In addition to highlighting the embarrassing degree to which the American media are seduced by displays of American military might, their rush to embrace President Trump’s decision to launch a military attack against Syria on April 6 has also crowded out dissenting voices from the administration’s claim that it was the government of Bashar al-Assad that was responsible for the chemical-weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, which killed over 80 people and injured hundreds.
By firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base in Syria, and killing five Syrian soldiers and nine civilians in the process, President Trump was able to transform himself in the eyes of the media from an object of derision into, in the words of erstwhile Trump critic Elliot Abrams, “Leader of the Free World.”
Dissent from what amounts to a new party line has been noticeably absent. As the investigative journalist Robert Parry recently observed, “All the Important People who appeared on the TV shows or who were quoted in the mainstream media trusted the images provided by Al Qaeda–related propagandists and ignored documented prior cases in which the Syrian rebels staged chemical weapons incidents to implicate the Assad government.”
Former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford told the BBC last week that he seriously doubted that Assad was the culprit. “Assad,” said Ford, “may be cruel, brutal but he’s not mad. It defies belief that he would bring this all on his head for no military advantage.” Ford said he believes the accusations against Syria are “simply not plausible.”
And so, on what evidence and intelligence was Trump’s decision based upon?
On April 11, the White House released a declassified four-page report meant to prove its case against Assad and serve as a belated justification for the Tomahawk attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base.
The report, which was authored not by US intelligence agencies but by the White House under the supervision of national-security adviser H.R. McMaster, says that “The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.”
The report relies on “open source” videos for proof of its claim that a “chemical munition landed not on a facility filled with weapons,” as the Russians and Syrians have claimed, “but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.”