Wag The Dog — How Al Qaeda Played Donald Trump And The American Media
...Once upon a time, Donald J. Trump, the New York City businessman-turned-president, berated then-President Barack Obama back in September 2013 about the fallacy of an American military strike against Syria. At that time, the United States was considering the use of force against Syria in response to allegations (since largely disproven) that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Trump, via tweet, declared “to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria – if you do many very bad things will happen & from that fight the U.S. gets nothing!”
...This new policy direction lasted barely five days. Sometime in the early afternoon of April 4, 2017, troubling images and video clips began to be transmitted out of the Syrian province of Idlib by anti-government activists, including members of the so-called “White Helmets,” a volunteer rescue team whose work was captured in an eponymously-named Academy Award-winning documentary film. These images showed victims in various stages of symptomatic distress, including death, from what the activists said was exposure to chemical weapons dropped by the Syrian air force on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that very morning.
Images of these tragic deaths were immediately broadcast on American media outlets, with pundits decrying the horrific and heinous nature of the chemical attack, which was nearly unanimously attributed to the Syrian government, even though the only evidence provided was the imagery and testimony of the anti-Assad activists who, just days before, were decrying the shift in American policy regarding regime change in Syria.
...Such a reversal in policy fundamentals and direction in such a short period of time is stunning; Donald Trump didn’t simply deviate slightly off course, but rather did a complete 180-degree turn. The previous policy of avoiding entanglement in the internal affairs of Syria in favor of defeating ISIS and improving relations with Russia had been replaced by a fervent embrace of regime change, direct military engagement with the Syrian armed forces, and a confrontational stance vis-à-vis the Russian military presence in Syria.
Normally, such major policy change could only be explained by a new reality driven by verifiable facts. The alleged chemical weapons attack against Khan Sheikhoun was not a new reality; chemical attacks had been occurring inside Syria on a regular basis, despite the international effort to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons capability undertaken in 2013 that played a central role in forestalling American military action at that time. 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.
...A critical piece of information that has largely escaped the reporting in the mainstream media is that Khan Sheikhoun is ground zero for the Islamic jihadists who have been at the center of the anti-Assad movement in Syria since 2011. Up until February 2017, Khan Sheikhoun was occupied by a pro-ISIS group known as Liwa al-Aqsa that was engaged in an oftentimes-violent struggle with its competitor organization, Al Nusra Front (which later morphed into Tahrir al-Sham, but under any name functioning as Al Qaeda’s arm in Syria) for resources and political influence among the local population.
...In Aleppo, the Russians discovered crude weapons production laboratories that filled mortar shells and landmines with a mix of chlorine gas and white phosphorus; after a thorough forensic investigation was conducted by military specialists, the Russians turned over samples of these weapons, together with soil samples from areas struck by weapons produced in these laboratories, to investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for further evaluation.
Al Nusra has a long history of manufacturing and employing crude chemical weapons; the 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta made use of low-grade Sarin nerve agent locally synthesized, while attacks in and around Aleppo in 2016 made use of a chlorine/white phosphorous blend. If the Russians are correct, and the building bombed in Khan Sheikhoun on the morning of April 4, 2017 was producing and/or storing chemical weapons, the probability that viable agent and other toxic contaminants were dispersed into the surrounding neighborhood, and further disseminated by the prevailing wind, is high.
The counter-narrative offered by the Russians and Syrians, however, has been minimized, mocked and ignored by both the American media and the Trump administration. So, too, has the very illogic of the premise being put forward to answer the question of why President Assad would risk everything by using chemical weapons against a target of zero military value, at a time when the strategic balance of power had shifted strongly in his favor. Likewise, why would Russia, which had invested considerable political capital in the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons capability after 2013, stand by idly while the Syrian air force carried out such an attack, especially when their was such a heavy Russian military presence at the base in question at the time of the attack?
Such analysis seems beyond the scope and comprehension of the American fourth estate. Instead, media outlets like CNN embrace at face value anything they are told by official American sources, including a particularly preposterous insinuation that Russia actually colluded in the chemical weapons attack; the aforementioned presence of Russian officers at Al Shayrat air base has been cited as evidence that Russia had to have known about Syria’s chemical warfare capability, and yet did nothing to prevent the attack.
To sustain this illogic, the American public and decision-makers make use of a sophisticated propaganda campaign involving video images and narratives provided by forces opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, including organizations like the “White Helmets,” the Syrian-American Medical Society, the Aleppo Media Center, which have a history of providing slanted information designed to promote an anti-Assad message.
...Even slick media training, however, cannot gloss over basic factual inconsistencies. Early on, the anti-Assad opposition media outlets were labeling the Khan Sheikhoun incident as a “Sarin nerve agent” attack; one doctor affiliated with Al Qaeda sent out images and commentary via social media that documented symptoms, such as dilated pupils, that he diagnosed as stemming from exposure to Sarin nerve agent. Sarin, however, is an odorless, colorless material, dispersed as either a liquid or vapor; eyewitnesses speak of a “pungent odor” and “blue-yellow” clouds, more indicative of chlorine gas.
And while American media outlets, such as CNN, have spoken of munitions “filled to the brim” with Sarin nerve agent being used at Khan Sheikhoun, there is simply no evidence cited by any source that can sustain such an account. Heartbreaking images of victims being treated by “White Helmet” rescuers have been cited as proof of Sarin-like symptoms, the medical viability of these images is in question; there are no images taken of victims at the scene of the attack. Instead, the video provided by the “White Helmets” is of decontamination and treatment carried out at a “White Helmet” base after the victims, either dead or injured, were transported there.
The lack of viable protective clothing worn by the “White Helmet” personnel while handling victims is another indication that the chemical in question was not military grade Sarin; if it were, the rescuers would themselves have become victims (some accounts speak of just this phenomena, but this occurred at the site of the attack, where the rescuers were overcome by a “pungent smelling” chemical – again, Sarin is odorless.)
...Moreover, if Al Nusra was replicating the type of low-grade Sarin it employed at Ghouta in 2013 at Khan Sheikhoun, it is highly likely that some of the victims in question would exhibit Sarin-like symptoms. Blood samples taken from the victims could provide a more precise readout of the specific chemical exposure involved; such samples have allegedly been collected by Al Nusra-affiliated personnel, and turned over to international investigators (the notion that any serious investigatory body would allow Al Nusra to provide forensic evidence in support of an investigation where it is one of only two potential culprits is mindboggling, but that is precisely what has happened). But the Trump administration chose to act before these samples could be processed, perhaps afraid that their results would not sustain the underlying allegation of the employment of Sarin by the Syrian air force.
Mainstream American media outlets have willingly and openly embraced a narrative provided by Al Qaeda affiliates whose record of using chemical weapons in Syria and distorting and manufacturing “evidence” to promote anti-Assad policies in the west, including regime change, is well documented. These outlets have made a deliberate decision to endorse the view of Al Qaeda over a narrative provided by Russian and Syrian government authorities without any effort to fact check either position. These actions, however, do not seem to shock the conscience of the American public; when it comes to Syria, the mainstream American media and its audience has long ago ceded the narrative to Al Qaeda and other Islamist anti-regime elements.
The real culprits here are the Trump administration, and President Trump himself. The president’s record of placing more weight on what he sees on television than the intelligence briefings he may or may not be getting, and his lack of intellectual curiosity and unfamiliarity with the nuances and complexities of both foreign and national security policy, created the conditions where the imagery of the Khan Sheikhoun victims that had been disseminated by pro-Al Nusra (i.e., Al Qaeda) outlets could influence critical life-or-death decisions.
That President Trump could be susceptible to such obvious manipulation is not surprising, given his predilection for counter-punching on Twitter for any perceived slight; that his national security team allowed him to be manipulated thus, and did nothing to sway Trump’s opinion or forestall action pending a thorough review of the facts, is scandalous. History will show that Donald Trump, his advisors and the American media were little more than willing dupes for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, whose manipulation of the Syrian narrative resulted in a major policy shift that furthers their objectives.