A majority of the American public, analysts, and politicians have a positive view of the Trump Administration’s retributive tomahawk missile strike against the Assad Regime’s air capabilities. For those convinced of the immorality of Assad’s chemical weapons use against civilians, the US strike was the “right thing to do” in that the strike stated that chemical weapons use is immoral so long as the US remains the dominant player in the world. Other supporters of the strike claim that the missile strike provided a clear message to both the Assad Regime and the Russians: “Syria may be your battlespace but we, the US, remain the primary superpower in international politics.” The latter group may have a point, as the US and other Western states have so far declined to intervene in a conflict that has killed more than 500,000 people through mostly conventional means.
Still, others remain unconvinced that the Syrian government carried out the chemical attacks in Idlib. Skeptics highlight three queries that they say deny the Assad Regime culpability in the chemical attacks. First, why would the Assad Regime carry out the attacks after the Trump Administration had indicated, just five days earlier, that the new administration’s Syria policy basically aimed to leave Assad in power? Second, why would Assad use chemical weapons on “his own people” after making substantial territorial gains in 2016? Third, why would the Assad Regime risk losing Russian support by using chemical weapons?
Being unable to answer those three questions, skeptics critical of the Syrian government’s role in the chemical attack suggest three “more likely” explanations for the attack’s authorship. First, Syrian rebels gassed their own support base to gain the support of the international community. Second, and as the Russians and Syrians contend, the Syrian air force bombed a rebel facility housing chemical materials, creating a chemical cloud that led to the deaths of nearby civilians. Third, the chemical attack was a completely staged false-flag event. The US, or some sort of international shadow government, must have employed a slew of actors, international organizations, and media outlets to create the images and accounts of the attack.
However convinced you might be of those three explanations, none of them make sense once thought about logically. Here’s why the Syrian government would have the incentive to strike at its civilian population with chemical weapons and why the conspiracy explanations are less plausible than the general understanding of the attacks.
- First off, when the Trump Administration indicated that it would leave Assad in power, it may have left Assad with the impression that he could conduct its warfare in whatever way he pleased. With the US having stated that Assad’s future was up to the Syrian people, Assad could then turn to indiscriminate and especially atrocious tactics that would terrorize opposition forces into submission. By using chemical warfare, Assad would state to the Sunni opposition’s backers that Assad could wage indiscriminate warfare in a fashion which denied the opposition the ability to protect its supporters. Without opposition protection, opposition supporters would have no choice but to withdraw material and moral support for opposition groups. Clearly, Assad now knows that he can’t use indiscriminate gas attacks to achieve victory. But, if the US had not responded to the attacks, the Assad Regime would have had the greenlight to use tactics that might have brought a much quicker victory.
- Next, there’s little reason to believe the rebels gassed their own support base to garner international support. Several sources have confirmed that the chemical attack came from the air. The rebels don’t have an air force. Furthermore, the US used radar tracking to confirm where the plane responsible for the attack came from. Sure, conspiracy theorists contend that the sources and US intelligence are forged, but then why did the Syrian government and the Russians also confirm that the chemical cloud was a result of some sort of aerial bombardment? If the rebels committed the attack, the Russians and Syrians would be blaming surface-to-surface missiles instead of a bombed chemical weapons storage facility.
- Though the Russian and Syrian explanation is the most plausible argument for the Syrian government’s innocence in the chemical attacks, it doesn’t add up in the scheme of domestic American politics. Five days before the attack the Trump Administration publically stated that the removal of Assad was no longer a top priority. On top of that, the Trump Administration has supported primarily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces instead of Sunni opposition groups, such as the Free Syrian Army. If the Russians and Syrians hit a chemical storage facility, then the Trump Administration would have looked incredibly prescient. Press Secretary Sean Spicer could have gotten up on his podium and said, “See? This is why we are supporting the Kurds and leaving Assad in power. We just can’t trust these Sunni opposition groups.” Instead, the Trump Administration found itself in a difficult situation having to admit that its previous estimations of the Syrian conflict were wrong. Admitting an error in judgement isn’t exactly something administrations (especially the Trump Administration) like to do.
- But hey, maybe the CIA and/or the Trump Administration staged the whole attack to start a war that would feed the military industrial complex. The first problem with this argument is that various sources across various countries have confirmed the attacks through firsthand accounts, intelligence reports, and even autopsies. Let’s think about the secretive efficacy of the US government for a second here… The CIA, NSA, and US military can’t keep how they spy on its citizens or engage in warfare a secret. The DNC and RNC can’t protect their emails. The former Secretary of State put classified information on a private unsecured server. The US government can’t channel weapons to rebels without getting caught on multiple occasions. Hell, a former president couldn’t even pull off a break in at a hotel to obtain some minute details on his contender’s electoral strategy. So, are we really to believe that the US government could stage some sort of massive multi-continental performance using thousands of people involved without experiencing numerous leaks?
- Lastly, consider the sources that are putting out the false-flag, rebel authorship, and rebel storage facility narratives. I’m sure as you consider this your mind is probably wandering to sites like Infowars, fringe sites and memes on social media, and maybe even your own causal reasoning. Infowars’ Alex Jones has stated that a secret shadow government is breeding fish people in tanks. So, good luck with your sanity if you think Infowars is a credible site. Also, remember when all those social media memes and fringe sites contended that every mass casualty shooting were false flag attacks Obama was using to declare martial law and take away all your guns? Maybe I missed the martial law and Homeland Security skipped my house during the massive gun seizures. But, as is usually is the case with conspiracy theories, the events conspiracy theories asserted were coming never even came close to manifesting. Finally, go find a blank map of the world and point out where Syria is on the map. Can’t find it? Well, then you should probably avoid exercising your expertise on who is to blame for the chemical attack in Idlib. Or, keep peddling conspiracy theories while simultaneously denying the existence of the men, women, and children who died in a chemical attack the Syrian government authored.
Alex Letrab is a USMC Combat Veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. During his three deployments as an 0311-Infantry Rifleman, he served as a member of a Personal Security Detail in Iraq, an infantry squad-leader in Afghanistan, a foreign military adviser in Africa and Europe, and an Urban Combat Instructor. His personal military awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Achievement Medal with (V) Combat Distinguishing Device, and a Meritorious Combat Promotion to Corporal. Currently, he is finishing off a Master’s Degree in International Relations with a focus on International Security at The University of Chicago.