Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vladimir Putin claims that there will be false flag chemical attacks in Syria.

Vladimir Putin during a meeting with Italian Prime Minster Sergio Mattarella. Reuters. 

 Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that there will be "false flag" chemical attacks in Syria which will lead to more strikes. Reuters. He claimed that these gas attacks would be targeted on Damascus and would allow the US to launch more airstrikes. No proof was offered for Putin's claims and he also implied that the original chemical weapons attack was not caused by Bashar al-Assad's forces. The accusation came hours before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was due to arrive in Russia to discuss Syria with Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov.

My Comment:
My thinking on the Khan Shaykhum chemical attack has evolved. When I first heard about the story I thought about the possibilities of who was responsible. I thought there were four separate possibilities. First, and the one pushed by the US government and media, is that the attack was a deliberate attack by Assad or his underlings. Second, and the one pushed by Putin and the Assad government was that the attack was an accidental strike on a al-Nusra or other rebel group's stockpile of chemical weapons captured during the war. Third, the attack was conducted by Syria, but was an accident where the ground crew loaded the wrong weapon on the attack jet. Finally, there is the false flag possibility where someone on the ground faked the attack in order to ratchet up tensions. 

When I first heard the story I though that the probability of each possibility broke down this way. Accidental strike on captured weapons stockpiles 50%, false flag 25% accidental strike by the Syrian government 15% and a deliberate strike 10%. I generally didn't believe that Assad would ever be so stupid to pull off a chemical weapons strike just days after President Trump said that regime change wasn't a priority anymore. It made zero sense to me that he would shoot himself in the foot like that. 

Today, I think the possibilities break down like this. A deliberate attack 60%, an accidental strike at 30%, an accidental strike on captured weapons at 9% and a false flag at >1%.  

So what has changed? Well for one thing I realized that if the reports on the agent being Sarin are true, and I have little reason to doubt it at this point, than it would be extremely unlikely that a stockpile of Sarin would kill people if hit. Sarin is usually stored as two precursor chemicals until ready for use because Sarin has a very short shelf life. So unless Syria hit the chemical weapons right as al-Nusra or whoever was planning a strike the same day as the bombing, it seems incredibly unlikely. 

I also find the idea of this being a false flag are fairly far fetched right now. Largely because nobody who had anything to gain from a false flag gained nothing after this attack. President Trump didn't order an invasion of Syria and today said that he will not be invading Syria so if the plan was to fake a chemical weapons attack to justify a war in Syria, it seems to have failed completely. Also, only a few players have access to Sarin. Both the US and Russia have Sarin, but neither have chemical weapons in large numbers. The rest of the countries with Sarin either have no reason to attack Syria, like North Korea, or haven't declared a chemical weapons program. 

I do think that the accidental attack theory has a lot of merit. I don't think it is the most likely theory as the evidence for this being a deliberate attack is growing stronger, but I do think it is very possible that someone just made a horrible mistake. Given how extensive the Syrian chemical weapons program was, I think it is very possible that someone on the ground just loaded the wrong kind of bomb. 

But I do think the most likely possibility now is that Assad, or one of his generals, was the one responsible for this attack. Why? Well I don't think anyone predicted that Trump would care about a chemical weapons attack. I know I sure didn't think he would. Though Assad is largely winning the war, using chemical weapons would probably shorten it and there was the tactical situation on the ground where rebels were advancing to a different airport and staging in Khan Shaykhum. I still think that Assad's choice here was barely rational, but at least I can kind of understand why he might choose to do so. 

All that being said, I don't give Putin's words here much credence. Why? Well if Donald Trump really wanted to invade Syria, he could have done it already. Instead he chose a limited option and gave the Russians a heads up in an attempt to keep casualties at a minimum. Why on Earth would Trump or whoever fake a chemical weapons attack if their only goal was to blow up a single airfield? It doesn't make any sense. 

And further false flags wouldn't make any sense either. Again, if Trump wanted to invade Syria, he wouldn't need a phony attack to do so. If we have learned anything about Trump it is this. He does what he wants and if he wanted to invade Syria he would be doing it right now. Another chemical weapons attack would help his case, but I don't think he cares about the public relations issue. Plus Trump has more on his plate then Syria. He's focusing on domestic issues and seems to be more concerned with North Korea's nuclear weapons program. 

Indeed, it almost seems like Putin is trying to plant the idea of false flags into the wider population so if Assad does do another chemical weapons attack, people will question it. Putin knows if enough people question the idea of chemical weapons attacks, then Assad can do as many as he wants. I doubt that Assad would do it again after his airfield was wrecked and he lost a lot of airplanes, but if does choose to do it, he will have a ready made excuse...

So after my views have changed, do I now support the attack on Syria? Not really. Despite the fact that I think that it's more likely than not that Assad did this attack, I still don't support attacking him or his regime. Even though this was a very limited strike, it still helps those who are opposed to Assad. Since the vast majority of rebels are Islamist radicals at the very least, with al-Nusra and ISIS being the strongest anti-Assad forces left. 

Though using chemical weapons on civilians is horrible, I don't think it even approaches the level of what ISIS and al-Nusra have done. I am in no way defending Assad's actions here, but there is zero question in my mind that Assad is the lesser evil and it isn't even a contest. I would much rather have a secular, yet brutal, dictator in charge of Syria compared to ISIS or al-Nusra being in charge. 

And I really don't like higher tensions with Vladimir Putin. Though he seems to be acting extremely foolishly by backing Assad here, I still would rather have Russia as a friend rather than an enemy. I have never understood why we still had to hate Russia after they gave up communism. Yes, they have done some bad things, but so have we and both of us would be better off, and our common enemies would be worse off, if we worked together for our common interests... 

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