this comment to be published since the intel community is anti-Trump and therefore now can do no wrong . . .

  12. Mr. Cole, what strategic necessity are you currently referring to that the Syrian government would use gas? They are making steady progress. Have been for a while. And on what basis do you assert al nusra doesn’t have Chem capability? My understanding was that in 2013 dozens of CIA analysts were in active revolt and would not sign onto an intelligence estimate that claimed, along with kerry, just that. These analysts knew the administrations claims that only the Syrian government was capable of this were false and that al nusra and other groups had, and had probably used chemical weapons already. The UN had also stated before the 2013 ghouta attack that they believed a precious small attack was rebels.

  13. I am ignorant of much of the history of this area but long ago came to believe that nothing in this area of the world is a national security issue for the U.S. So tell me why we need to be there.

  14. Petroleum, Red Sea, Suez

    1. Syria is not at the center of the main petroleum fields (Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia).
    2. Syria has no access or border to the Red Sea.
    3. This is doubly true of Suez.

    I’m also curious about why the US requires a change of government (the current government is freely elected so the catchphrase of “regime change” does not apply) in Syria.

    B at has published some interesting ruminations on Trump’s strange gas attack warning: White House Says It Will Fake “Chemical Weapon Attack” In Syria.

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