Stephen Shalom writes: In late June, Seymour Hersh published an article in Die Welt claiming that the Assad government did not attack the town of Khan Sheikhoun with sarin on April 4. His argument aligns with a popular left narrative about American imperialism falsifying or exaggerating events in Syria to justify intervention and regime change.
For example, many commentators — Jonathan Cook, Uri Avnery, among others — have wondered why Bashar al-Assad would use chemical weapons when he was already winning the war. The attack seemed not only unnecessary but also likely to spark a harsh international response.
Soon after the Khan Sheikhoun bombing, the White House responded to these concerns. The short version appeared in a document released on April 11:
The Syrian regime maintains the capability and intent to use chemical weapons against the opposition to prevent the loss of territory deemed critical to its survival. We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure.
That same day, a senior administration official offered a longer version at a background press briefing, noting the Assad regime’s troop shortages and the danger opposition forces posed to an important airbase in Hama.
Especially given its source, this explanation demands more scrutiny, but the commentators who question Assad’s motives never address it. In fact, none even acknowledge its existence.
Indeed, as Anne Barnard reported, the sarin attack fits into Assad’s broader strategy. She writes that, since at least 2012, the Syrian government “has adopted a policy of seeking total victory by making life as miserable as possible for anyone living in areas outside its control.” These attacks are designed to let the opposition know that it remains at the regime’s mercy, that neither international law nor the international community cannot protect it, and that surrender is the only option.
Again, there may be good reasons to doubt Barnard’s analysis or her sources, but those who find it inexplicable that Assad would use chemical weapons have never responded to her argument. [Continue reading…]