203: Serious about Syrians

Chris Spangle, Greg Lenz, Tad Western, and Chris Mayo break down the Syrian and Afghanistan bombings. The breakdown of the conflicts begin around minute 35.

 

  • We’re not going into Syria,” he told me yesterday in an exclusive interview. “Our policy is the same — it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.”
  • “Our big mission is getting rid of ISIS,” Trump said. “That’s where it’s always been. But when you see kids choking to death, you watch their lungs burning out, we had to hit him and hit him hard.”
  • “We’re not exactly on the same wavelength with Russia, to put it mildly,” Trump answered. “Putin must see what a barbarian this guy is, and it’s a very bad symbol for Russia with this guy gassing children and using barrel bombs.”

 

  • America’s Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who has increasingly become the Trump administration’s chief spokesperson on Syria, has spelled out those goals most clearly:
  • ‘Defeating Islamic State, pushing Iranian influence out of Syria, and the ousting of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’ are the chief priorities for Washington. Haley continued by stating that ‘there’s not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.’
  • US is struggling to achieve the goal of decimating ISIS capabilities and is hugely dependent upon allies such as the Syrian Kurds and the Turks—who consider each other inveterate enemies—to accomplish the job.
  • It’s clear that the United States needs both Assad, and even more, Russia to defeat ISIS. Russia is far more apprehensive of Sunni jihadism than the United States given acts of terrorism committed by ISIS-inspired Russian citizens and groups within Russia itself. The latest bombing in St. Petersburg is but one indication of the severe challenge Russia faces from local extremists.
  • Iran is the other primary supporter of the Assad regime and has committed its own troops as well as Iranian-supported Hizbullah fighters in defense of the Syrian government. Iran is also the closest ally of the Shia-dominated Iraqi regime fighting ISIS on its own territory. Iran fervently opposes ISIS for both sectarian and geopolitical reasons.
  • ISIS ideology, which considers the Shia not only heretics but beyond the Islamic pale, is an offshoot of Saudi wahhabism and Saudi Arabia is the principal geopolitical rival of Iran in the Middle East. Consequently, Iran’s motivations for opposing ISIS exceed that of both Russia and the United States. It is, therefore, a logical ally of the United States in its fight against ISIS.
  • Therefore, Haley’s statement that pushing Iranian influence out of Syria and defeating the ISIS at the same time is a contradiction in terms. In fact, a sober assessment of American goals in the Middle East, especially with regard to Syria, would demonstrate that Iran is a potential ally of the United States in the region rather than its inveterate enemy. Clubbing it together with ISIS shows not merely a confusion of thinking but a total inability on the part of Washington to clearly formulate its Syrian policy.

 

  • Why Vladimir Putin may be in too deep in Syria to ditch Assad:There is little reason to think the Wednesday summit will lead to an escalation in tensions. On the contrary, there are many reasons to believe posturing will soon give way to business as usual. The depth of ties between Putin and Trump and their potential to influence global problems remain unknown, and are factors that the region’s leaders believe will stop the US launching a second strike or trying to broker a political solution in Syria.

    In the absence of Trump’s predecessor, who largely disengaged from conflicts in the Middle East, Putin has manoeuvred Russia into a formidable position in the geopolitical space of the region. Assad is indebted to him, for the military support that he has brought to the war, which along with Iranian backing has ushered the Syrian leader closer to a military victory. Turkey has also allied with Moscow. The US has little room to move, even if Trump wanted it.

    While Putin does not have things his own way in Syria, Assad remains too valuable to discard. If Tillerson is planning to appeal to Russia’s “sense of decency”, it is unlikely to work on a leader who has invested not only enormous amounts of blood and treasure in Syria, but increasingly the prestige of his presidency. Placing faith in either Putin or Trump as champions of humanity is seen by many in Syria as a losing bet.”

 

  • Since the bloodless coup, in 1970, that brought the family to power, the Assad dynasty—the founding father, Hafez, and his heir and second son, Bashar.
  • Syria had been weak and unstable after independence from France, in 1946. It witnessed twenty coups in twenty-one years. Assad’s was the last, in 1970. It was, initially, applauded. The Times reported, “Admirers of General Assad welcome his seizure of power within the ruling Baath Party as the predictable victory of pragmatism over ideology.” But, to strengthen the Syrian state and turn it into a regional power.
  • Hafez Assad’s intention was that his oldest son, Basil, would assume power, but he had died in a car accident. Bashar, who had trained as an ophthalmologist, took his place. Father and son represented one family, but the elder Assad was more attuned to the real world and realpolitik, according to U.S. envoys who knew him.
  • The ninth of eleven children, Hafez al-Assad came from a poor and tough mountain tribe. He was the first in his family to attend high school. He went to Aleppo—a city his son would later destroy—to attend the Air Force Academy. By the age of thirty-five, he was the minister of defense. By forty, through his own guile, he was the President.
  • Bashar was brought up in Presidential palaces, in a cosmopolitan capital, pampered by privilege, and given the reins of power. Bashar was initially portrayed as a reformer, largely due to his outreach to Syrian youth, a stylish wife who had been an investment banker at JPMorgan, and his interest in the Internet and twenty-first-century technology.
  • Why Assad Used Chemical Weapons: When popular protests first swept the Arab world in early 2011, Assad was confident that he had nothing to fear because he continued his father’s foreign policy legacy – he did not depend on American military and political support like the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen. Instead, Assad and his allies formed the “axis of resistance” – Iran, Syria and the Islamist militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
  • The Syrian regime does not make compromises under pressure, whether external or internal, and this principle had served it well in times of crisis. Assad also saw the initial response to popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and he likely concluded that by not cracking down forcefully, those rulers appeared weak and encouraged protesters to broaden their demands. So when his own people revolted, Assad decided to hunker down and crush the uprising.
  • At the start of the rebellion in 2011, Assad used Islamic militants to destabilize his opponents, as he had done nearly a decade earlier in Iraq. The Syrian regime released hundreds of al Qaeda activists and other militants from its prisons, and they went on to become leaders of Islamic State and other jihadist groups.

 

 

  • There are actually two ISIS manifestations:

 

  • Virtual ISIS: It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.
  • Challenge No. 1: Not only will virtual ISIS, which has nodes all over the world, not go away even if territorial ISIS is defeated, I believe virtual ISIS will become yet more virulent to disguise the fact that it has lost the territorial caliphate to its archenemies: Shiite Iran, Hezbollah, pro-Shiite militias in Iraq, the pro-Shiite Assad regime in Damascus and Russia, not to mention America.
  • Territorial ISIS: It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.
  • Challenge No. 2: America’s goal in Syria is to create enough pressure on Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah so they will negotiate a power-sharing accord with moderate Sunni Muslims that would also ease Assad out of power. One way to do that would be for NATO to create a no-fly safe zone around Idlib Province, where many of the anti-Assad rebels have gathered and where Assad recently dropped his poison gas on civilians. But Congress and the U.S. public are clearly wary of that.
  • We could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad. After all, they’re the ones overextended in Syria, not us. Make them fight a two-front war — the moderate rebels on one side and ISIS on the other. If we defeat territorial ISIS in Syria now, we will only reduce the pressure on Assad, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah and enable them to devote all their resources to crushing the last moderate rebels in Idlib, not sharing power with them.
  • This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia.

 

Geographical Map and Controlled Regions of Syria:

Impact point of alleged Sarin gas bomb:

Warehouse that was hit in the strike:

Video of attack victims

Details of Trump’s Response: U.S. Navy destroyers launched 59 advanced Block IV Tomahawk cruise missiles (at a cost of some $1.41 million each), targeting aircraft, hardened shelters, fuel storage, munitions supply, air defense and communications facilities at the Al Shayrat air base, located in central Syria.  Al Shayrat was home to two squadrons of Russian-made SU-22 fighter-bombers operated by the Syrian air force, one of which was tracked by American radar as taking off from Al Sharyat on the morning of April 4, 2017, and was overhead Khan Sheikhoun around the time the alleged chemical attack occurred.

Summary: The Trump administration’s decision to respond to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s April 4, 2017 attack on his own citizens in the town of Khan Sheikun, which is in the rebel controlled Idlib Province of Syria.

President Trump’s decision was based on the violation of its binding agreement to the Chemical Weapons Convention (which was created and ratified only after Assad deployed Sarin gas on his own citizens previously in 2013 resulting in the death of 1400), as well as humanitarian grounds.

One of the bombs dropped in the strike is alleged to have contained a chemical agent, Sarin gas, violating the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention agreement. To properly understand the agreement from a political perspective, the Convention was offered so that rather than the US pursuing regime change against President Assad, he would agree to turn over his entire chemical weapon stock, cease production of chemical weapons at unknown facilities, and the Russian government would be responsible for monitoring and holding the turned over chemical weapons.

Russia and Syria have claimed the sarin came from rebel stockpiles hit accidentally by government bombs, an argument dismissed by chemical weapons experts and inconsistent with evidence at the site of the attack.

The Facts in support of False Flag: 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.

Moreover, there exists a mixed provenance when it comes to chemical weapons usage inside Syria that would seem to foreclose any knee-jerk reaction that placed the blame for what happened at Khan Sheikhoun solely on the Syrian government void of any official investigation. Yet this is precisely what occurred.  Some sort of chemical event took place in Khan Sheikhoun; what is very much in question is who is responsible for the release of the chemicals that caused the deaths of so many civilians.

No one disputes the fact that a Syrian air force SU-22 fighter-bomber conducted a bombing mission against a target in Khan Sheikhoun on the morning of April 4, 2017. The anti-regime activists in Khan Sheikhoun, however, have painted a narrative that has the Syrian air force dropping chemical bombs on a sleeping civilian population.

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.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has claimed that Liwa al-Aqsa was using facilities in and around Khan Sheikhoun to manufacture crude chemical shells and landmines intended for ISIS forces fighting in Iraq. According to the Russians the Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons facility was mirrored on similar sites uncovered by Russian and Syrian forces following the reoccupation of rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo.

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.

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?

The person who might get the last laugh is President Assad himself. While the Pentagon has claimed that it significantly degraded the Al Shayrat air base, with 58 of 59 cruise missile hitting their targets, Russia has stated that only 23 cruise missiles impacted the facility, and these did only limited damage. The runway was undamaged; indeed, in the afternoon of April 7, 2017, a Syrian air force fighter-bomber took off from Al Shayrat, flew to Idlib Province, where it attacked Al Nusra positions near Khan Sheikhoun. (Source)

There are no images taken of victims at the scene of the attack.

Ex-CIA officer Philip Giraldi insists that the intelligence community and military personnel know that the intel shows that this was not an Assad attack.  Specifically, Giraldi says his sources on the ground in Middle East – active duty U.S. military and intelligence stationed in the Middle East, intimately familiar with facts – say that the chemical weapons claim is a sham.

Giraldi says that his sources are 100% certain the the Syrian air force hit a warehouse of rebels connected with Al Qaeda which were storing chemicals. He says that people in the American military and intelligence are “freaking out” about this, because Trump has completely misrepresented the facts regarding what happened.

Syria’s use of sarin gas this week echoes another in 2013, when Assad murdered more than 1,400 residents of a Damascus suburb with the same nerve agent. In response to that attack, the international community faced a choice:

  • Direct military intervention
  • Wringing a promise out of Assad that he would destroy any remaining chemical stockpiles. Syria ultimately signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention, and voluntarily opened up its chemical weapons program to inspectors, who seized and destroyed 1,300 metric tons of banned material.

Sarin, specifically, falls under the “nerve agent” category, meaning it disrupts the communication between a body’s nervous system and its muscles. “It creates paralysis by muscle spasm, and an inability to control muscles—particularly the muscles of breathing. That’s typically why people succumb to it,” says Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. A victim’s diaphragm contracts, and never recovers.

Two other attributes compound sarin’s insidiousness:

  • First, it’s not especially hard to produce, in terms of both resources and expertise. “A competent chemist could make it, and possibly very quickly, in a matter of days,” says John Gilbert, a senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, who spent much of his Air Force career assessing countries’ WMD capabilities.
  • Second, producing sarin doesn’t require any kind of massive facility; a roughly 200 square foot room would do. Attackers also don’t require much of it to do serious damage. Gilbert estimates that the Khan Sheikun devastation came from roughly 20 liters of sarin. (Remember: At one point Syria had stockpiled nearly 1,300 tons of banned chemical substances.)

While Sarin garners most of the attention, the Assad regime has also made plentiful use of chlorine gas, a choking agent that can cause just as much devastation.

Unlike sarin, though, it’s perfectly legal for companies to stockpile as much of it as they like. “The difficulty with chlorine is that because it has primarily legitimate uses, and it’s ubiquitous, and it’s easier to make, it’s not possible to outlaw it.

Syrian Civil War

How did it start?

 

  • Arab Spring

What are they fighting over?

 

  • Muslim conflict element: Sunni vs. Shia

 

  • Geopolitical element: What stands to be gained by picking a side or getting involved at all?

Who are the important actors?

 

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
  • Shia, Alawite sect (now a minority in Syria)
  • Part of a branch of Islam, Alawi Islam, centered in Syria, who follow the Twelver school of Shia Islam but with syncretistic elements. Alawites revere Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib), and the name “Alawi” means followers of Ali.
  • Alawites represent 11 percent of the Syrian population and are a significant minority in Turkey and northern Lebanon.
  • His father’s coup: Corrective Revolution, was a political movement in Syria, initiated by a coup d’état, led by General Hafez al-Assad on 13 November 1970
  • In 1966, Assad participated in a second coup, which toppled the traditional leaders of the Ba’ath Party, and brought a radical military faction headed by Salah Jadid to power. Assad was appointed defense minister by the new government. In 1970 Assad seized power by toppling Jadid, and appointed himself the undisputed leader of Syria in the period 1970–71.
  • Hafez al-Assad de-radicalized the Ba’ath government when he took power, by giving more space to private property and strengthening the country’s foreign relations with countries which his predecessor had deemed reactionary.
  • He sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in turn for support against Israel. While he had forsaken pan-Arabism—or at least the pan-Arab concept of unifying the Arab world into one Arab nation—he did seek to make Syria the defender of Arab interest against Israel.
  • When he took power, Assad instituted one-man rule and organized state services into sectarian lines (the Sunnis becoming the formal heads of political institutions, while the Alawites were given control over the military, intelligence, and security apparatuses). The formerly collegial powers of Ba’athist decision-making were curtailed, and were transferred to the Syrian presidency.
  • The Syrian government ceased to be a one-party system in the normal sense of the word, and was turned into a one-party state with a strong presidency. To maintain this system, a massive cult of personality centered on Assad and his family was created.
  • Alawites initially opposed a united Syrian state (since they thought their status as a religious minority would endanger them) and Hafez’s father shared this belief. As the French left Syria, many Syrians mistrusted Alawites because of their alignment with France. Hafez left his Alawite village, beginning his education at age nine in Sunni-dominated Latakia.
  • He was the first in his family to attend high school, but in Latakia Assad faced Sunni anti-Alawite bias. He was an excellent student, winning several prizes at about age 14. Assad lived in a poor, predominantly Alawite part of Latakia;  to fit in, he approached political parties that welcomed Alawites.

 

  • Al-Assad in Arabic means “the Lion”

 

  • In December 2000, Assad married Asma al-Assad (née Akhras), a British citizen of Syrian origin, from Acton, London. In 2001, Asma gave birth to their first child, a son named Hafez after the child’s grandfather Hafez al-Assad. Their daughter Zein was born in 2003, followed by their second son Karim in 2004.

 

  • Asma al-Assad: Assad graduated from King’s College London in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and French literature. She had a career in investment banking and was set to begin an MBA at Harvard University when she married Bashar al-Assad in December 2000.
  • She started work as an economics analyst at Deutsche Bank Group in the hedge fund management division with clients in Europe and East Asia.
  • In 1998, she joined the investment banking division of J.P. Morgan where she worked on a team that specialized in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies
  • She quit her investment banking job following the wedding and remained in Syria.

 

  • A Rose in the Desert: In February 2011, Vogue published “A Rose in the Desert,” a flattering profile of Assad by veteran fashion writer Joan Juliet Buck. The article was later removed from Vogue’s website without editorial comment that spring. Responding to media inquiries about the disappearance of Assad’s profile, Vogue’s editor stated that “as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that [Syria’s] priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue”.
  • Assad graduated from the medical school of Damascus University in 1988, and started to work as a doctor in the Syrian Army.
  • Four years later, he attended postgraduate studies at the Western Eye Hospital in London, specialising in ophthalmology. In 1994, after his elder brother Bassel died in a car crash, Bashar was recalled to Syria to take over Bassel’s role as heir apparent.
  • He entered the military academy, taking charge of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in 1998.
  • On 10 July 2000, Assad was elected as President, succeeding his father, who died in office a month prior. In the 2000 and subsequent 2007 election, he received 99.7% and 97.6% support, respectively, in referendums on his leadership.
  • Assad’s Goal:

 

  • Al Nusra Front, merged into Tahrir al-Sham which translates to: Organization for the Liberation of the Levant (Sunni, Al Qaeda affiliate led by al-Jowlani)

 

  • al-Jowlani:
  • Tahrir al-Sham’s leader, Abu Jaber, has Salafist jihadist beliefs. This caused him to be arrested several times by the Syrian government. He was imprisoned at the Sednaya Prison in 2005 and released among several jihadist prisoners in 2011 who would form several Salafist rebel groups during the Syrian Civil War. Abu Jaber has also professed a belief in “Popular Jihad”, a bottom-to-top approach in which jihadists would win the hearts and minds of the people, before setting out to establish jihadi governance, after receiving enough popular support, which is notably the opposite of ISIL’s “elite Jihad” top-to-bottom approach.

    Analysts have also reported that the group continues to maintain many of al-Nusra Front’s extreme al-Qaeda ideologies, which include Salafist jihadism and Wahhabism. It was also reported that a large portion of Tahrir al-Sham’s fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham still refused to disengage from al-Qaeda, and continued to hold a large sway over the group, despite the public re-branding of the group.
  • Tahrir al-Sham continues to harbor the former al-Nusra Front’s goal of turning Syria into an Islamic Emirate, run by al-Qaeda. If such a governing entity were declared, it would be similar to ISIL’s declaration of a Caliphate. The Combating Terrorism Center also reported that despite public statements by some of Tahrir al-Sham’s top figures, the group was still largely the same al-Qaeda-aligned group it was, back when it was known as al-Nusra
  • Islamic State (Sunni, lead by the Caliph Bakr al-Baghdadi)
  • al-Baghdadi:
  • Goals:
  • Financial Support:
  • Popularity and Area Controlled:

 

  • Free Syrian Army
  • Leader
  • Goals:
  • Financial Support:
  • Popularity and Area Controlled:

 

  • The Important Role Mercenaries Play
  • Leaders:
  • Goals:
  • Financial Support:
  • Popularity and Area Controlled:

Food for Thought

  • On April 1st, 2017, a doctor on the ground in Khan Sheikhoun, Dr. Shajul Islam, had received several shipments of gas masks in the days running up to the chemical incident

 

  • Daily Mail has reported that Dr. Shajul Islam was at one point sought by the British government in connection with the abduction of two journalists in Syria, and security services have stated that Islam and his brother may have had ties to ISIS executioner “Jihadi John.”

 

  • Dr Shajul Islam was alleged to have helped abduct two men in Syria in 2012. Shajul Islam denied any part in kidnap plot and his trial collapsed last year

 

  • His brother Razal, 21, is believed to have left Britain and fighting with ISIS
  • On April 3rd, 2017, an anti-Assad journalist tweeted that the next day he would be launching a media campaign to cover airstrikes on the Hama countryside, including the use of chemical weapons. It is not clear how the reporter was able to know that chemical weapons would be used an entire day before the attacks occurred:

Footage from the scene of the incident taken by the Syrian White Helmets appears to show that their operatives were not assisting victims in a manner that was consistent with established protocol on how to handle sarin saturated bodies.

Images appear to show that Syrian White Helmet operatives were handling purported sarin victims with their bare hands, rather than with gloves, which is necessary to prevent the rescuer being injured by the chemical themselves. They also appear to be using simple dust masks, which are not suitable protection in the event of a sarin attack.

Al-Masdar News has also cited Twitter users who noted that photos of the Khan Sheikhoun attack appear to show storage facilities rather than a residential area and speculated that the White Helmets may have been using the location alongside rebel groups who were storing munitions in the area.

 

  • While the Syrian government surrendered their chemical arms stockpiles for destruction several years ago, evidence indicates that rebel groups in Syria have ramped up their own supplies of the deadly weapons systems and have not hesitated to deploy them in combat. On June 23rd, 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Syrian government had completed the removal of all chemical weapons from the country per and agreement they had reached with the United States. The handover was confirmed by the United Nations Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

 

  • The supplies for these weapons appear to come from multiple sources. Before they were handed over to the U.S. military, rebel groups such as ISIS were able to capture stockpiles of chemical weapons from Syrian army depots.
  • On July 9th, 2014, just weeks after the Syrian army’s handover, The Guardian reported that ISIS had captured a massive former Iraqi chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, confiscating over 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled with sarin. Research has also led to speculation that ISIS and other rebel groups may have been able to access materials for chemical weapons stored by Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
  • In November 2016, The New York Times acknowledged that ISIS had used chemical arms at least 52 times in Syria and Iraq.
  • ISIS is not the only rebel group to possess sarin and other kinds of chemical munitions in Syria however. Video obtained by Daily Mail shows that Syrian rebel groups in Libya have been experimenting with various kinds of chemical weapons for some years now.
  • In 2014, the United Nations acknowledged that “abandoned” sarin gas cylinders had been located in the city of Aleppo. On April 8th, 2016, Voice of America reported that jihadist group Jaysh al-Islam used chemical weapons in attacks against Kurdish troops in Aleppo.

 

  • The CEO of Al-Masdar News, Leith Abou Fadel, recently posted images on Twitter in April 2017 showing Saudi-made chlorine agents found in East Aleppo which were being used to create chemical bombs:  
  • The Syrian government has been making serious gains in the civil war, recapturing the city of Aleppo and pushing against rebel groups in many other parts of the country with the support of the Russian Federation. It is strategically counterintuitive to assume that Bashar al-Assad would engage in a chemical attack on Syrians just one week after figures in the American government expressed the opinion that they would be willing to allow him to remain in power.
  • Unless President Assad hid a chemical weapons production facility or inspectors missed a storage facility, the Syrian government no longer even possesses chemical weapons, as the United Nations and U.S. Department of State have already confirmed.

 

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense have stated that the release of any chemicals was a result of a Syrian government airstrike against rebel supply depots in the area where chemical arms were being produced.

3 Ways to View Trump’s Response

 

  • 1. A settled internal feud resulting in a shift towards Kushner and old guard hawks.
  • 2. The internal feud and removal of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council, is actually as the administration claims, overstated. Rather than an about face on his campaign messaging emphasizing a reduced willingness to involve America in Middle Eastern conflicts, President Trump was simply demonstrating the end of the proportional response tactics of the Obama administration. President Obama built a foreign policy doctrine on the premise of rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. This is was simply the first time the world has had a chance to witness the reversal, and there is little more to take away from President Trump’s decision, other than the sudden and abrupt shift that is a reversal of his predecessor.
  • 3. Madmen Theory: What if we are witnessing an administration intentionally script reality television style feuding and suspense to cultivate an air of unpredictability (Robert Greene’s 50 Laws of Power) through the use of administration officials whose messages are in intentionally in opposition to each other?

Why? To create the appearance uncertainty and chaos that is necessary to freeze global actors looking for an indication by President Trump on what type of foreign policy model he will employ.

  • President Nixon Madman Theory: The madman theory was a feature of Richard Nixon’s foreign policy. He and his administration tried to make the leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations think Nixon was irrational and volatile. According to the theory, those leaders would then avoid provoking the United States, fearing an unpredictable American response.

    Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, wrote that Nixon had confided to him:

“I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that,

“for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry—and he has his hand on. the nuclear button” and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

  • In October 1969, the Nixon administration indicated to the Soviet Union that “the madman was loose” when the United States military was ordered to full global war readiness alert (unbeknownst to the majority of the American population), and bombers armed with thermonuclear weapons flew patterns near the Soviet border for three consecutive days.

 

  • The administration employed the “madman strategy” to force the North Vietnamese government to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. Along the same lines, American diplomats, especially Henry Kissinger, portrayed the 1970 incursion into Cambodia as a symptom of Nixon’s supposed instability.

 

  • In 1517, Machiavelli had argued that sometimes it is “a very wise thing to simulate madness” (Discourses on Livy, book 3, chapter 2).

 

  • In Nixon’s Vietnam War, Kimball argues that Nixon arrived at the strategy independently, as a result of practical experience and observation of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s handling of the Korean War.

 

  • Why is it so effective? Traditionally, once the geopolitical arena can draw conclusions based upon the actions of the U.S. President, they either continue behaving as they had prior (when the successor is of a similar mindset) or carry out a small number of actions designed as a litmus test to get a reading on how the successor’s views are different. Once a US reaction is provoked, the geopolitical actors adjust their behavior accordingly to protect their interests.

Taking the Madman Theory Further and Outside Foreign Policy

Were it any other person than Trump in the White House, I’d rule out Madman Theory. But I don’t think you can rule it out simply because of his experience in creating scripted reality from the Apprentice.I think there’s a chance this administration has storyboards. What’s the best way to put an end to the media’s constant barrage of improper Russian ties?

60 missiles into Syria threatening to spark a new cold war? And why? It’s about the children. If you’re an anti-Trump commentator, the Russian criticism is now worthless, and do you dare risk saying gassed children are not our problem?

It’s probably unlikely, but the convenience is almost to ideal. The Apprentice, WWE experience, years of admittedly manipulating the press, and a close friendship with Vince McMahon, make it impossible to rule out the third view.


Which, war and devastation aside, is fascinating. Wag The Dog is a possibility that can’t be ruled out. In Wag The Dog, the fictional war was to distract the press, voters, and Congress from wrongdoing. What if instead of it being a misdirection tactic, it was a the foundation for a Presidency?

A storyboard for achieving a long term goal: A successful Presidency. The short term goals are the agenda (monthly, quarterly, or by year). However, each week, scripted drama is written and discussed to decide how best to manipulate the press and American audience in a way that works toward the short term goals. Constantly updated and reassessed.

Just like the storyboards for reality Television. An organic evolving plot. It’s always been a part of the Presidency and its staff including heads of communication and strategy advisers, but putting experienced reality tv people in those roles, would formalize it into an actual story board.

A pro-active guided approach to writing a plot, as opposed to reactive as we’re accustomed to, where discussions are held on the RESPONSE to actions by the head of communications and advisers, rather than creating the desired response.

Just a theory, but if a storyboard were ever discovered, it would be fascinating.

Thank you for listening to all of the We Are Libertarians podcasts.