Category Archives: Robert Fisk

Douma: “It Just Doesn’t Ring True”

Jonathan Freedland’s ‘committed denialists and conspiracists’, and Paul Mason’s victims of Putin’s ‘global strategy’ clutching at ‘false flag theories’, presumably include Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Intelligence. In an interview with the BBC, West commented:

President Assad is in the process of winning this civil war. And he was about to take over and occupy Douma, all that area. He’d had a long, long, hard slog, slowly capturing that whole area of the city. And then, just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. It just doesn’t ring true.

It seems extraordinary, because clearly he would know that there’s likely to be a response from the allies – what benefit is there for his military? Most of the rebel fighters, this disparate group of Islamists, had withdrawn; there were a few women and children left around. What benefit was there militarily in doing what he did? I find that extraordinary. Whereas we know that, in the past, some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals [see here], and of course there would be huge benefit in them labelling an attack as coming from Assad, because they would guess, quite rightly, that there’d be a response from the US, as there was last time, and possibly from the UK and France…

We do know that the reports that came from there were from the White Helmets – who, let’s face it, are not neutrals [see here]; you know, they’re very much on the side of the disparate groups who are fighting Assad – and also the World Health Organisation doctors who are there. And again, those doctors are embedded in amongst the groups – doing fantastic work, I know – but they’re not neutral. And I am just a little bit concerned, because as we now move to the next phase of this war, if I were advising some of the Islamist groups – many of whom are worse than Daish – I would say: “Look, we’ve got to wait until there’s another attack by Assad’s forces – particularly if they have a helicopter overhead, or something like that, and they’re dropping barrel bombs – and we must set off some chlorine because we’ll get the next attack from the allies….” And it is the only way they’ve got, actually, of stopping the inevitable victory of Assad.

Another senior military figure, Major General Jonathan Shaw, former commander of British forces in Iraq (his responsibilities have included chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear policy), was shut down by a Sky News journalist 30 seconds after he started saying the wrong thing:

The debate that seems to be missing from this… was what possible motive might have triggered Syria to launch a chemical attack at this time in this place? You know, the Syrians are winning… Don’t take my word for it. Take the American military’s word. General Vergel [sic – Votel], the head of Centcom – he said to Congress the other day, “Assad has won this war, and we need to face that”.

Then you’ve got last week the statement by Trump – or tweet by Trump – that America has finished with ISIL and we were going to pull out soon, very soon.

And then suddenly you get this…

At which point Shaw’s sound was cut and the interview terminated. Peter Hitchens asked:

Can anyone tell me what was so urgent on Sky News, which made it necessary to cut this distinguished general off in mid-sentence?

Sky News gave their version of events here, claiming they had to take an ad break.

Also taking a more cautious view than Tisdall, Freedland, Rawnsley, Lucas, Mendoza, Monbiot, Mason and the Guardian editors (see Part 1), is James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, who said:

I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence.

Only ‘looking’ for actual evidence?

As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.

The evidence clearly, then, had not yet been found and the claims had not yet been confirmed.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, voiced scepticism:

The Americans have failed to produce any evidence beyond what they call newspaper reports and social media, whereas Western journalists who have been in Douma [see below] and produced testimony from witnesses – from medics with names so they can be checked – to the effect that the Syrian version is correct.

Before Trump’s latest attack, Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, made the point that mattered:

The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons…

Even a BBC journalist managed some short-lived scepticism. Riam Dalati tweeted:

Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.

Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

‘#Douma #ChemicalAttack #EasternGhouta’

The tweet was quickly deleted.

Craig Murray wrote:

For the FCO, I lived and worked in several actual dictatorships. The open bias of their media presenters and the tone of their propaganda operations was – always – less hysterical than the current output of the BBC. The facade is not crumbling, it’s tumbling.

Robert Fisk – Hypoxia, Not Gas

Veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk visited Douma and reported his findings in the Independent. He spoke to a senior doctor who works in the clinic where victims of the alleged chemical attack had been brought for treatment. Dr Rahaibani told Fisk what had happened that night:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.’

Not gas poisoning? Why was this not immediately headline news in the ‘mainstream’ press and on BBC News? In fact, almost throughout the ‘MSM’, it was quietly buried. The glaring exception was an article in The Times with the pejorative headline:

Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack

The piece suggested that there were big question marks over Fisk’s record:

Fisk is no stranger to controversy.

A list of Fisk’s ‘controversies’ followed. There was no mention that, among many accolades, the Arabic-speaking Fisk has won Amnesty International press awards three times, the Foreign Reporter of the Year award seven times and the Journalist of the Year award twice.

In an article published by openDemocracy, Philip Hammond, professor of media and communications at London South Bank University, observed that:

In seeking to close down such dissident thought, Times journalists are acting, not as neutral defenders of truth, but as partisan advocates for a particular understanding of the war.

A Guardian article by diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour and world affairs editor Julian Borger commented of Douma:

A group of reporters, many favoured by Moscow, were taken to the site on Monday. They either reported that no weapon attack had occurred or that the victims had been misled by the White Helmets civilian defence force into mistaking a choking effect caused by dust clouds for a chemical attack.’

Not only was Fisk not mentioned by name, he was lumped in with reporters ‘favoured by Moscow’. Jonathan Cook’s observation said it all:

They managed the difficult task of denigrating his account while ignoring the fact that he was ever there.

In The Intercept, columnist Mehdi Hasan wrote an impassioned open letter addressed to ‘those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?’ The piece began:

Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists,

Sorry to interrupt: I know you’re very busy right now trying to convince yourselves, and the rest of us, that your hero couldn’t possibly have used chemical weapons to kill up to 70 people in rebel-held Douma on April 7. Maybe Robert Fisk’s mysterious doctor has it right — and maybe the hundreds of survivors and eyewitnesses to the attack are all “crisis actors.”

So, Fisk’s evidence with its ‘mysterious doctor’ was clearly worthless, something shameless ‘apologists’ were using to try and convince themselves of an absurdity. Hasan named no other names, but readers could guess from the many smear pieces in The Times, Huffington Post, on the BBC, and spread by the likes of Oliver Kamm, George Monbiot and Alan Mendoza.

Hasan portrayed Assad as a satanic figure while the US and its allies – countries that have sent 15,000 high-tech anti-tank missiles, as well as billions of dollars of other weapons and training to fighters in Syria – are mere ‘meddlers’. The jihadists are ‘rebels’ (a generally noble term), not fanatical invaders from Libya and Iraq. Hasan referenced biased sources including Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, Martin Chulov of the Guardian, and the White Helmets.

The Intercept’s co-editor, Glenn Greenwald, defended the piece:

There is a meaningful debate to be had on Syria and, as I’ve said before, most media outlets (including us) have been quite one-sided about it. That said, Mehdi’s article, well-documented though it was, didn’t name anyone who guilty of loving Assad so I’m not sure who is offended

We replied:

Mehdi’s article, well-documented though it was, didn’t name anyone. That’s the problem. Hasan’s article arrives in the context of a cross-spectrum, name-and-shame smear campaign making similar points

We linked to three high-profile examples from the BBC, The Times and Huffington Post.

Political analyst Ian Sinclair declared Hasan’s article a ‘Necessary and important piece’.

It certainly wasn’t ‘necessary’ to damn Assad yet again – the world’s corporate media have been packed with news and comment pieces doing exactly that for years. As for the need to expose left ‘apologists’ – as we have seen, corporate media are currently mounting a fierce campaign targeting leftist university academics, apparently with the intention of getting them fired.

The question of importance is less clear-cut. The piece will, of course, have no effect whatsoever on Assad, whom Western ‘apologists’ on ‘the anti-war far left’ would be powerless to influence even if they came round to Hasan’s view. On the other hand, as a purported ‘leftist’, Hasan’s piece is important as ammunition for foreign policy warmongers, neocons and others. Thus, Jonathan Freedland tweeted:

Strong piece from @mehdirhasan

George Monbiot:

To all those who have been trying to persuade me that the Assad government is simply maintaining order, please read this excellent article by @mehdirhasan #Syria’

Oliver Kamm of The Times:

Is this atrocity denial really necessary?” Well said by Mehdi on the extraordinary, scandalous spectacle of people purporting to be anti-imperialists while denying the crimes of Assad.

Hasan, of course, knew his article would receive this kind of favourable attention, and he has form in reaching out to this audience. In 2010, whilst senior political editor at the New Statesman, he wrote a letter offering his services to Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre:

I have always admired the paper’s passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values. I believe the Mail has a vitally important role to play in the national debate, and I admire your relentless focus on the need for integrity and morality in public life, and your outspoken defence of faith, and Christian culture, in the face of attacks from militant atheists and secularists. I also believe… that I could be a fresh and passionate, not to mention polemical and contrarian, voice on the comment and feature pages of your award-winning newspaper.

For the record, I am not a Labour tribalist and am often ultra-critical of the left – especially on social and moral issues, where my fellow leftists and liberals have lost touch with their own traditions and with the great British public… I could therefore write pieces for the Mail critical of Labour and the left, from “inside” Labour and the left (as the senior political editor at the New Statesman).

Because, as we all know, being ‘ultra-critical’ of the left ‘from “inside” Labour and the left’ – for example, asking ‘the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?’ – carries enormous weight.

In his piece for The Intercept, Hasan commented:

And, look, we can argue over whether or not to support… regime change in Damascus (I don’t).

And yet, in 2013, he wrote:

I want Assad gone and I believe him to be a brutal and corrupt dictator.

Hasan’s angry mockery of doubters on Douma is ironic indeed, given his own record on Libya. At a crucial time in March 2011, with NATO jets bombing Gaddafi’s troops, Hasan commented:

The innocent people of Benghazi deserve protection from Gaddafi’s murderous wrath.

The reality, as we saw in Part 1, is that the claim was ‘not supported by the available evidence’.

Fisk’s account, irrationally scorned by Hasan, was backed by on-the-ground testimony from reporter Pearson Sharp from One America News Network:

Not one of the people that I spoke to in that neighbourhood said that they had seen anything, or heard anything, about a chemical attack on that day… they didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary.

As far as we could tell, there was nothing on the flagship BBC News at Six and Ten about any of this testimony from doctors and residents claiming that there was no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma on April 7.

It is shocking that the BBC ignored evidence supplied from Syria by Fisk – one of Britain’s finest journalists – when it has cited hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times evidence supplied by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is run by a clothes shop owner in Coventry who supports regime change in Syria.

On BBC News at Ten on April 15, presenter Mishal Husain, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and political editor Laura Kuenssberg discussed the missile strikes on Syria and the political fallout here at home. There was no mention that the strikes had taken place just as OPCW inspectors had arrived in Damascus. Nor was there any discussion of expert opinion from international lawyers contradicting the government’s assertion that the attacks were legal. A group of international law experts warned:

We are practitioners and professors of international law. Under international law, military strikes by the United States of America and its allies against the Syrian Arab Republic, unless conducted in self-defense or with United Nations Security Council approval, are illegal and constitute acts of aggression.

Meanwhile, the BBC joined the McCarthyite witch-hunt against anyone challenging the official narrative. In a piece titled, ‘Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories’, an anonymous BBC journalist commented:

Despite the uncertainty about what happened in Douma, a cluster of influential social media activists is certain that it knows what occurred.

Of course, the irony is that an incomparably bigger and better funded ‘cluster of influential’ state-corporate media has been vociferously claiming certainty about what is happening in Syria; not least 100% conviction of Assad’s guilt for a string of chemical weapon attacks.

We have no idea who was responsible for the event in Douma – we don’t know even if there was a chemical weapons attack. Our point is not that credible, sceptical voices are right, but that they should be heard.

On April 12, novelist Malcolm Pryce sent us this poignant tweet:

I remember in the run-up to the Iraq War a friend I had known all my life suddenly said to me, “We must do something about this monster in Iraq.” I said, “When did you first think that?” He answered honestly, “A month ago”.’

This is the power of the corporate media to shape the public mind it is supposed to serve.

But to achieve this effect, it must present a black and white view of the world – ‘we’ are ‘good’, ‘they’ are ‘bad’; ‘we’ are ‘certain’, ‘they’ are morally bewildered ‘apologists’. When reality threatens to get in the way, when there is no choice, an increasingly extreme ‘mainstream’ will resort to deception in plain sight.

• Read Part One here

Fisk Puts to Test the Free-Press Myth in Douma

Here’s how a free press, one owned by a handful of corporations, uses its freedom. It simply tells you what it is good for its business interests, or more generally for the political and business environment it operates in. It’s not interested in truth or airing all sides, or even necessarily basic facts.

The only restraint preventing the corporate media from outright lying to promote its material interests is the fear of being found out, of readers starting to suspect that they are not being told the whole truth.

If that sounds like conspiratorial nonsense to you, consider this single example (there are lots more if you trawl through my past blog posts). Let’s take the matter of veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk arriving in Douma this week, the first western correspondent to get there. Fisk is like some relic from a bygone era, when journalists really sought to arrive at the truth, often at great personal danger, not simply win followers on Twitter.

Until his arrival, all the information we were receiving about Douma in the west originated not with on-the-ground reporters, but with jihadist groups or those living under their Islamist reign of terror. That was true of the Youtube videos, the accounts from western reporters based far off in other countries, the human rights organisations, the World Health Organisation, and so on. The fog of war in this case was truly impenetrable.

So Fisk’s arrival was a significant event. He was clearly aware of the journalistic burden on his shoulders. Those still in Douma, after the jihadists fled, we can assume, are mostly supporters of the Syrian government. Even if they are not, they may be fearful of retaliation from the Syrian army if they speak out against it.

So Fisk, a very experienced reporter who has won many awards, was careful in the way he handled the story. Unlike many reporters, he is prepared to add context to his reports, such as the manner or tone of the person he talked to – clues to help him and us decode what they might really be thinking or meaning, rather than just what they are saying.

But the content of what he reported was incendiary. Just a few days after the US, UK and France had bombed Syria, in violation of all principles of international law, on the grounds that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Douma, Fisk interviewed a doctor at the clinic where the victims were treated. The doctor said no chemical attack occurred. The video footage from last week was genuine, the doctor added, but it showed civilians who had inhaled dust after a Syrian bombing attack, not gas.

Fisk’s account is clearly honest about what he was told. And the doctor’s account clearly is plausible – it could fit what the video shows. So, whether right or wrong, it is a vital piece of the jigsaw as we, ordinary citizens, decide whether our governments were justified – before United Nations inspectors had even arrived – in acts of aggression against another sovereign nation, and whether, in the case of the UK, Theresa May was entitled to act without reference to parliament. These are matters Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s opposition Labour party, has been trying to raise in the face of a solid media consensus in favour of bombing.

Given this context, the UK media ought to have been putting Fisk’s report at the centre of their Syria coverage yesterday and today, especially the liberal Guardian, the paper that Labour party members have relied on for decades. So how did the Guardian fare?

The Guardian now has an enormous output of articles, not least its Comment is Free section. So it would be foolhardy of me to say with absolute conviction that the Guardian made no reference anywhere in its pages to Fisk. But if it did so, it was extremely well concealed. A Google search of “Fisk”, “Guardian” and “Douma” throws up nothing. I can locate nothing in searching the Syria news articles and the op-eds published in the physical newspaper either.

So the Guardian appears to have intentionally blocked its readers from learning about the Fisk report, even though it is highly relevant to an informed debate about western actions in Syria, actions that are themselves part of a political debate being led by Corbyn. Denying this information to its readers means the Guardian is actually helping to weaken Corbyn in his battle to hold May to account.

But it does not end there. The Guardian does briefly reference Fisk, it just does so without naming him. At the same time, the Guardian seeks to discredit his reporting using the very same, highly compromised sources that have been relied on till now from Douma. In short, the Guardian appears to be carrying out a damage limitation operation, refusing to report transparently Fisk’s revelations in an attempt to shore up the existing narrative rather than test it against the new narrative offered by Fisk.

Buried away in two lines in an article by Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger, we get this in today’s Guardian:

A group of reporters, many favoured by Moscow, were taken to the site on Monday. They either reported that no weapon attack had occurred or that the victims had been misled by the White Helmets civilian defence force into mistaking a choking effect caused by dust clouds for a chemical attack.

So Fisk, Britain’s most famous and respected Middle East correspondent (can you name another one?), is not only not identified but dismissed generically as one of a group of reporters “favoured by Moscow”.

A second report, headlined “Syrian medics ‘subjected to extreme intimidation’ after Douma attack”, by Martin Chulov and Kareem Shahin, far away in Beirut and Istanbul respectively, confidently denigrates Fisk’s account, again without identifying him or mentioning that he was there. Again, it merely alludes to the content of Fisk’s account and only in so far as it is necessary to undermine it.

Instead, it gives top billing to unchallenged claims by Dr Ghanem Tayara, a Birmingham-based doctor now in Turkey who is the director of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which favours the overthrow of the Syrian goverment.

After many paragraphs of Dr Tayara’s allegations against Bashar Assad’s government, Fisk’s account is given this cursory and hostile treatment near the end of the article:

Medics and survivors who have remained in Douma, and others who have fled for northern Syria, ridiculed competing claims that the attack either did not take place, or did not use gas. …

Some doctors have appeared on Syrian television to deny that anything took place in Douma. A doctor who spoke to the Guardian said: “Our colleagues who appeared on television were coerced, because some hadn’t served in the military or completed their degree, and for other reasons, some had family in Damascus. They decided to stay in exchange for being reconciled with the regime. But the regime used them.”

Another medic who treated victims said: “Anyone who has knowledge of what happened cannot testify. What was being said is that the medical centres would be destroyed on top of those working in it.”

These countervailing voices are important. They are another piece of the jigsaw, as we try to work out what is really going in places like Douma. But publications like the Guardian are consistently presenting them as the only pieces their readers need to know about. That isn’t journalism.

There are good reasons to be suspicious of everything that comes out of the Syria war arena, where all sides are treating the outcome as a zero-sum battle. But western corporate media are clearly not fulfilling their self-declared role either as an impartial messenger of news, or as a watchdog on power. They have taken a side – that of the governments of the US, UK and France, their regional partners Saudi Arabia and Israel, and what are by now mostly proxy jihadi fighters in Syria.

The Guardian failed the most elementary test of honest journalism in its treatment of Fisk’s report. It may be an egregious example but after many years of the Syria war it is very far from being unique.

Fisk Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria

It seems that many who supported the weekend’s air strikes on Syria are missing the significance of Robert Fisk’s report this morning from Douma, the site of a supposed chemical weapons attack last week.

Fisk is the first western journalist to reach the area and speak to people there. One is a senior doctor at the clinic that treated victims of what a video purported to show were chemical weapons used by the Syrian government.

That doctor says the video was real, but did not show the effects of a chemical weapons attack. It showed something else. This is what the doctor is reported saying:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night — but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet’, shouted ‘Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.

On my social media pages there are plenty of armchair warriors furiously denying the importance of this report, by claiming either that the doctor made up the story or that Fisk is a mouthpiece for the Assad regime, or maybe both.

That will not wash for reasons that ought to be obvious – and it still won’t wash even if the testimony later turns out to be wrong.

The air strikes on Syria at the weekend were patently illegal according to international law. That would have been the case even had there been a chemical weapons attack in Douma, in part because it would have been necessary for independent inspectors to determine first whether the Syrian government, and not the jihadists there, was responsible.

The air strikes would have been illegal too, even if it could have been shown that a chemical weapons attack had taken place and that Assad personally ordered it. That is because air strikes would have first required authorisation from the UN Security Council. That is why international law exists: to regulate affairs between states, to prevent militarism of the “might is right” variety that nearly destroyed Europe 80 years ago, and to avoid unnecessary state confrontations that in a nuclear age could have dire repercussions.

Had Assad been shown to be responsible, Russia would have come under enormous international pressure to authorise action of some kind against Syria – pressure it would have been extremely hard for it to resist.

But had it resisted that pressure, we would have had to live with its veto at the Security Council. And again, for very good reason. Israel, the US and the UK have used depleted uranium munitions in the Middle East, and Israel and the US white phosphorous. But who among us would think it reasonable for Russia or China to unilaterally carry out punishment air strikes on Maryland (US), Porton Down (UK) or Nes Ziona (Israel), and justify the move on the grounds that the US and UK could veto any moves against themselves or their allies at the Security Council? Who would want to champion belligerent attacks on these sovereign states as “humanitarian intervention”?

But all of this is irrelevant because whatever incontrovertible information the US, UK and France claimed to have that Syria carried out a chemical weapons attack last week is clearly no more reliable than their claims about an Iraqi WMD programme back in 2002.

Fisk does not need to prove that his account is definitively true – just like a defendant in the dock does not need to prove their innocence. He has to show only that he reported accurately and honestly, and that the testimony he recounted was plausible and consistent with what he saw. Everything about Fisk’s record and about this particular report suggests there should be no doubt on that score.

Fisk’s report shows that there is a highly credible alternative explanation for what happened in Douma – one that needs to be investigated. Which means that an attack on Syria should never have taken place before inspectors were able to investigate and report their findings.

Instead, the US-UK-France launched air strikes hours before the UN inspectors were due to begin their work in Syria, thereby pre-empting it. At the time those air strikes took place, the aggressor states had neither legal nor evidential justification for their actions. They were were simply relying on the reports of parties, like the White Helmets, that have a vested interest in engineering the Syrian government’s downfall.

As is now known beyond doubt, our leaders lied to us about Iraq and about Libya. Some of us have been warning for some time that we should be highly sceptical of everything we are being told by our governments about Syria, until it is verified by independent evidence.

All of us have a moral responsibility to stop simply believing what our governments and their propagandists in the corporate media tell us, whether we do it out of a kneejerk authoritarian impulse or because we have some romantic notion that, despite the evidence, our leaders are always the good guys and their leaders are always the bad guys.

Just consider for a moment the UK’s support for, and involvement in, the horrifying Saudi war against Yemen, or US politicians’ blanket silence on Israel’s massacre of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza. Our leaders have no moral high ground to stand on. Their foreign policy decisions are about oil, defence contracts and geo-strategic interests, not about protecting civilians or fighting just wars.

However bad Assad is, and he is a dictator, he is responsible for far fewer deaths and much less suffering in the Middle East than either George W Bush or Tony Blair.

Former New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer sets out a very plausible reason why the US, UK and France keep intervening in Syria. It is not about children or chemical weapons. It is to prevent the Syrian government and Russia triumphing over the jihadists, as they have been close to doing for some time.

These western states are adamantly opposed to allowing a peaceful resolution in Syria, Kinzer observes, because it:

might allow stability to spread to nearby countries. Today, for the first time in modern history, the governments of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon are on good terms. A partnership among them could lay the foundation for a new Middle East.

That new Middle East, however, would not be submissive to the United States-Israel-Saudi Arabia coalition. For that reason, we are determined to prevent it from emerging. Better to keep these countries in misery and conflict, some reason, than to allow them to thrive while they defy the United States. …

From Washington’s perspective, peace in Syria is the horror scenario. Peace would mean what the United States sees as a ‘win’ for our enemies: Russia, Iran, and the Assad government. We are determined to prevent that, regardless of the human cost.

UPDATE:

Fisk’s account is corroborated by another reporter there, Pearson Sharp of the conservative news network One America. Unlike Fisk, who I know has a long track record as a highly credible reporter of events in the Middle East, Sharp is an unknown quantity to me. But it may be significant that he echoes Fisk in saying that no one he spoke to, even in the neighbourhood where the attack supposedly occurred, seemed aware that chemical weapons had been used.