En route to Brussels, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that the Syrians are not planning a chemical weapons attack, walking significantly back from statements made earlier in the week by White House press spokesman Sean Spicer.  "They didn't do it," Mattis was quoted by the Washington Post. Mattis' face-saving claims that the Trump warnings to Russia and Syria "worked" and that the Syrians no longer planned the chemical weapons attack from Shayrat air base came in the context of growing published skepticism about the veracity of the intelligence, claiming that the U.S. had detected signs of a planned CW attack. 

  •  On June 27, Paul Pillar and Greg Thielmann warned on Defense One that President Trump was "cherry picking" intelligence to justify war on Iran–in a replay of the Bush-Cheney Administration's propaganda campaign to justify the March 2003 Iraq invasion.
  •  On June 25, Edward Lozansky penned an op-ed in the Washington Times, urging President Trump to get back on track with his campaign pledges to restore U.S.-Russian cooperation:  "Why was it right for Reagan to find a common language with Mr. Gorbachev and the then-Communist USSR while any suggestion from Mr. Trump to attempt the same with Vladimir Putin and post-Communist Russia leads to calls for his impeachment?"  He went on to write, "Fortunately, not only are the major details of the Reagan-Gorbachev negotiations and deals readily available, but we have among us many members of Reagan's inner circle with whom we can consult:  James Baker, Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Chas Freeman, Suzanne Massie, Jack Matlock, Edwin Meese, Dana Rohrabacher, George Shultz, David Stockman… We need their advice about how to resolve this crisis and the time is now."
  • And of course, Col. Lang proposed, concretely, that international observers should be posted at Syrian air bases to independently verify that the munitions being used by the Syrian Air Force are conventional weapons, not CW.
  • Seymour Hersh published a lengthy account in Die Welt this week (after the London Review of Books refused to publish the piece), based on conversations with U.S. officials, debunking the whole idea that Syria had conducted the CW attack on April.  He warned that the U.S. was setting the stage for another "false flag" attack by the jihadists, to be blamed on the Syrian government, to justify deeper U.S. military action against the Assad government forces.

Reports, following the Spicer warnings indicated that the National Security team had not been consulted before the statement was issued.  

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  1. Degringolade says:

    It’s a goat rodeo,
    That’s all.
    Those never turn out well.
    Time to check the supplies in the larder.

  2. BraveNewWorld says:

    >”Reports, following the Spicer warnings indicated that the National Security team had not been consulted before the statement was issued. ”
    I have to wonder what it is going to take before the leadership in Congress or the Senate takes some of the people in the White House aside for some discussion on how things are done. Apparently none of the supposed allies were given a heads up.

  3. makelovenotwar says:

    US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said that Syria’s chemical weapons programme goes “far beyond one airfield”.
    The comment appears to be a reference to the Syrian airfield which the United States struck in April, alleging the President Bashar al-Assad had used it to launch a chemical weapons attack on his own people.
    Mr Mattis said he believes the Syrian regime has now stockpiled chemical weapons in other parts of the country, in violation of international agreements.

  4. wisedupearly says:

    Not sure that “walked back” the CW claims is the correct description of Mattis statement.
    What we are going to see is a daily parade of WH heavies stating “Another day without a heinous CW attack by Assad. Trump’s warning was like from god.”
    This administration knows everything about CW in Syria. It sees all, and does absolutely nothing. Or is that they are lying?

  5. Peter AU says:

    A lot of op-eds ect in MSM that US is losing Syria to Iran.
    What was the Spicer press statement floating the idea of war on Syria about?
    Test the waters? Drum up support? Drum up opposition? Spicer and Haley posted tweets long before the press statement appeared at the white house website
    Going by the replies to Spicer and Haley’s Tweets, they may has well have run the same headlines as b in his article – “White House Says It Will Fake “Chemical Weapon Attack” In Syria”
    Spicer twitter post
    Haley twitter post

  6. Kutte says:

    I still nurture the hope that Trump has a plan and knows what he is doing. Look at historical figures like De Gaulle or Gorbatchev. They had come to realize that the system they had taken over was beyond repair, but was still powerful enough to cause immense damage. So they had to play along with it for a while, whilst all the time determined to cure it by giving up unsustainable positions.

  7. Old Microbiologist says:

    My guess is that two things have happened to derail this pretty obvious false flag. The first is the momentum Hersh finally got for his article and the second was a very clear warning from Lavrov that any attack on Syrian forces would be met in a proportional matter by the Russians. With 6 new ships on station those would be juicy targets and another opportunity to test the jamming systems. However, there are quite a few US SPECOPS soldiers running loose in Syria not to mention the illegal base which could be equally demonstrative. I had wondered how Lavrov’s promise would be met by the Trump team. Next up will be an equal promise to Israel.
    Remember, Russians never bluster or threaten. If they say something then it is a guarantee unlike the US. This is another issue the US analysts and politicians fail to understand. This is the country that burned their own farmlands and cities to the ground (twice) when invaded thus depriving invaders with any potential support. This is also the same country that would shoot retreating soldiers (my wife’s aunt received an Order of Lenin in the Battle of Moscow for doing that). These are seriously tough people.

  8. turcopolier says:

    Peter AU
    As you have been told, the Spicer statement was a display of the triviality and impulsiveness of DJT’s adolescent mind. It will be interesting to see how long Mattis lasts. pl

  9. turcopolier says:

    In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that Sy Hersh, Phil Geraldi, Larry Johnson, Harper and I all know each other and occasionally meet for lunch at an “undisclosed location.” pl

  10. turcopolier says:

    Mattis said on the plane to Europe that the Syrian government has other CW program scattered around the country. I would like to see the evidence for that. pl

  11. plantman says:

    What kind of man is Mattis?
    He has said that he didn’t want to get more deeply involved in Syria, but now he’s making threats. What’s that all about?
    My guess is that he has limited tactical objectives, like consolidating control e of the Euphrates, Taqba dam area and Deir ezzor.
    A chem weapon false flag would give him the opportunity to pursue those objectives.

  12. Allen Thomson says:

    Quite a while back there was a flurry of reports concerning possible chemical weapons storage sites that, AFAIK, were never confirmed or refuted. In one case, however, there’s satellite imagery of one of the reported sites that seems to show adits cut into a mountain a bit south of Masjaf. I keep hoping that more concrete information about them will appear.

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You cannot compare De Gaulle with Gorbachev and certainly neither of them with Trump; De Gaulle was the man who redeemed an entire country, did not accept defeat and in 1941 was the man who stood for France and then became France.

  14. Bill H says:

    I wonder how many remember the Obama pledge for “no boots on the ground in Syria” and made the connection with that statement while watching CBS News make the statement last night that there are 6000 US troops on the ground in Syria today who are “put at risk by Syria’s chemical weapons.”
    Not that they are actually at risk from “Syria’s chemical weapons,” which I don’t believe they actually are, or that there are actually 6000 of them. There may be 600 or 60,000. I would not believe CBS if they told me that the Pope was in Rome.

  15. Greco says:

    Has Mattis also disclosed the actual legal “justification” for why Trump ordered the strike on the Shayrat air base?
    The official narrative for the attack is indeed premised on a false flag; there is no way Assad ordered a chemical attack.
    That said, Mattis acknowledge something else here. By acknowledging there are still chemical weapons in Syria under Assad’s control, he acknowledges some sort of intelligence exists bolstering such a claim. Mattis is one of the more trusted, reliable voices in the Trump administration afterall. He wouldn’t make a claim like this on the basis of mere conjecture or because it conveniently fitted with the narrative Trump wants to push.
    If indeed these chemical weapons exist, then this violates the agreement Obama made with Putin in response to the 2013 Ghouta attack.
    As I understood it, this was the actual justification, the legal one, for why Trump ordered a strike against the Shayrat airbase. Trump was given intelligence indicating there were stock piles of chemical weapons in Syria prior to that decision. A couple of media reports even emerged suggesting how these weapons may have been stored at the base, although no actual proof of the CW existance was given.
    The idea that there are still stockpiles of chemical weapons under Assad’s controls isn’t something Trump concoted in his mind or something he learned as a result of cable news. Instead, this is the intelligence Trump has been fed. It’s the same intelligence upon which Mattis bases his view that the Syrian government still has CW.
    If this is the case, which I strongly suspect to be so, then this leaves me with three questions:
    1. What is the source of this intelligence?
    2. What hard evidence has this source given of a Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons or of any such program existing?
    3. And since Trump decided to blurt out (via Spicer) that Syria was planning more CW attacks, then why did he run with that claim and not simply claim that Assad is keeping stock of chemical weapons or continuing a chemical weapons program in violation to the agreement Putin made with Obama? Mattis has denied the former, but admitted the latter.

  16. Harper says:

    Yes, as many of you have noted, words are mere words, and can change on a dime, particularly with this fickle Commander-in-Chief. Mattis also told reporters en route to NATO that the deconfliction channel with Russia is working and is working at many levels, all the way up to Dunford-Gerasimov. All of this is happening in the run-up to a possibly first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin on July 7 in Hamburg, Germany on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting. Some in Washington would no doubt like to see a “U-2 incident” occur in the next week, to scuttle that face-to-face meeting. The Russiagate noise in Washington was temporarily muted last week due to the fixation on the health care bill, but it will return. The sanctions bill against Russia (attached to the Iran sanctions bill) will not be taken up by the House until AFTER the July 4 recess, due to opposition from the White House, some tricky constitutional issues, etc. A lot of moving parts and uncertainties in all of this. I agree that the Hersh article getting traction and the Russian clear statements had a chilling effect on those looking to stage another false flag incident.

  17. Fred says:

    De Gaulle had a lot of help from other French men and women.

  18. Fred says:

    The “Resistance” has been doing some “Establishment” explaining to Trump for six months now.

  19. sid_finster says:

    What on earth makes you think, in spite of the abundant evidence to the contrary, that Trump has a “plan”?

  20. sid_finster says:

    It’s an excuse, nothing more, just as “WMD” was the excuse used to make war on Iraq.
    Anyone who has seen a barroom bully in action knows that no amount of reason or moral sympathy will dissuade him from a fight, if that’s what he wants. Nor does it do any good to point out the glaring logical inconsistencies in his excuses for starting a fight.
    Like barroom bullies, sociopaths, such as the folks that have been running the United States for some time now, care nothing for logic, reason, evidence, ethics or morality. They care for their own power. If logic, etc. gets them what they want, then that is what they may use. If not, they use something else.
    Sociopaths learn from nothing other than reward and punishment. The good news is that they do learn.

  21. Peter AU says:

    Since writing the comment, I have been coming around to that while watching this play out. Your disclosure also makes a difference.
    Not a word from Trump on the subject. Standing back and letting the lackeys (perhaps not the best term?) handle the fallout – first scrambling for a narrative, then a way to wind it down.

  22. jld says:

    IIRC there are very likely some remnants of chemical weapons in Syria but this is because the remnant stocks WERE UNDER REBEL CONTROL at the time of the removal and thus could not be reached.
    So, this is indeed very convenient by now:
    Hey! Assad cheated!

  23. Jackrabbit says:

    Thanks for the full disclosure.
    I’m wondering WHY Trump wouldn’t listen to his intel analysts. The explanation proffered by Hersh/Hersh sources is that Trump is a bit crazy and stubborn. That superficial observation doesn’t come close to explaining Trump’s pivotal change in mindset.
    Not only did Trump go against the informed opinion of his intel analysts, but he also went against his ‘America First’ campaign promises AND his advice to Obama in 2013 (he urged Obama NOT to bomb Syria in a series of tweets).
    Possibilities offered: Trump:
    >> “Beautiful babies”
    >> Trump apologists: media & political opponents (Deep State!!)
    >> Hersh: Trump’s personality
    None of these strike me as being sufficient to explain Trump’s decision.
    Are we supposed to ignore Trump’s visit to in Saudi Arabia only weeks after the bombing? A visit in which he signed defense deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars? Was it Hersh or the Die Welt editors that refrained from making the Saudi connection?

  24. John_Frank says:

    With great respect, have not read the Washington Post, but according to the audio recording of what was said during the Media Availability with The Defense Secretary, hard to see how one can categorize what he said as walking back the chemical weapons claim.
    In his answers, he also reiterated the administration’s claim that the Syrian Government has chemical weapons.
    For more read Trump’s warning to Syria on chemical weapons worked, Jim Mattis says http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/article/2627298
    The DC Examiner report includes audio of the question and answer session with the Defense Secretary.
    People can also read the transcript of the audio from the following:
    Media Availability by Secretary Mattis en route to Belgium
    As to the reports in the media about the appropriate people not being contacted before the President issued his statement, read the following tweet from Jennifer Epstein, White House reporter for Bloomberg News:
    “Anonymous reporting” that other agencies didn’t know about Syria situation before WH statement is “false,” @SHSanders45 says
    With her tweet, Ms. Epstein posted an image of the full statement by Principal Deputy Press Secretary for the White House, Sara H. Sanders, which reads:

    In regard to several inquiries regarding the Syrian statement issued last night, we want to clarify that all relevant agencies — including State, DOD, CIA and ODNI — were involved in the process from the beginning. Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false.

    One can disagree with the administration’s analysis and policy, but on April 11 and again on April 21 Defense Secretary Mattis stated (paraphrasing):
    1. The Syrian Government retains chemical weapons despite their promise to give them up;
    2. If the Syrian Government uses them again there will be very serious consequences; and
    3. The diplomats will have to address the Syrian Government to honoring its word about destroying all of the chemical weapons stock pile.
    April 11 – Press Conference by Secretary Mattis and Gen. Votel in the Pentagon Briefing Room
    April 21 – Joint News Conference with Secretary Mattis and Minister of Defense Lieberman in Tel Aviv, Israel
    As to the report by Mr. Hersh and generally on this whole topic,
    – In the early the morning of April 4, while the attack by the Syrian Arab Air Force on Khan Sheikhun was occurring, video was shot by the person tasked with mounting an early warning observation post for that town.
    The video shows four columns of smoke rising from the ground from four different locations after the attack was carried out.
    This would suggest more than one bomb was dropped.
    A subsequent video shot later in the day shows what looks like a white cloud of some sort of substance hovering over the town.
    – According to reports, an air attack was launched on the local hospital later on April 4, during the time frame when the Russian Ministry of Defense says that the initial attack was carried out.
    – Kareem Shaheen, a Middle East reporter based in Beirut, Lebanon and working for the Guardian visited Khan Sheihkun shortly after the attack. The following report was posted on the Guardian website on April 6:
    ‘The dead were wherever you looked’: inside Syrian town after gas attack
    For a profile of Kareem Shaheeen – https://www.theguardian.com/profile/kareem-shaheen
    As an aside, from his twitter feed, @kshaheen, seems that he is based in Instanbul, not Beirut as the Guardian profile states.
    – April 11 – Press Conference by Secretary Mattis and Gen. Votel in the Pentagon Briefing Room
    – April 11 – Trump: ‘We’re not going into Syria’ http://nypost.com/2017/04/11/trump-were-not-going-into-syria/
    – April 13 – A Discussion on National Security with CIA Director Mike Pompeo https://www.csis.org/analysis/discussion-national-security-cia-director-mike-pompeo
    – April 19 press report from the OPCW:
    OPCW Director-General Shares Incontrovertible Laboratory Results Concluding Exposure to Sarin https://www.opcw.org/news/article/opcw-director-general-shares-incontrovertible-laboratory-results-concluding-exposure-to-sarin/
    – May 19 – Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Mattis, General Dunford and Special Envoy McGurk on the Campaign to Defeat ISIS in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1188225/department-of-defense-press-briefing-by-secretary-mattis-general-dunford-and-sp/
    – June 24 Hugh Hewitt interviewed CIA Director Mike Pompeo
    Transcript Of Interview With CIA Director Mike Pompeo
    – June 27 Media Availability with Secretary Mattis en route to Europe
    – June 28 Media Availability by Secretary Mattis en route to Belgium
    Yes, Mr. Hersch’s report, which is based on anonymous sources, reflects a version of events. In certain key aspects, his report is not consistent with certain key evidence, nor all the statements by officials that are on the record.
    The questions that I have concerning what transpired, in the early morning hours of April 4, are as follows:
    – Did the Syrian Air Force launch an attack on a jihadist facility in Khan Sheikhun resulting in a toxic gas cloud being emitted causing mass casualties?
    – Did that toxic gas cloud contain a sarin like substance?
    – Alternatively, did the Syrian Air Force launch a chemical weapons attack using sarin gas?
    – If the toxic gas cloud did not contain a sarin like substance and the Syrian Air Force did not launch a chemical weapons attack using sarin gas, who did? Was someone trying to create an incident that would cause the administration to change its policy towards Syria?
    – Later that day, did the Syrian Air Force carry out an attack on the local hospital in the area, causing additional casualties?
    I continue to await the report of the OPCW fact finding mission and the subsequent OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism report.
    From a policy perspective, one can take issue with the President’s decision to authorize the attack on the Syrian Air Force base on April 7 and to issue a warning to the Syrian Government on June 26.
    However, the President made a decision on April 11. He is not going to authorize an invasion of Syria. The current US military mission in Syria, as authorized by the UN Security Council, is to defeat and destroy the Islamic State.
    At the same time, if US or allied forces are attacked by Syrian, Iranian or aligned forces, the US will respond. Hence the need for continuous de-confliction to avoid incidents as explained by Defense Secretary Mattis during the media briefing on June 27.
    Furthermore, if the Syrian Government conducts another chemical weapons attack, or an attack which results in mass causalities due to exposure to toxic gas, the US will respond.
    In that regard, the UN Secretary General met with Secretary Tillerson at the State Department yesterday. The Secretary – General was asked about the warning issued by the President issued through the Press Secretary:
    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomes @UN Secretary General António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres to the @StateDept.
    As the transcript reveals, the UN Secretary General was asked:

    QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you think President Assad heard the President – President Trump’s warning?
    QUESTION: Do you think that President Assad heard President Trump’s warning about the Syrian chemical weapons attack?
    SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES: I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t hear what you are saying.
    QUESTION: Do you think that President Assad heard President Trump’s warning about the Syrian chemical weapons attack?
    SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES: I believe it was a serious warning, and I think serious warnings should be heard.

    All that written, it remains my view that before the President authorizes an attack on the Syrian Arab Republic in response to a claimed chemical weapons attack, he needs to go to Congress.
    Could be all wet. Just my two cents on this whole subject.
    P.S. With the collapse of the Russian collusion narrative, this may make it easier for the President to attempt to repair relations with Russia. In that regard, yesterday we learned:
    Statement from the Press Secretary on President Donald J. Trump’s Visit to France on Bastille Day https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/06/28/statement-press-secretary-president-donald-j-trumps-visit-france

  25. different clue says:

    I am hoping that this is indeed some sort of impulsive outburst which gets walked back. My first impression when I heard it on National Public Fake News Radio was that the President with the unanimous support of the DC FedRegime PermaGov was promising the rebels that if they could plan and carry out a gas attack, that the DC FedRegime Gov would accuse Assad of doing it and would launch major attacks against SAR forces and facilities.
    Should I still think that? If having credible observers on the ground around every SAR military facility would make it more difficult to accuse Assad of the rebel chemical attack which the Trump announcement seems designed to me to have been inviting, would Russia decide to put such observers there? If Saudi Arabia would object to America putting such supporters there also, could credible Civil-Society-Group Americans be invited to send observers?

  26. Kutte says:

    Babak Makkinejad,
    De Gaulle’s situation in 1940 was completely different from that of 1958, when he was recalled by the military for the purpose of “saving” Algeria, then realizing that French rule in Algeria was unsustainable, which nearly got him killed. Gorbachev also realized that communism was unsustainable, but did not manage a controlled exit. I was pointing out parallels, not comparing or even equating.

  27. Mikey says:

    FWIW: Turkish Army offensive to begin this weekend to expel Kurds from northern Aleppo
    DAMASCUS, SYRIA (10:00 P.M.) – New reports regarding a massive Turkish Army build-up in northern Aleppo have emerged after military sources confirmed to local outlets that a large-scale offensive was brewing, aimed at driving the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) out of the Efrin region.

  28. turcopolier says:

    I am also concerned with ultimate Erdoganist goals are with regard to Aleppo City and Idlib Province. pl

  29. turcopolier says:

    I forgot to include Marcus the purple assed mandrill of peace and Publius Tacitus as being members of the luncheon group. :You actually believed that BS about the lunch club? “The superficial observation” There is nothing superficial about the explanation. IMO DJT suffers from massive developmental disorders. You are clearly a member of the “resistance” and seeking to damage the Republicans by insisting that DJT is a fully functional adult not driven by his demons. IMO you are wrong. pl

  30. makelovenotwar says:

    Hersh interview
    There was, we knew about a meeting. The word was from the Russians to us, our intelligence services, was if you have a guy there, you’re buying somebody, we, you, like to pay money to get information or other reasons, if you have somebody going to that meeting on April 4th, in this town, in a command and control center, don’t let him go. Find a way to get him out gracefully. And so that was kept very secret.
    So the planning was done for days because it involved, the zone is called, it’s at the operational zone six, really is what they call it. It’s a Russia operational zone. Syria operational zone. We do not operate there, militarily, with planes, bombing. That’s done by the other services. It was a Syrian plane, an upgraded Syrian plane with a special Russian bomb, laser guided bomb. Russia, unlike us, Russia’s, they don’t spend the money we do on laser guided stuff. The Russians tend to be cherry about it but this is going to be laser guided. They brought in a better version of an old MIG called an SU24 Syrian jet with a very senior Syrian General piloting.
    If you have a covert, if you’re running people, you’re running agents, intelligence agents inside, let’s say al-Nusra. If you’re running operations inside their operations, why would you want to talk about it before or after? You don’t.
    There was a basement there. Very likely there would be a lot of stuff supplied there, stored there, including, plastic containers full of cooking oil.
    You may know under a lot of heat, in an explosion, plastic develops into something that in World War I was know as phosgene, another poisonous chemical. Any cloud can be … We all know from fires, that people die from smoke inhalation. Any cloud can be very damaging.
    What did not happen is Syria did not drop a sarin bomb that morning. It was known to everybody in the command. Period.

  31. LondonBob says:

    Going by what Bannon’s friend has said regarding Shayrat it was partly a political decision due to domestic pressures from neocons and partly sending a message to NK, China, Russia, Iran etc. Of course it was in the end a purely symbolic strike. Did it change anything, no.
    Not convinced by Hersh’s account that the intelligence Trump was shown showed anything but the Syrians were responsible, whether they were or not. Trump is still surrounded by many people who desire regime change/destruction in Syria.

  32. LondonBob says:

    I expect Trump was trying to get some leverage for his meeting with Putin next week, sure conceivably there might be some U2 incident tricks going on in the background, maybe even Trump is forestalling them. After all this the guy who completely bluffed Comey in to actually telling the truth.
    Given Trump’s modus operandi I will go for my first explanation. No need to be dumb as the media and needlessly chase around in circles whatever Trump throws out there to keep them distracted whilst the administration gets on with business. Is Trump moving towards regime change in Syria contrary to his long established position on matters there, or did the US just announce that the Syrians are welcome to fight ISIS in the east and are looking to withdraw from Tanf.

  33. Mikey says:

    How does Sheldon Adelson strike you?

  34. Babak Makkinejad says:

    No no no; he was the one that gave that famous speech, calling on all Frenchmen to join him – yes he had help but that is like saying that Churcil had help.

  35. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Since I am considered a Gaullist by my French friends, I must object to your point of view – de Gaulle was trying to save a legendary creature called France; from 1940 until he resigned.
    One could say that Providence or Destiny called on him to so. And he did so against the grain of so many French.

  36. Kutte says:

    When Trump began his cancidacy, everybody laughed, called him an idiot etc. Yet he had a plan, and it worked. That, on earth, makes me think that he also has a plan for his presidency. Despite appearing as a buffoon, he has a good sense of distance, a good sense of proportion, and is also willing to fight if need be, as Mr. Comey found out. Where Nixon panicked, Trump kept his cool. He might offer South Korea and Japan a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, and, as they are likely to refuse, then say: We offered you, but if you don’t want our help, we might as well go. Which is probably what he wanted in the first place. Saudi Arabia tells him Qatar is guilty of this and that, and he says go ahead. Once the Saudis made a mess of it, he will wash his hands. The same with the Syria attack, which Publius Tacitus keeps saying this will lead to his impeachment. He will just say that he was lied to, and then fire these “helpers”, whom he never wanted in the first place. Remember what Truman did with McArthur. He did not like him ever, but could never fire him because of his reputation. So he let him do what he liked in Korea, and when things went sour, he fired him, which he always wanted. I commented on another occasion, the worst thing you can do is under-estimate Trump. In any case, we should know very soon whether there is anything to that.

  37. Greco says:

    It may be possible that Assad and Putin don’t have as much control over their armed forces as may be thought.
    Take for example the Litvinenko saga. He was the ex-FSB agent who had died of polonium poisoning. The more popular theory puts it that Putin had ordered his assassination, much like how the exiled Trotsky was killed with an ice pick; however, another theory posits that his poisoning was brought on by his involvement in a smuggling operation. That is to say, he fell terminally ill after improperly handling the polonium. For all we know he was still an FSB agent working undercover, but it’s also possible he was simply corrupt.
    I don’t want to speculate too much because there are a lot of important considerations that remain unclear and plenty of reason to be skeptical of the claims regarding Assad ordering CW attacks or even having possession of CWs at this stage.

  38. Harper says:

    Clearly there is a need for credible international observers on the ground to verify the ordinance being used by the Syrian Air Force, and to also verify where there is evidence that rebel factions are using CW. OPCW is one candidate for such a mission, with representation from Russia, the United States and other parties. There is so much subjective debate over the sanity, qualifications, strategy of President Trump that it colors the evaluations process, when something like the charges of planned CW use arise in public. Given the environment, I read the Mattis statements as a walk-back from the prospects of deeper U.S. military engagement directed against the Syrian Armed Forces and potentially other R+6 forces. I do hope that the Trump-Putin meeting takes place and leads to a calming of the situation(s). The one area where Trump has excelled has been the one-on-one meetings with other world leaders, where his apparatus has reportedly done excellent prep work and where Trump “the closer” was able to operate on comfortable grounds.

  39. John_Frank,
    I think it would be unwise to take the Hersh report entirely at face value.
    It needs to be seen against the background of his earlier writing, and above all the account of the ‘false flag’ at Ghouta on 21 August 2013 he published in the ‘London Review of Books’ in April 2014 under the title ‘The Red Line and the Rat Line’.
    (See https://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line .)
    According to his account, the attempt to use this to inveigle the United States into a new disastrous war in the Middle East was frustrated by General Dunford’s predecessor as CJCS, General Dempsey, with the co-operation of scientists from the British Defence Science & Technology Laboratory at Porton Down.
    At the crucial time, General Dempsey was able and willing to present Obama with ‘slam dunk’ from tests they had conducted on samples provided by the GRU that proved beyond reasonable doubt that the Syrian government forces were not responsible.
    From the outset, an attentive and unbiased reader, prepared to do some follow-up work with Google, could see that it was wildly unlikely that Hersh’s central contentions were not true – but that equally unlikely that his sources were telling ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’
    The only way the story made sense was that if key elements in the British and American governments had been complicit in covering up earlier ‘false flags’, and if the results of tests on samples from these done at at Porton Down which demonstrated that they were such had been covered up.
    Once one realised this, one could see that frustrating the new ‘false flag’ which could be expected required a number of figures, with General Dempsey in the lead role, to resort to extraordinary steps.
    My reconstruction of the ‘back story’ to the ‘Red Line and Rat Line’ article, based purely on ‘open source’ information, was posted by Colonel Lang back in April, under the title ‘ Sentence first – verdict afterwards?”’ If anyone can produce objections based upon the identification of genuine errors of fact or logic in it, I am willing to consider them. So far, nobody has.
    (See http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2017/04/sentence-first-verdict-afterwards-a-revision-by-david-habakkuk-14-april-2017.html .)
    Pressing reasons why the ‘back story’ needed to be suppressed were, obviously, implicit in my account of what it was: among them the need to protect honest and courageous scientists at Porton Down from punitive action by people in a position to take this who had everything to lose by having the truth exposed.
    In frustrating the attempt to use Ghouta to inveigle the United States into handing over Syria to jihadists, and equip them with a sophisticated CW arsenal, General Dempsey was spectacularly successful. However, seriously denting the ‘groupthink’ according to which it was self-evident that Assad was responsible for that an earlier incidents proved impossible.
    Accordingly, it has long seemed likely that, when circumstances were again propitious, a fresh ‘false flag’ attempt would be attempted. The election of Hillary Clinton would certainly have created favourable conditions. It has been more surprising that her defeat did – a fact which is clearly registered in the exchanges between the ‘American Soldier’ and the ‘Security Advisor’ which accompany Hersh’ article.
    It also important here to realise that the people who organise these ventures are – as Putin attempted to point out to Western leaders in his speech to the U.N. back in September 2015 – cruel, but not stupid. There is clearly a ‘learning curve’: the sophistication of ‘false flag’ attempts has greatly increased since the crude ones practised at Sheikh Maqsoud and Saraqeb back in April 2013.
    If one looks carefully at the article, and the accompanying conversation, it seems to me clear that both are shaped by an overriding purpose.
    It is expected that the organisers of the last ‘false flag’ will attempt to build on the its success by staging a new one – and, as the article and conversation both bring out, Trump has boxed himself into a corner where it is extremely likely that he will continue as the ‘useful idiot’ of the Salafists and those who are determined to prevent a decisive victory for the ‘R+6’ in Syria at almost any cost.
    What is liable to make persuading him to draw back particularly difficult is the fact that you in the United States have – as we also do in Britain – élites who have been sleepwalking into very dangerous territory in foreign and security policy.
    The list of inanities from General Mattis I could quote is a long one. Among headlines in recent months, ‘Iran world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism”, Mattis says’; and ‘Sec. Mattis on Russia: “NATO is not a threat and they know it”. On Afghanistan, ‘Mattis: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now”’, appeared to give some grounds for hope, but what the story revealed him as saying – ‘we will correct this as soon as possible’ – quickly revealed that hope as baseless.
    And then there was the long piece by Mark Perry in ‘Politico’ last December, entitled ‘James Mattis’ 33-Year Grudge Against Iran: Many in the Pentagon worry that Trump’s pick for defense secretary is looking for a fight in the Middle East.’
    (See http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/james-mattis-iran-secretary-of-defense-214500 .)
    If you look closely at the remarks of the ‘senior adviser’ which form the basis of the Trump article, as also the ‘on the ground’ reporting from the ‘American Soldier’ – it is clear that they are crafted to maximise the chances that, in the event of a new ‘false flag’, the top military advisors to Trump will act as Dempsey did over Ghouta. It seems likely, although it is not certain, that the ‘senior adviser’ and the ‘Security Advisor’ are one and the same person.
    Once one gets this far, it may be apparent why there could be reasons why – as with the ‘Red Line and Rat Line’ account, it would have been judged inappropriate, at this juncture at least, to go into the full ‘back story’ of what happened at Khan Sheikhun.
    A close look at the material in ‘Die Welt’, and also the interviews that Hersh has given subsequently, does I think reveal some pointers to it.
    (For the interviews, see http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=19413 ; http://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/seymour-hersh-syria-bombshell .)

  40. FB Ali says:

    Glad to read a first-hand perspective on Mattis – especially from an ‘old soldier’. I have little doubt that you are correct in your assessment of him.
    It seems most US military men in high command positions today conform to this pattern – little actual combat experience, lots of staff etc background.

  41. LondonBob says:

    Despite his past statements I find Mattis has grown on me, perhaps the responsibility of his position has tempered his prior bellicosity. That said I would still be surprised if he weren’t advocating striking Syria almost as much as I would be surprised to find out that he was crafting the evidence to support such a position. Ultimately he seems loyal and honourable.
    McMaster on the other hand seemed positively giddy on the Sunday talk show at events after Shayrat and was cooing every time Nikki Haley was mentioned. As Bannon’s friend said of M & M ask a surgeon if you need surgery and what answer do you get? Bannon seemed to be the biggest holdout regarding military action and lets not forget this all happened after his removal from the NSC. Might be nothing, might not.
    Just because Brennan was no longer CIA head they all suddenly changed stance on Syria, Russia?
    I would also like to know where Israel and Kushner are in all this. The NY Times article on the last CW claims say the intel came from a foreign country.
    So for me that part of Hersh’s story does not add up.

  42. pmr9 says:

    John Frank
    I think it’s becoming clearer what happened, so let me try to answer your five questions with what we now think are the most likely answers.
    Did the Syrian Air Force launch an attack on a jihadist facility in Khan Sheikhun resulting in a toxic gas cloud being emitted causing mass casualties?
    – Did that toxic gas cloud contain a sarin like substance?
    Probably not, though it might have contained something irritant. The white cloud was produced by smoke generators at two sites, one southwest of town and one just north of the tel. The US military battle damage assessment misinterpreted this cloud as the result of secondary explosions caused by an airstrike on stored chemicals.
    – Alternatively, did the Syrian Air Force launch a chemical weapons attack using sarin gas?
    – If the toxic gas cloud did not contain a sarin like substance and the Syrian Air Force did not launch a chemical weapons attack using sarin gas, who did? Was someone trying to create an incident that would cause the administration to change its policy towards Syria?
    The rebels staged a false flag chemical attack with massacred captives, using IEDs and smoke generators to mimic an airstrike.
    – Later that day, did the Syrian Air Force carry out an attack on the local hospital in the area, causing additional casualties?
    The Syrian air force struck a building at the quarry/cave complex on the eastern edge of town at about 11.30 am. The hospital, in chambers that were excavated deep into the cliff, was undamaged.

  43. Jackrabbit says:

    That’s closer to the truth than anything that has been proposed. But it seems that few want to look beyond easy explanations.
    What strikes me is Trump’s many-faceted relationship with the Clinton’s. Trump supported Hillary in 2008 and picked up on the ‘birther’ nonsense that she instigated.

  44. Procopius says:

    Yes, but he (rightly) views them as hostile to his agenda, to the limited extent he has an agenda, so he ignores them. I think if Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell talked to him it might have more effect, but probably it wouldn’t. He seems to be very impulsive.

  45. Procopius says:

    During the cold war there was a new way of predicting the future developed. It was called Kremlinology, and it depended on analyzing visible events, like pictures of who was on the dais at the May Day parade and who was not in the published pictures, to try to guess how bad last year’s grain harvest was. Interpreting Trump’s Tweets is about as useful.

  46. pmr9 says:

    The briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova on 29 June comments in detail on the US allegations that Syria is preparing another chemical attack, and on the Khan Sheikhoun story.
    the scenario will be the same. Some incident occurs in an area controlled by militants, resulting in civilian casualties … just as the last time, purported evidence will be demonstrated to the Western public: [explosion] craters and some murky footage and photos of dead bodies allegedly made during the incident will go viral online. Then it will be proved that it was all staged in the same way as some well-known organisations demonstrated before. ”
    She cites the VIPS letter and the Hersh article on the secondary release of a toxic cloud.
    According to these veteran experts, in Khan Shaykhun, a Syrian plane dropped a bomb on the ammunition depot of a local Al Qaeda group where the noxious agents were in fact stored. A gust of wind created a cloud that rose as a result of the explosion, spread to a nearby village and led to numerous casualties.
    On June 25, German Die Welt published an article by Seymour Hersh saying that the Trump administration has ignored US intelligence services’ report that there is no evidence of chemical weapons being used in Khan Shaykhun. As for the symptoms of chemical poisoning, they were probably caused by the cloud of the chemical substance that was stored at the target of the attack.
    She appears to have mixed up Col Lang and SST with Alastair Crooke and Conflicts Forum
    The Conflicts Forum, an online resource run by former MI6 agent Alastair Crooke, published a series of materials by US investigative bloggers who are also critical of the US administration’s version of the Khan Shaykhun events.
    I don’t think she really believes that the victims were killed by the cloud: she also notes that there were very few adult women among the corpses, with obvious implications.
    The story that a US military damage assessment, based on satellite images, showed a cloud of smoke pouring from the presumed attack site and spreading over town has appeared through at least three different channels: our own Publius Tacitus, the VIPS letter and Seymour Hersh’s article. It’s hard to explain how secondary release of stored chemicals could have caused so many casualties or how it could have led to positive tests for sarin (now apparently confirmed by samples obtained by the Syrian government and passed to OPCW). A more plausible explanation of the cloud is given by Adam Larson’s analysis of the videos recorded from a distance by rebel cameramen. This shows that the white fog originated from two different sites, and that the quantity of fog produced continuously over at least 20 minutes are consistent with military-type smoke generators, rather than with an explosion.

  47. John_Frank says:

    Since posting this comment, the OPCW Fact Finding Mission has released their report. According to the press release dated June 30:
    OPCW Fact-Finding Mission Confirms Use of Chemical Weapons in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017

    THE HAGUE, Netherlands — 30 June 2017 — In a report released by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) confirmed that people were exposed to sarin, a chemical weapon, on 4 April 2017 in the Khan Shaykhun area, Idlib Province in the Syrian Arab Republic.
    The FFM’s mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals as weapons have been used in Syria; it does not include identifying who is responsible for alleged attacks. An advance team for the FFM was deployed within 24 hours of being alerted to the incident. For security reasons, the FFM was unable to visit Khan Shaykhun. The rapid deployment to a neighbouring country, however, enabled the team to attend autopsies, collect bio-medical samples from casualties and fatalities, interview witnesses and receive environmental samples.
    A rigorous methodology was employed for conducting an investigation of alleged use of chemical weapons that took into account corroboration between interviewee testimonies; open-source research, documents, and other records; and the characteristics of the samples including those provided by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic.
    The Fact-Finding Mission report has been shared with States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW’s Executive Council, which will consider the FFM’s findings at an Executive Council meeting scheduled for 5 July 2017.
    The report has also been sent to the United Nations Security Council through the UN Secretary-General and the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism.
    The Director-General stated: “The OPCW FFM has confirmed the use of sarin, a nerve agent, at the 4 April incident in Khan Shaykhun in Syria. I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention. The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes. In this context, the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism assumes high importance.”
    The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was established by the UN Security Council (Resolution 2235, 7 August 2015) with the mandate to identify “to the greatest extent feasible” individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organisers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria, where the OPCW FFM determines or has determined that a specific incident involved or likely involved the use of chemicals as weapons.

  48. lally says:

    In addition to Ms Zakharova’s briefing commentary on the possibilities of “rebel” induced false CW flag events, there was this response during the follow-up Q&A:
    Answers to media questions:
    “Question: You have mentioned possible Western provocations related to the allegations about a planned chemical attack in the West. Do you have any new information regarding this?
    Maria Zakharova: We do have new information. I tried to present it. We believe that a provocation involving a fake chemical attack is being prepared. More precisely, such a provocation cannot be ruled out in the towns of Saraqeb or Ariha. We will share more information on this matter when and if we receive it.”

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