Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich speaks at a union-sponsored event in 2011. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
It’s right to be skeptical of American claims about weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, given the duplicity of the George W. Bush administration in Iraq. It’s right to be concerned that the United States is planning to bomb Syria, if the current accord over destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stocks breaks down.
But here’s what’s not right: it’s not right to deny the overwhelming evidence that Syria used poison gas in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21. I’m talking to you, Vladimir Putin. And to you, Dennis Kucinich. And to all of those on the left who’ve speculated that the horrific incident on August 21 was the work of Syria’s rebels. It wasn’t. The Syrian government did it. Let’s put that one to rest.
Putin, scrambling to defend an ally and anxious over the possibility that President Obama would carry out what, by all accounts, would be a useless, strategically incompetent, and lethal and dangerous attack, is the leading serial denier of the obvious. In doing so, Putin and his government—including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations—have made themselves look foolish. The same goes for Dennis Kucinich, the liberal former Democratic member of Congress from Ohio who, unaccountably, has joined forces with Fox News and who conducted a sycophantic interview with Assad in Damascus.
Russia has stood firm against an attack on Syria, and Putin and Lavrov have been instrumental in pushing for a Geneva II peace conference in search of a political settlement of the civil war in Syria, which has left tens of thousands dead. But Putin’s absurd whitewashing of the Syrian government for its obvious use of poison gas should not be part of the picture.
Let’s recap: in an op-ed in The New York Times, Putin blithely cited invisible evidence that the rebels were responsible for the gas use, and he even managed to work into his ridiculous defense mention of a threat to Israel:
“No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack—this time against Israel—cannot be ignored.”
In a news conference in Russia, Putin went so far as to say that the rebels slyly used old Russian-made artillery shells to disguise its origin:
Speaking at a conference, Putin said “we have every reason to believe that it was a provocation, a sly and ingenious one.” He added, however, that its perpetrators have relied on “primitive” technology, using old Soviet-made ammunition no longer in the Syrian army’s inventory.
Taking his case even further, Putin suggested—no doubt with a smirk of irony—that the United States might have to consider fighting the rebels when it turns out that it was the opposition who used the gas:
“If it is determined that these rebels used weapons of mass destruction, what will the United States do with the rebels? What will the sponsors of the rebels do? Stop the supply of arms? Will they start fighting against the rebels?”
Many critics pointed out that Putin cited various dubious sources in trying to cast Assad as blameless, including discredited reports in Turkish newspapers and the comments of a Syrian nun loyal to the Assad government.
Kucinich, a valiant crusader against war now weirdly affiliated with Fox, managed to interview Assad in September. Writing on The Huffington Post, Kucinich created a Top Ten list of “Unproven Claims” about Syria’s use of poison gas, drawing on sources both mainstream and conspiratorial. And while his intention may be good—namely, to undermine President Obama’s case for war—nowhere does he cite the weighty evidence that has accumulated that points to the almost certain conclusion that it was, indeed, the Syrian army which used the gas.
To believe that it was indeed the government of Syria—whether ordered by Assad himself, his brother, a senior military commander or someone else—it isn’t necessary to take on faith the White House intelligence summary that was released on August 30, although that memo makes a convincing case. There’s also the report from Doctors Without Borders, which said that more than 3,600 people were hospitalized in just three hospitals supported by international humanitarian groups, proving that the attack was so massive that it’s highly unlikely that the ragtag oppositionists could have struck with such deadly force. Or the conclusion of Richard Lloyd and Theodore Postol, who studied the rocket attacks and the payloads of those rockets to determine that the rockets held up to fifty liters of gas, a massive payload that suggests only government capabilities.
And, of course, there is the report from the United Nations itself, an annex of which provided important clues about where the rockets came from, as The New York Times noted:
One annex to the report also identified azimuths, or angular measurements, from where rockets had struck, back to their points of origin. When plotted and marked independently on maps by analysts from Human Rights Watch and by The New York Times, the United Nations data from two widely scattered impact sites pointed directly to a Syrian military complex.
None of thus justifies a US attack on Syria. Still, that’s no reason to concoct far-fetched theories with no basis in fact.
Katrina vanden Heuvel looks into Oliver Stone’s documentary series, The Untold History of the United States.