One of the most basic duties of any Government is to maintain a military that is capable of defending the country against foreign aggression. However, an equally important Governmental responsibility is to ensure that this military is only used when it is absolutely needful. A responsible Government is one that takes every step it can to avoid war, only engages when necessity compels it to, and when all other options have been exhausted. It would be good if these words of General Thomas Jackson were printed on the walls of everyone responsible for making such decisions:
“It is painful enough to discover with what unconcern they speak of war and threaten it. They do not know its horrors. I have seen enough of it to make me look upon it as the sum of all evils.”
Unfortunately, we do not have such a Government, nor have we had one for quite some time. Instead, we have irresponsible people who treat war very lightly, and who are prepared to sell us into war using false pretexts. This was the case in Iraq in2003. It was also the case in Libya, an action that turned that country into a terrorist playground and now into a market for slave traders.
If Boris Johnson’s comments in Parliament on April 18th are anything to go by, it looks like he and the Government are itching to get the military out once more on a dubious pretext, this time over the alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April. Here is what he said in answer to a question put to him by Alistair Burt MP, as to whether the British Government would have supported the US missile strike on April 6th, had it been asked to do so, or whether it considers itself bound by the decision of the House of Commons in August 2013 not to authorise the use of force in Syria:
“As my right hon. Friend knows and as I said, we were not asked for specific support, but it is my belief—I stress that no such decision has yet been taken—that were such a request to be made in future and were it to be a reasonable request in pursuit of similar objectives, it would be very difficult for the United Kingdom to say no.”
Which begs the question, why would it be difficult to say no? Why would it be hard to say no to an attack on a sovereign country, thousands of miles from the UK, which poses no threat whatsoever to the country Mr Johnson is Foreign Secretary of? Furthermore, why would it be difficult to say no to using the British military to respond to an incident for which culpability has not remotely been proven?
Not proven? That Mr Johnson is aware of this can be shown by comments he made in his opening speech. After muddying the waters by using circumstantial facts to infer guilt, he went on to say:
“The attack on Khan Sheikhoun is already the subject of an international inquiry by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Thanks in large measure to UK diplomacy, the United Nations now has a joint investigative mechanism with a mandate to identify any party responsible for chemical attacks in Syria, and I trust that it will report as soon as possible.”
Can you spot the problem with that? So there’s an investigation, and presumably its job will be to assemble “evidence”, to establish “facts” and to “apportion blame”. That’s what investigations are for, isn’t it? Yet Mr Johnson acknowledges that it hasn’t yet been carried out. To which one might be tempted to ask him why he thinks they should bother, since he apparently knows the result in advance. Furthermore, hasn’t he just prejudiced the very inquiry he speaks approvingly of by his reckless statement apportioning guilt? Isn’t this what is called poisoning the wells of truth, and doesn’t it make it that little bit harder to trust the results of any investigation as being impartial?
Simple logic folks: Either the facts are known and are incontrovertible, in which case there is no need for an investigation, or they are not incontrovertible, in which case the investigation should be allowed to proceed. If the former, Mr Johnson should present that incontrovertible proof to the public – something he has singularly failed to do. If the latter, he should stop making statements apportioning blame and cease threatening to support further military action based on assumptions made before the investigation.
But we all know that Assad did it, don’t we? There is the undisputed fact that Syrian airforce planes attacked Khan Sheikhoun on the morning of April 4th. There are the videos of people suffering what look like the effects of some sort of chemical attack. Aren’t they enough to establish guilt? No, is the simple answer.
A number of former intelligence officials have come forward to cast doubt on the narrative put forward by the likes of Boris Johnson and more particularly the US Government’s justification for their Tomahawk strike, which was a four-page White House Intelligence Report (WHR) released on April 11th. Perhaps the most thorough and credible debunking so far has been done by Theodore Postol, who is Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of America’s foremost experts in ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Professor Postol has now completed four separate reports, each one debunking a different part of the WHR.
In his first report, he states that the evidence presented in the WHR, far from showing that a munition containing a toxic chemical substance was dropped from a plane, actually points to it having been detonated on the ground:
“Analysis of the debris as shown in the photographs cited by the White House clearly indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive on top of it that crushed the container so as to disperse the alleged load of sarin.”
In his second report, he convincingly explains that the site of the alleged sarin release (a crater in a road according to the WHR report) has clearly been tampered with. His third report is utterly scathing of the idea that the WHR could possibly have come from intelligence officials, stating that it contains “false and misleading claims”. And in his latest report, after an analysis of weather data from the day of the incident, he concludes that the claims made in the WHR as to what happened and where cannot possibly be true:
“The conclusion of this summary of data is obvious – the nerve agent attack described in the WHR did not occur as claimed. There may well have been mass casualties from some kind of poisoning event, but that event was not the one described by the WHR.”
I would urge you to go and read those reports, or at least their conclusions. Professor Postol does not pretend to know what happened on April 4th, but he clearly does know enough to cast huge doubt on the narrative put forward as fact by the likes of Boris Johnson. It should also be noted that Khan Sheikhoun is a stronghold of the terrorist group, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (aka al-Nusra, aka al-Qaeda in Syria), and so witness statements coming from the area should at least be treated with a healthy dose of scepticism and not automatically taken at face value.
If we have learned anything from our recent history, it should be that our political classes are often irresponsible enough to sell us into war on flimsy and even false pretexts. Surely we’re not going to let them push us down the path towards the “sum of all evils” again, are we?