Who Did It? UPDATE
UPDATE, Wednesday Aug. 28. Stephen Walt has this literary analogy to our current situation.
"More than anything else, Obama reminds me here of George Orwell in his famous essay "Shooting an Elephant." Orwell recounts how, while serving as a colonial officer in Burma, he was forced to shoot a rogue elephant simply because the local residents expected an official of the British Empire to act this way, even when the animal appeared to pose no further danger. If he didn't go ahead and dispatch the poor beast, he feared that his prestige and credibility might be diminished. Like Orwell, Obama seems to be sliding toward "doing something" because he feels he simply can't afford not to."
So look what happened to the British Empire anyway! [Update 9 P.M., but the Parliament still functions. See comment way below.]
Original Post: As war-mongering heats up in Washington, London, and Paris, and the White House asserts that it was almost certainly the Assad Regime that used chemical weapons last week, here is a Ha'aretz story that includes six different version of who might have done it. We can look at them all with a good deal of skepticism. The White House's plunking for the Syrian government should get equal skepticism. Story here: "More Questions than Answers."
"1. One version is that of the Free Syrian Army and the political opposition, whose spokesmen explaine at a news conference Saturday that the chemical missiles were fired by the Syrian army’s Brigade 115 from its Mount Kalamun missile base and that, during the attack, the head of the Syrian missile directorate, Taher Hamed Khalil, was present at the base.
"2. Another version is that of Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq, relying on a source in the Free Syrian Army who claims that soldiers of the Fourth Elite Unit, commanded by Maher Assad - the Syrian president’s brother - raided the Scientific Studies and Research Center and captured quantities of the chemical weapons after killing a Syrian officer who refused to let them in.
"3. A third version comes from the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah, through an Iraqi source close to the separatist Muktada al-Sadr, who says that fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, in charge of some of the chemical weapons stores, fired the chemical weapons at the town of al-Ghouta, despite opposition by the Syrian army brass.
"4. Yet another version, published on the Syrian opposition website al-Hakika, reported that the chemicals were smuggled from Turkey by activists of the Turkmen uprising and that these activists were the ones who fired the missiles to spark an international provocation.
"5. The website, which published reports on the smuggling of the chemicals about a week before the attack - as well as after it - raises questions about the way the dead were found, plus the fact that the weather conditions on the day of the attack could not ensure that Syrian soldiers would not also be killed.
"6. The Syrian regime has its own version, in which five Syrian soldiers were killed and others rushed to the hospital after they were injured by the chemicals."
About the Author
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.