Are Warnings About Chemical Warfare in Syria Another ‘Weapon of Mass Distraction’?
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Russian and Syrian jets resumed intensive strikes in Idlib and Hama on Sunday. Damascus has been stepping up its assault on the rebels’ last major stronghold after a Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit failed to deliver a cease fire. In the meantime, the Russian news agency TASS and RT are both reporting that the Russian military detected two U.S. F-15 fighter jets dropping phosphorous bombs over Syria as Deir ez-Zor province on Saturday.
A Pentagon spokesperson, who is Commander Sean Robertson, denied the allegations, saying that “At this time we have not received any reports of any use of white phosphorus.” In the meantime, there has been reports that Bashar al Assad is claiming that U.K.’s MI6 is planning a chemical attack in Syria so that they could blame it on President Assad.
Joining me now to discuss the attacks on Syria is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be back, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Larry. It appears that U. S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is saying that the U.S., Britain and France has agreed that another use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would result in a much stronger response. Let’s listen.
JOHN BOLTON: We’ve tried to convey the message in recent days that if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger. And I can say we’ve been in consultation with the British and the French who joined us in the second strike. They also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response.
SHARMINI PERIES: All, right Larry. I hear an echo from the past, meaning the war on Iraq. Now, are these false flag operations, Larry? Help us decipher what is going on here. I don’t know who to believe.
LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, neither do I. I Suspect this is a game of tit for tat. If you can accuse me of using chemical weapons, then I can accuse you. As a military professional, I can’t- I’m very, very familiar with the effects of and the use of white phosphorus. I can’t imagine why U.S. forces, particularly F-15’s, would be dropping white phosphorus on anything. It’s very inefficient, it’s not very useful. It is forbidden as far as I understand by international law, especially against targets that feature humans.
So, I can’t imagine that this isn’t just a tit for tat. Assad the Russians or whatever saying, “the Americans are doing it.” Because we’re postulating almost daily, John Bolton in particular, the National Security Advisor, that Assad is going to use chemical weapons and we’re going to have to react. The latest thing seen from Israel Times and from Fox News reporting on the Wall Street Journal is that he’s going to use chlorine gas, which I find preposterous. It’s a WWI chemical and not very effective and might as well kill your troops if the wind shifts, as well as it would kill enemy troops.
SHARMINI PERIES: And in terms of Bolton, and of course President Trump has gotten in on this as well, Tweeting about what Assad might have coming if he were to use any chemical weapons. Now, begin to explain where Bolton is coming from, a member of Trump’s administration that you’re more familiar with.
LARRY WILKERSON: I think what we’re seeing here is a resurrection, if you will, of the neoconservative agenda. Syria was to be next. Iran after that, following Iraq of course, the invasion in 2003 which went so haywire that they were unable to follow up quickly with Syria. Well, now we’re back to Syria, but we were back to it with a president who was very reluctant to use major U.S. forces, Barack Obama of course. So, we are looking- we the neoconservatives, John Bolton amongst them- we’re looking for an opportunity to reengage with Syria, particularly now that Russia and Iran, our principles target here, have gotten so entrenched with Assad’s forces.
So, this is it. Looking for every excuse, any excuse, all excuses to reopen U.S. operations, major U.S. operations against Assad in Syria, always realizing that the ultimate target is Iran.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, I think we could agree here that Trump and Bolton is planning a weapon of mass distraction here given what’s going on in Washington. Explain what we know from history of this type of destruction, mainly here I’m talking about the Iraq war and its history repeating itself, of course, now in Syria.
LARRY WILKERSON: No, that’s a good way to put it. The ultimate question here is what is the president of the United States thinking and doing? What is he asking for in terms of information and the kind of intelligence that would give him some insight as to whether or not what he’s being told, first of all, is accurate, and second, whether it makes any sense. He was opposed to this. President Obama became opposed to it, whether it makes any sense to put major U.S. operations in in place with regard to Syria. Do we jump back in now and try to regain lost territory? And for what reason, for what purpose?
Ultimately, I know what the insidious purpose is, it’s to unseat Assad and then take on Iran. But I don’t see, I don’t see the president buying that unless he’s even more an idiot than perhaps people think he is.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, what objective does the Russians have in terms of coming out and alleging that the U.S. has used and dropped phosphorous bombs on Syria in this way? I mean, we are having TASS news agency and RT news agency reporting this. But if it is not prosperous, like you say it might not be, then what objective do they have in order for making such allegations?
LARRY WILKERSON: Again, I think it’s tit for tat. I think what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I think what they’re trying to do is to show that they can get back with their own allegations the way we’re making allegations about Assad and chlorine or whatever chemical weapons he might use. Do they hope that that will deter us from going on with our false flag operation, and is that a futile hope? Yes, on both counts, probably. Because we’ll go ahead and do what we were going to do based on false flag or otherwise.
So, it’s a back and forth right now, I think, of rhetoric. We all know that that can be very dangerous. Many things have occurred in the past based on false rhetoric, particularly with regard to this particular situation in Syria, where I am very doubtful that Assad has ever used chemical weapons. I’ve seen no proof that he’s ever used chemical weapons, and yet we’ve sent cruise missiles and all manner of rhetoric in that direction indicative of the fact that we’re sure he has. I understand there are a number of countries now who have completely discredited, for example, The White Helmets, they were a propaganda mechanism apparently for those who opposed Assad.
This is a real propaganda-type war, that is to say people are hurling accusations right and left, from the Turks to the Syrians to the Iranians to the Iraqis to the Russians to the U.S. To a certain extent, I hope it stays rhetoric and doesn’t turn into actual use of force, but that’s always a possibility.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Larry. I thank you so much for joining us for now. I bet we’ll have you back very soon as the situation is getting more and more confusing and difficult to decipher. I thank you for joining us now.
LARRY WILKERSON: Sharmini, let me just, let me make one final comment. My serious concern is about the way Bolton and others in their positions of power now are orchestrating a scenario whereby Donald Trump, for political reasons or whatever, can use force in a significant way against Assad and ultimately Iran, because Iran’s forces are there, and ultimately against Russia, because their forces there in Syria. And this is most disquieting.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Well, I’m not sure whether we can leave it there, Larry. This is most disquieting, and I have to ask you, then, why do you say that?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think that’s a recipe for our getting back into the region in such a significant way that we are there for the next generation. And I don’t mean that we’re there at Al Udeid in Qatar and the big field in Saudi Arabia or Emirates or wherever. I mean we’re there with significant force, and we’re being attrited day after day after day, both in terms of dollars and in terms of lives. I mean, it looks as if we’re where there’s a possibility for us digging in deeply in Southwest Asia, something that I spent my entire professional career arguing against. And thank God, so did most of the generals and admirals around me. We now seem to think that Iraq was not good enough, we need to jump right back in and get mired even deeper in this morass.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, this is really pushing the envelope when it comes to relations with Russia, because they are smack in the middle of all of this that’s going on. What will this do to Russian-U.S. relations?
LARRY WILKERSON: I’m not sure that Russian-U.S. relations in the bigger things could get a whole lot worse unless we started hurling nuclear weapons at one another or actually having conventional forces attack on the plains of Europe. We just don’t seem to be doing too much after Helsinki. I hope we are, but we don’t seem to be. I’ve got some friends in the intelligence community and elsewhere in and out of government who are saying that Donald Trump is going to use a more robust U.S. response in Syria, and ultimately the same thing in Iran, because of his imperiled political position.
In other words, they’re saying that Trump is going to use the war instrument, the way we claim Bill Clinton did from time to time in Kosovo, in order to get the attention off the Monica Lewinsky scandal and his impeachment proceedings and so forth. But Trump is actually in more desperate political circumstances, or at least perceives himself to be there, and so might use the war instrument to distract people. That is not inconceivable, but I don’t think we’re to that point yet. At least I hope we’re not.
SHARMINI PERIES: Larry, it appears that the United Nations emergency response programs are preparing for emergency response in Idlib. Now, I understand that the U.N. Emergency Coordinator, Mark Lowcock has said this in a recent announcement.
MARK LOWCOCK: There needs to be ways of dealing with this problem that don’t turn the next few months in Idlib into the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life of the 21st century. We must, we must. It’s not acceptable to have huge loss of life in Idlib over the next period.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. That’s a comment by Mark Lowcock. He is the U.N. Emergency Response Director. Now, Larry the question is, is the U.N. adequately preparing or is this an overreaction to currently what’s going on?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think it’s a little bit hyperbolic, at present anyway. I don’t see that sort of thing coming to fruition in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. But I do see the potential for it coming to some disastrous fruition. I would say to that individual from the United Nations, been paying much attention to Yemen lately? The humanitarian disaster there, the size of it, from cholera≤ from the war itself and so forth, matches what he said and exceeds it with regard to Idlib. Of course, if everything is brought to bear on this last pocket of resistance to “Assad re-establishing his rule over all of Syria,” then it could be a bloodbath. It definitely could be.
And the exit from it and running from it, literally, could be very hard to control very hard to take care of. I don’t envy the UN’s position with regard to trying to deal with this situation if it boils into what it could. Assad is very serious about establishing control over his country. Turkey is equally serious, I think, about not letting Assad do anything there that might be against its interests, to include pushing the Kurds out into other places where that might do more harm, the Uyghurs and the Chinese interest in that, and general humanitarian interest in the casualties that are going to occur.
Because what we’ve got is kind of like we’ve pushed all of these various elements, many of whom the United States has been supporting of, into this little pocket that remains. And now, we’re just going to pound the hell out of them. That’s a recipe, as the gentleman from the U.N. said, for a real humanitarian disaster, particularly if Russian airpower and other things used to do the pounding. I hope we can prevent that, just as he does, I’m sure. But I’m not sure we can.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Larry we’ll leave it there for now. I’m looking forward to having you back next week. I’m sure this issue isn’t going away.
LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks, Sharmini, take care.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.