Assad’s crimes divide polite society. He must be enjoying it. The report by the French Intelligence services – if correct – would not only confirm Assad as the perpetrator of the Khan Sheikhun chemical attack, but would lend yet further credence to the catastrophic errors of naysayers on Assad’s role in the Ghouta chemical massacre such as Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry (the latter doubled down on Khan Sheikhun), while vindicating the view of Muhammad Idrees Ahmad that the editors of the London Review of Books were negligent in their duty in publishing Hersh’s article, and that Hersh was spectacularly obtuse in proceeding with evidence from a single intelligence source among the Western intelligence services to write his article.
The new evidence is furthermore a huge embarrassment for Putin, who has admitted to Erdoğan that he would like a solution to the Damascus problem and that he ‘… is not Assad’s lawyer’. It must be said that Russia refuses to accept the evidence in the reports on the basis that the samples tested by French authorities could have been obtained anywhere, and of course, there is always a margin of doubt. It is pushing out the meme that it has “irrefutable proof” that the Khan Sheikhun attack was a “provocation”, without supplying any evidence. This is the same face saving ploy Russia used in the case of the downed jet which “hadn’t strayed into Turkish territory”, when it said the black box was broken and couldn’t yield any information. Human Rights Watch, however, maintain that Assad’s forces not only used chemical weapons at Khan Sheikhun, but is actually using them systematically even at the present time, with evidence of this in at least four other locations. A BBC report even provides some evidence as continuing chemical weapons manufacture at three different sites (see map above).
The argument ran after Khan Sheikhun that Assad ‘had no reason to commit such an atrocity’ in view of the fact that the war was going his way and that it would cause a reaction from the West. David Morrison’s argument that ‘Assad didn’t do it’ – or indeed do Ghouta – is firmly based on this presupposition (the reference there to Hersh suffers from the problems outlined above). But these kinds of arguments display a lack of experience as to how Middle Eastern despots actually function and how they are used to promulgate fear among their populations. Watching Ali al-Dhafiri’s (Arabic) interview on al-Jazeera with Abdel-Halim Khaddam, Assad’s minister of foreign affairs until 2005, could be an education in this respect. See Part 1 (which starts with Hafez al-Assad), and Part 2