The PJ Tatler

Yossef Bodansky: 'Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?'

The question posed in the headline is obviously an explosive one, pardon the pun. And I’m not endorsing a “yes” answer in highlighting Bodansky’s article.

I have wondered about something, though.

On August 20, 2012, President Obama issued his now famous “red line” comment regarding Syria and the use of chemical weapons. Use of such weapons, Obama said at the time, would be a “game changer.”

Exactly a year later, Syrian government forces allegedly use chemical weapons — sarin gas — to kill nearly 1,500 Syrian civilians. Now America, we’re told, must respond.

Why would Assad do this? From a strategic point of view, why would he take action that invites — almost demands — Obama to take military action against him when he is in the middle of a violent civil war?

Assad has widely been believed to be winning the war against the rebels. Why take any action that could invite a rain of American Tomahawk missiles and maybe targeted B2 strikes on your forces and positions, and even specifically on you, personally? What did Assad have to gain from this? Why would a dictator who is fighting for his life decide to stick his thumb in America’s eye, in a strategically meaningless attack?

Granted, Assad may be the world’s worst general. He does come to Damascus’ bloody throne from a career as an eye doctor. If he were alive today, Stormin’ Norman would mock Assad’s military credentials.

But idiots don’t survive long as dictators. Someone is always plotting to kill you. You have to stay on your toes 24/7. One mistake and you’re Gaddafi. Bashar Assad has been dictator of Syria for about 13 years now. Iran’s pet he may be, Putin’s pal he may be, but a noob he is not.

Against Assad stands an array of rebel groups. Some are “moderates,” whatever that means in the context of the Middle East. Some are known to be al Qaeda.

Which side benefits more from the violation of Obama’s chemical weapons “red line”?

Assad is always likely to kill people indiscriminately. He has done it for years. How about al Qaeda?

Yeah. Killing people in large numbers is what they do.


So it’s worth pursuing whether the August 21 chemical attack might have been an al Qaeda operation designed to bring America into the war to harm or even topple Assad. It was worth the risk. If it succeeds, al Qaeda gets at least temporary help from the world’s most powerful military. If it fails, well, al Qaeda is already America’s enemy. What’s one more attack? If the attack succeeds, it would put Obama exactly where he has been in Libya and Egypt — against the stable dictator, and with chaos.

That’s what Bodansky is doing, asking questions and providing evidence. Well, that and implicating the Obama administration itself in orchestrating the attack.

I’m not going there. Bodansky himself pulls back to White House “foreknowledge,” not planning. They’re two very different things. He says the White House’s “foreknowledge” of a rebel chemical attack led to preparations to strike Syria. That obviously puts Obama’s current drive for strikes in a new light.

Here’s what’s not in dispute. Obama declared a “red line,” the use of chemical weapons, in August 2012. Chemical weapons, sarin, were used at least once in Syria, on August 21. Sarin may have been used by the rebels back in May. That’s unconfirmed. Sarin is not the greatest strategic weapon of mass destruction. But sarin is not terribly difficult to manufacture or obtain. Non-state actors have done it. Japanese terrorists Aum Shinrikyo manufactured sarin and used it to attack the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 13 and earning death sentences for the cult’s leaders. Both sides in Syria’s civil war are suspected, broadly speaking, to possess that specific chemical weapon. Assad is known to have stockpiles of it, and al Qaeda could either steal from his stores or make it themselves (or obtain it from elsewhere). Both sides are quite capable of perpetrating mass murder on civilians. The question is, which side stood to benefit more from the use of this specific type of mass murder one year to the day after Obama’s “red line” comments sent waves around the world?