There used to be an adage in the sales business which said, in effect, that when you make an offer and the seller doesn’t laugh in your face then you’ve offered too much. The same applies to propaganda, though ideally, you want to walk just to the outside of that line that separates “that sounds like it could be plausible under some set of circumstances” and “you’ve got to be sh***ing me.” In the aftermath of the chemical attack launched by forces loyal to the Syrian regime yesterday, the Russians ended up in smdh country.
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies its forces launched a chemical weapons attack.
Russia has acknowledged that Syrian planes did attack Khan Sheikhoun but it says the aircraft struck a depot producing chemical weapons, for use by militants in Iraq.
“Yesterday [Tuesday], from 11:30am to 12:30pm local time, Syrian aviation made a strike on a large terrorist ammunition depot and a concentration of military hardware in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun town,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konoshenkov said.
“On the territory of the depot there were workshops which produced chemical warfare munitions.”
Unfortunately for the Russians, this failed the plausible lie test. There was plenty of video available from the scene. One of the targets hit was a hospital. On the factual side, bombing sarin, which is the suspected nerve agent used in the attack, basically destroys the chemical. To be used as a weapon it has to be aerosolized or dispersed as droplets. Sarin is a binary munition, which means the two precursors aren’t mixed until the weapon is armed (this is so you don’t have to deal the problem of corrosive nerve agent compound eating through artillery and bomb casings). As one of the two precursors for sarin is isopropyl alcohol, it would have burned off in an explosion without mixing to form sarin.
Even the Russians seem to have been taken aback by the monstrosity of this lie and it seems like the new defense is that the rebels did it to themselves to create a pretext for a US attack (this is a virulently pro-Russia propaganda site):
My gut feeling is that the Russians had as much advance notice on this attack as we did. It doesn’t serve their best interests, in the region or in Europe, to be involved in this stuff. Far from being a client of Russia, Assad is a free actor who is using Russia as a shield. Russia’s prestige in the region depends upon Assad’s survival so they have established an air defense umbrella. It is nearly the political equivalent of “if you owe the bank $10,000 the bank owns you, if you owe the bank $10MM, you own the bank.” If Assad responds to direction from anyone it is from Iran because his ground forces are dependent upon Iranian “volunteers” and Lebanese Hezbollah. It is arguable that Assad even knew because there is a lot of evidence that large swatches of the Syrian armed forces are under only the most tenuous control. This doesn’t absolve him. As a lot of Japanese and German generals found out in 1946, not knowing what your troops are doing is a damned weak defense. I’m also extremely dubious of the linkage that Rubio sees between Haley and Tillerson saying that regime change is not our priority in Syria and the attacks. Well over a hundred chemical attacks have been carried out in Syria since the UN voted to ban them and Obama declared his red line. I don’t see this one being any particular message intended for Trump but rather one aimed at the opposition. In my view, looking at Syria as a cohesive state capable of carrying out a strategy that is greater than day-to-day survival is fatally flawed but YMMV.
I’m also extremely dubious of the linkage that Rubio sees between Haley and Tillerson saying that regime change is not our priority in Syria and the attacks. Well over a hundred chemical attacks have been carried out in Syria since the UN voted to ban them and Obama declared his red line. I don’t see this one being any particular message intended for Trump but rather one aimed at the opposition. In my view, looking at Syria as a cohesive state capable of carrying out a strategy that is greater than day-to-day survival is fatally flawed but YMMV.
None of this is to say this should be ignored. We need to attach this firmly to Russia and Iran. We need to continue to label Assad a war criminal. But the facts of the matter are stark. Syria is under a Russian air defense umbrella and to strike at Syrian chemical weapons bunkers, even if we had the targeting to do so, would entail blasting our way through the Russian missile batteries and it would probably require us to shoot down Russian aircraft. A decapitation strike at Assad would not only violate a long-standing Executive Order against assassinations, there is no guarantee the successor regime will not be worse. Any window we had to use military force in Syria passed with Russian intervention. And that’s really the end of the matter no matter how many women and kids Assad gasses.