Thursday, 22 August 2013

Syria: The Propaganda War and 'Shocking Escalation'

William Hague continues to deploy loaded language in relation an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime, the word regime being accurate but hardly more than the continuous misuse of the word 'rebels' instead of the more neutral term 'insurgents'

Hague calls it a 'shocking escalation of the use of chemical weapons'. which he then followed by calls for the need to "wake up to... its murderous and barbaric nature". "I hope this will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime, to realise its murderous and barbaric nature."

What is so ominous about this is that he has prejudged the situation by putting the blame firstly on the Assad regime full well knowing that the UN inspectors have not established the facts and that the chances of them being able to get to Ghouta to verify the claims can be preempted by propaganda.

Hague is merely compounding the mistakes he has already made in continually repeating 'Assad must go' from early on in the civil war and trying to make Assad's departure a precondition of any peace negotiations at a future Geneva Conference earlier in June 2013.

When Hague refers to 'those who have supported the regime' he is referring to Iran and Russia. With Fabius threatening "a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force ”, they are dangerously ratcheting up the prospect of violence. For the target of this threat is ultimately Iran.

The fact is though, there is nothing that either France or Britain could do without US approval. The danger is that they are putting Washington is a position where Obama's 'credibility' is on the line after he made it clear in 2012 that the use of chemical weapons would cross a 'red line'.

Even if this were a chemical weapons attack, there is little the West could do to remove Assad that would not make the situation on the ground worse. Arming the FSA would only increase the potential for arms falling into the hands of Al Qaida who would then try to capture these weapons themselves.

It is not completely implausible that the attack was not caused by nerve gas but by riot control agent unleashed by the FSA as a last ditch attempt to get Western intervention. By all accounts prior to this attack they were being rolled back by Assad's armies and Hizbollah.

The International Business Times reported a short time ago,
'Gwyn Winfield, editorial director at CBRNe World, a magazine specialising in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive weapons, told IBTimes UK that it is difficult to identify an agent by the signs and symptoms alone.
"We can say there is some form of chemical used. But until we take blood samples, samples of the soil and the water in the area we can't say that a chemical agent has been used," he said.
"It can be a riot control agent, like in the recent Egyptian case of the tear gas used in the back of a van that killed 36 prisoners. We have the same symptoms in the children and casualties."
Winfield said he finds it "suspicious" that in the week UN inspectors enter the country with the acquiescence of Assad, the Government welcomes them with a chemical weapons missile barrage.
"It is not impossible that some faction in the Free Syrian Army did it to get attention or maybe it was an accident by an inexperienced operator who may have not realised what he was doing."
The security expert said there are numerous cases of riot agent used in a lethal way, for example in confined spaces and not to disperse a crowd.
He added that the idea that the FSA is single and unified is "a myth," because "there are different factions and something like that could be a win/win for them: launch the attack and raise amount of profile of their cause by the UN."
Winfield said that more than 570 victims, if confirmed, are a lot of people in a not densely populated area. "It means the attack targeted a large area and it is not an isolated incident. If there are 570 fatalities it would suggest that evidence of what it is will not be hard to find."
This seems a pretty fair summation of the situation.

Further Thoughts

The fact Hague is prejudging this alleged use of chemical weapons to be just that and proof of previous claims that were not independently verified is packed tightly into the soundbite 'shocking escalation' which presupposes the Assad regime had already been using it

Words matter. 'Escalation' was an essentially Cold War term used in relation to a war between two nuclear powers with 'weapons of mass destruction'. Hague is using is to mean an increase from a previous level of destruction by Assad against 'rebel held' areas using 'WMDs'.

The entire point of any strategy to contain conflict and good diplomacy is to prevent 'escalation' because it implies a potentially unstoppable process or what has been called an 'irrational escalation of commitment' , as in when gamblers make poor decisions or businesses 'throw good money after bad'.

Hague has been committing himself to playing for the highest stakes from early on ( 'Assad must go' ), he seems irrationally fixated on promoting a foreign policy that could not be attained by anything other than arming the 'rebels' and so intensifying the conflict.

As any weapons that could be supplied directly to the insurgents against Assad would necessarily fall into the hands of Al Qaida fighters itching to get their hands on chemical weapons ( or so it has been supposed by some reports and intelligence briefings ). It's possible this is another 'pretext' to arm the 'right rebels'.

This whole episode still seems too convenient; the FSA was in retreat, and the UN inspectors entered Syria a week before Assad is accused by the FSA that a chemical weapons attack has killed 1,400 exactly a year after President Obama claimed this would cross a 'red line'.

After being seen to be weak and 'indecisive' on the Egyptian coup by those such as domestic opponents as John McCain,the danger is that Washington will be forced to go further than it might otherwise have done by the hawkish and rather sinister rhetoric of Hague and Fabius.

If this alleged chemical weapons attack turns out not to have been one or not the work of Assad, as is very possible, then certainly Hague must resign from his position. Yet the amount of choreography between Hague and Fabius very may have already involved Washington as it 'ponders the options'

And this is a chilling thought.

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