Weekly Letter to the President
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ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
April 7, 2017 (posted April 11, 2017)
Mr. President: Shooting from the hip with unerring accuracy was the Wild West
according to Hollywood. As anyone who has ever fired a pistol will tell you it is
improbable, and historically the West's few gun duels were rather unremarkable. The
latest hip-shooter is of course Donald J. Trump whose foreign policy seems to turn on
a dime -- from not interested in removing Bashar al-Assad to his having no place in a
future Syria, all within a week.
The U.S. has a powerful military and it is very good at breaking things, so it is no
surprise that presidents are tempted to use it. It doesn't matter that the problem
requires shrewd diplomacy and difficult negotiations; the president is making a point.
In a ridiculous Kabuki drama 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired off at Shayrat Air Base
... after the Russians had been forewarned and had promptly informed their Syrian
allies, who were spotted removing equipment and personnel. Damaging a few
hardened aircraft shelters and a few of the less serviceable aircraft makes the
episode a token rather than a serious military attack. And costing the U.S. taxpayer
$1.6 million a piece for a total close to $100 million, this missile show left the U.S. a
likely loser financially.
Who knows what happened in Idlib when there hasn't been time for a proper
investigation. Eyewitnesses report a plane dropping a bomb which is not much to go
on. But a conventional bomb does its damage through its explosive force and would
show much greater physical destruction at the site than a chemical weapon using a
small quantity of explosive as a means for dispersing the gas. An examination of the
site could prove or disprove the Russian assertion that a conventional weapon hitting
a storage/manufacturing facility released organophosphates.
No such analysis from anyone, least of all Mr. Trump as he shed crocodile tears for
the poisoned 'babies'. A quick death from gas is clearly preferable to an agonizing
one from shrapnel wounds. It is why you won't see any pictures from Yemen (they are
much too gruesome) where Mr. Trump's allies are making mincemeat out of men,
women and children alike, even using cluster bombs in civilian areas. That does not
cross Mr. Trump's 'many lines'. The Convention on Cluster Munitions bans their use
and has been ratified by a majority of the world's nations.
It was another time but the same place, the UN, when Secretary of State Colin Powell
accused the Iraqis of concealing WMDs. The denials of the Iraqi Ambassador were
brushed aside, and the subsequent war continues in one form or another. A million
plus dead and many millions displaced, an ISIS monster born, war in Syria and a
refugee crisis in Europe. The latter tipping the scales in Britain's narrow Brexit vote.
Who could have imagined the consequences or the ultimate cost -- initially estimated
at $64 billion, but nearly $5 trillion and counting according to a Sept 2016 report by
the Watson Institute at Brown University.
Now we have UN Ambassador Nikki Haley's undiplomatic language accusing Syria of
using chemical weapons. The question not being asked in this propaganda war is
simple: What in heaven's name does Syria gain from using sarin gas on its own
civilians? Assad is not an idiot. Syria does not need the extra firepower, it certainly
does not need the opprobrium of the world, and, if one may recall, it surrendered all
its chemical weapons (under international supervision) after the last such incident
four years ago.
Quite frankly, this accusation makes as much sense as the one about Iraqi soldiers in
Kuwait removing premature babies from hospital incubators leaving them to die, to
steal the incubators. That one by the Kuwaiti Ambassador's daughter Nayirah
al-Sabah was gospel at the time, even corroborated by Amnesty International, and
helped propel the first Iraqi war under George Bush Senior. It was absolutely false.
When President Trump now says he is changing his mind about Assad, the objective
seems to have been achieved. Whether it was a shot fired by intransigent rebels to
disrupt the Russia-sponsored Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, or an
accident, the results are highly satisfactory for those who do not want peace. Again,
it points not to Assad but elsewhere.
While military analysts like Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, consider the Russian
account "unsustainable" and "very fanciful," the idea that a storage/manufacturing
facility could have partially damaged weapons leaking after the blast heat had
dissipated may not be. The Russians are not fools and would not make a claim so
easily dismissed . And as yet without forensic evidence, nobody can be certain what
nerve agent is responsible.
Dan Kaszeta also a former military man concurs with Bretton-Gordon. Yet in 2013,
the hexamine in government storage prompted him to blame the Assad regime for a
chemical attack. However, hexamine has many uses. It was also determined that the
triggering devices used containers and explosive not in use by the Syrian army. The
experienced Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, a member of the then UN Independent
Commission of Enquiry on Syria, expressed "strong concrete suspicions" of rebel
culpability. A former Swiss attorney general and respected prosecutor for the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, her conclusion was
categorical: "This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the
government authorities," she had ascertained. Are military analysts unconsciously
Now we are being told this is the second time Syria has used chemical weapons. The
fake news never stops and neither do leaders or their representatives. Their
currency is never counterfeit ... until it's too late. In the 2013 incident, the fake news
would have had us believe that Assad invited UN inspectors and then exploded a
chemical weapon 10km from their hotel.
It is important not to demonize Assad not only because it is unconscionable if he is
innocent of these war crimes, but also because peace without him is at present
unattainable. As a British MP, George Galloway, not taken in by the hysteria at the
time said, "he may be bad but is he mad?" Here we are back again and it's time to
repeat his question. Also one more -- the elephant-in-the- room question: WHY?
'Remember the Maine' before the Spanish-American War; the Lusitania carrying
weapons despite Germany's strong warning before the First World War; the 'Gulf of
Tonkin' before the Vietnam war; the 'undeniable evidence' of WMDs in Iraq; and now
Syria -- an unrepentant tarnished history of varnished mendacity costing millions of
lives and tens of millions of refugees in a trail of horrendous human suffering.
Truth would be refreshing, but it comes at a tremendous cost. Ask some recent