Thread: On this day, five years ago, the Syrian regime attacked the town of Khan Sheikoun with the nerve agent Sarin. 92 people were killed; many more left scarred for life. The way #Russia and its western sympathisers responded tells us a lot about what to expect in #Ukraine.
Russia and the regime's immediate response was predictable: denial and deflection. There were the usual slew of mutually contradictory claims, whose aim is to bury the truth under the weight of competing claims. But what was less predictable was how westerners responded.
The German daily @welt published a long article by Seymour Hersh making verifiably false claims. Some of the disinformation he promoted appeared to have come directly from Russian intelligence, channelled through members of the VIPS.
But the more troubling response came from supposedly neutral people like the celebrated linguist Noam Chomsky. In several public appearances, Chomsky cast doubt on the regime's responsibility. I had an exchange with Chomsky in which I tried to explain to him why he was wrong.
Chomsky instead got irritable and combative and challenged me to write about it and "embarrass yourself". So I did. A few months later the OPCW confirmed my assertions. Chomsky never apologised and remains decidedly unembarrassed.
Here is why all of this matters. When we speak of wars, we understandably focus on the dead but ignore what it does to those who survive. In the case of nerve agents, for example, the effects are debilitating both physically and psychologically. The trauma endures.
Secondly, the manufacturing of doubt around major atrocities is not just an epistemic issue. It has real consequences in the conduct of war. When responsibility for one atrocity remains unresolved, it gives the perpetrator room to commit more. And so it happened in Syria.
3rdly, when we fail to hold perpetrators accountable, it emboldens them. In 2013, when Assad massacred 1400 civilians with sarin, the Obama admin abrogated its own red line to appease the regime & Russia. Assad went on to carry out 300 more CW attacks. newlinesmag.com/review/the-day-the-world-stood-still/
A final and critical point: the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack happened four years after the Obama administration had negotiated a deal with Russia to disarm Syria of its chemical arsenal. Obama and Kerry cited this as a major achievement. Except, the regime never disarmed.
The regime never ceased its use of chemical weapons, launching over 300 after it had supposedly been disarmed. It also didn't cease the production of nerve agents. What was notable about Khan Sheikhoun is that it had once again returned to the use of sarin instead of chlorine.
The lesson for Ukraine? Without leverage, Putin and Lavrov's guarantees aren't worth the paper they are written on. So don't let Europe or the US force you into any precipitate deals that don't come with western, not Russian, guarantees.
Recommendations from around the web and our community.