Opposing military strikes without dishonoring those who died in the Damascus chemical attacks

This may be the one and only time I ever quote Infowars, but at least on this occasion it’s worth pointing out why in the following instance (and no doubt too many others), it’s a boneheaded operation.

During his State Department speech today [Friday], Secretary of State John Kerry grossly misrepresented the facts about the chemical attack at Ghouta near Damascus.

“The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children,” Kerry said. “I’m not asking you to take my word for it. Read for yourself, everyone… the evidence from thousands of sources, evidence that is already publicly available,” he added.

According to the international aid group Doctors Without Borders, however, 355 people were killed, not the wildly exaggerated figure cited by Kerry.

To inflate 355 deaths to 1,429 would certainly be a wild exaggeration. But did Doctors Without Borders report that just 355 people were killed?


This is what they said:

Three hospitals in Syria’s Damascus governorate that are supported by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have reported to MSF that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died.

That’s 355 people who survived the attack, were taken to one of the three hospitals referred to, and then died.

A lethal dose of sarin can kill someone in one minute. The majority of the children who died in the attack most likely died before they could even crawl out of bed. The 3,600 people who reached a hospital were those who had suffered less exposure. Most of the dead probably didn’t get outside their homes.

When I say Infowars is a boneheaded operation, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. I’m assuming their analysis is stupid and not purposefully deceptive.

And as I’ve said repeatedly over the last week, there are many good reasons to oppose the imminent U.S. military strikes on Syria. But those who minimize the scale of the chemical attack, or based on minimal evidence insist that it must have been launched by the opposition, do two things:

1. They undermine their own credibility.
2. By arguing from what is increasingly exposed as a false position they thereby empower those they are arguing against.

If the Obama administration sounds more credible in its assessment of what happened on August 21, then more Americans will be inclined to accept the administration’s determination of an appropriate response to the attacks.

What the administration has utterly failed to do and has not even attempted, is to explain why anyone should expect or have any confidence that the strikes it has planned will actually have their intended effect — to deter any future chemical attacks.

Since President Obama has already made it clear that neither he, nor the Pentagon, nor most Americans have any appetite to enter a broader military intervention in Syria, the punitive strikes that seem likely to take place in the coming hours, may prompt the Assad regime to plan and carry out yet another chemical attack.

The follow-up attack may be smaller than the one on August 21. It may again occur with conflicting assertions about who is responsible and yet it will almost certainly accomplish its strategic objective: to confront the United States with an impossible choice — to either ignore the attack and thereby demonstrate that the first “punishment” was less than ineffective; or, to get drawn into a cycle of escalation that almost every American wants to avoid.

And just in case anyone thinks that’s a piece of wild conjecture I plucked out of thin air, in fact it comes from the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker.

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5 thoughts on “Opposing military strikes without dishonoring those who died in the Damascus chemical attacks

  1. rosemerry

    Paul, surely you are not taking notice of an article by Anne Barnard????????
    PLEASE read angry arab any day to be disabused of this “correspondent”.
    Why does the USA nave to interfere militarily at all? An attempt at negotiation, peace talks, understanding, compromising would be a change. John Kerry knows Pres. Assad personally (see angry arab again for photos of intimate dinner of the two couples in 2009).

  2. Paul Woodward

    Rosemerry – The only reference I made to an article by Anne Barnard was to the quote from Ryan Crocker. Do you think it was fabricated?

    The White House has boxed itself in at this point by committing to military action. People can stand outside the White House holding up signs saying “no war” and if you were to ask any of them whether they believe their protest will be of any consequence, those who are honest and not delusional will admit it will make not an iota of difference.

    Being an advocate for a course of action that won’t even be considered is nothing more than an exercise in self-righteousness. But a course of action that might actually appeal to the Pentagon — a threatening posture with no shots fired — seems (at least to me) preferable to bombarding Syria with cruise missiles.

  3. BillVZ

    “Being an advocate for a course of action that won’t even be considered is nothing more than an exercise in self-righteousness. That their protest be of any consequence, those who are honest and not delusional will admit it will make not an iota of difference.”

    I take exception to this line of thinking. There are thousands who know through experience that protests are not primarily agent s of bringing change. There must be some form of power to go with protest before the possibility change.
    As an example the protests by the 99% they were not done to bring change but to inform and protest the 1%. It did make a difference especially for each and every protestor. Your statement ‘nothing more than an exercise in self-righteousness’ is your false perception. Such courses of being an advocate for action are and will always be a benefit to the advocates personal values and satisfaction for right to speak and act out.
    Being an ‘exceptional Nation’ is what I see as an exercise in self-righteousness……

  4. Paul Woodward

    Bill — if you’re going to quote me, then quote what I actually wrote — don’t string together separate sentences and put quotation marks around them.

    Still, if a protest serves no ones benefit other than the people who are participating in it by participating in it, then, yes, I do regard this as a narcissistic form of behavior. People protesting against the war in Vietnam were trying to end the war — they weren’t just exercising their right to free speech. In America nowadays, I’m sure there are many in the political establishment who are happy to see protests outside the White House providing a visible representation of political freedom, precisely because the protesters can so easily be ignored.

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