Saturday, July 8, 2017

US Defense Secretary Mattis said warning to Assad worked

(June 30) A White House warning that the Assad government was making potential preparations for a chemical attack in Syria had worked to stop a chemical attack according to U.S. national security officials.

The New York TImes reports on the issue quoting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: "They didn't do it". Of course the TImes never bothered to ask why they would want to do it in the first place. The Times does not mention that there have recently been questions about the earlier alleged attack by Assad, that resulted in a Syrian base being attacked with Tomahawk missiles, raised by journalist Seymour Hersh.
The warning issued on Monday by White House officials, claimed that the U.S. had “identified potential preparations” by the Assad government to use chemical weapons in an attack similar to one that was launched in April from an airfield in western Syria. Note that there is no questioning that there was such an attack. It is reported as fact. Mattis said that it appeared that Assad took the warnings seriously. He refused to say whether the preparations that were noted earlier had been ended but said that there had been a lack of a chemical weapons attack since the White House warning was issued. No doubt there would have been no chemical attack even though there was no warning since there is no good reason for such an attack and every reason to avoid one. Don't expect the New York Times to stray from just "objective" reporting of whatever an important official says.
The Times goes on with more exciting news. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said: “I think that by the president calling out Assad, I think by us continuing to remind Iran and Russia that while they choose to back Assad, that this was something we were not going to put up with. I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women and children.” A nice thought but it would be even nicer if she could give some better evidence for it. The Times does make the interesting remark that White House officials denied reports that military and intelligence officials were not aware that the statement was to be made before its release.
According to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy press secretary, President Trump proposed making the statement after he received information that Assad might attack again using chemical weapons. She would not give details about the evidence or say who provided it to Trump. Perhaps this is just a standard protocol to avoid transparency or maybe no one want"s to be held responsible for evidence that could be questioned. Sanders claims that the national security adviser, the director of national intelligence and the director of the CIA were all present at the meeting at which Trump suggested making the statement. She said: “The military chain of command was also fully aware of the statement as it was being prepared and later released. By the time the statement was issued, every relevant department and agency had ample opportunity to provide feedback and input.”
Reuters provides a somewhat more sceptical account of events noting the Russian response to the warning: "Russia, the Syrian government's main backer in the country's civil war, warned that it would respond proportionately if the United States took pre-emptive measures against Syrian forces to stop what the White House says could be a planned chemical attack." One possible explanation for nothing happening is this warning that the Times does not bother to mention. Perhaps the U.S. was hoping to use the alleged preparations as an excuse to attack some Assad positions but then nothing happened because of the Russian warning. I suppose one could argue then that the Russian warning worked. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that he hoped the U.S. was not preparing to use its intelligence assessments as a pretext to mount a "provocation" in Syria.
In answer to a question as to whether Mattis believed that Assad had called off any strike completely Mattis said: "I think you better ask Assad about that." Reuters claims that according to an anonymous U.S. official familiar with the intelligence behind the warning said that it was "far from conclusive" and that it did not come close to showing that a chemical weapons attack was coming. Reuters also describes the evidence saying that another U.S. official said that a Syrian warplane was being observed moving into a hangar where intelligence agencies believe Assad is hiding chemical weapons. Whatever the reason for the U.S. warning there have been no pre-emptive attacks by the U.S. and no chemical attacks so far by Assad. The appended video was not produced by Onion!

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