Ok, so regular readers know how we feel about Bashar al-Assad and chemical weapons.
Simply put: the contention that Assad wouldn’t dare deploy poison gas just when the regime is i) on the verge of sealing the deal in terms of regaining complete control of “useful Syria” (thanks almost completely to Hezbollah, the IRGC, and Russian air power) and ii) making progress in and around Deir Ezzor, is absurd for two reasons.
- Assad doesn’t think he has much to fear from the international community because he’s backed by the Kremlin and Tehran
- the conflict in Syria is an absolute bloody free-for-all and no one is thinking too far ahead in terms of consequences
Here’s how we put it on Friday:
The argument that Assad wouldn’t be so stupid as to gas a bunch of people and risk enraging the international community just when it looks like everyone has acquiesced to the inevitable conclusion that ousting him from power is going to be well nigh impossible assumes there’s a whole lot of deep strategizing going on over there. This is a melee. Keep in mind the sheer number of combatants involved. There’s the Alawite government and its forces. There’s Russia. There’s the IRGC. There’s Hezbollah. There’s ISIS. There’s any number of Sunni factions ranging from Fateh al-Sham Front (the band formerly known as al-Nusra) to more “moderate” rebels. There’s the Kurds. There’s US spec ops. There’s Turkey. You get the idea.
No one is sitting around thinking really hard about what the next move should be. This ceased to be a chess game a long time ago. And even if you’re inclined to think that Assad is thinking two or three steps ahead, one plausible answer to the question “why would he risk it?” is this: because he’s backed by Moscow and Tehran and so far, nobody has been real keen on crossing the Kremlin aside from Erodgan which isn’t surprising because he’s out of his mind.
Basically, Assad probably did gas those folks. And it seems at least possible that Russia might have tried to cover up evidence after the fact.
Having said that, it’s important to remember that Donald Trump has a lot to gain from bombing Assad. You need only look at the reaction on Capitol Hill to last Thursday’s airstrikes for proof that one way to deflect criticism and unite lawmakers is to put on your “protecting beautiful babies” face on the way to lobbing 59 Tomahawks in the direction of a dictator.
Relatedly, it seems awfully convenient that Trump just happened to bomb a Russian client state right when the investigation into his administration’s ties to Moscow looked to be on the verge of uncovering something damning. “See, I told you I’m not a Russian puppet, I just bombed Putin’s ally in Damascus.”
So given all of that, the following (via Bloomberg, citing al-Jazeera) seems like it might (and we emphasize “might”) be a bit specious:
- Syrian Jets Bomb Idlib Town, Using White Phosphorus: Jazeera
- Town of Saraqb in Idlib suburbs was hit with white phosphorus, al-Jazeera television says, citing its reporter in Syria.
- No immediate casualty estimates were provided by al-Jazeera
Here’s a visual:
So the point isn’t to say that white phosphorous wasn’t used.
And the point isn’t to suggest that it wasn’t the Russians and/or Assad using it.
Rather, the point is that it seems like someone might be looking for an excuse to keep this Trump vs. Assad spectacle going. And again, this whole thing was really, really convenient in terms of timing for Trump. We’ll leave it to readers to decide just who would be interested in perpetuating this and why (there are all kinds of possibilities there, some of which support the narrative you read in these pages and some of which support a competing narrative you’ll read elsewhere).
One thing’s for sure: you can expect plenty of Dave Chappelle-ish “yellow cake” and “aluminum tubes” pressers this week…