Wheels of war are already in motion: Mainstream media should try to stop it, but will it?

I knew this was deadly serious when I saw Tony Blair being wheeled around on British television to help explain to the public why “we have to act.”

Here we are again, hearing the incessant calls for another direct military action led by the United States, and all in the name of weapons of mass destruction. Whichever way this goes, it may very well be the final act in the West’s long-running chemical saga.

Members of the Civil Defence, also known as the ‘White Helmets’. © Alaa al-Faqir / Reuters

After the hard lessons of Iraq, you might be asking how this is happening again. It’s not a surprise that the US and UK might lie, exaggerate, distort or invent a narrative as a pretext for military action. However, they couldn’t pull it off without their media partners, and history clearly demonstrates that when the governments and media collude, the results are catastrophic. More than any other entity, it is the Western mainstream media who have facilitated this dirty war on Syria, and who are still holding the minds of the West’s public hostage.

The reasonable among us would hope that cooler heads will prevail. The OPCW announced that it will dispatch a team of experts at the invitation of Syrian Arab Republic to investigate the incident. This is promising. The real question now is: Will chemical weapons inspectors arrive in Damascus before Trump’s cruise missiles?

President Trump promised a “forceful” response against Syria, with partners like Great Britain and France seemingly ready to join in at a moment’s notice. Russia has responded with a reciprocal warning that any US missiles targeting Syria will be intercepted and that their launch pads will be targeted. Russia certainly does not want to see a worldwide war, but it is nonetheless committed to defending the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syrian territory.

Undoubtedly, this is the closest the US and Russia have come to a hot war since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Western governments, media outlets, their rebel and NGO proxies, are all claiming that the Syrian government has dropped a ‘barrel bomb’ containing lethal chemicals, possibly chlorine gas, in the district of Douma near Eastern Ghouta this past Saturday, killing at least 40 people and injuring up to 1,000 others. The source of this report is the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the White Helmets, also known as the ‘Syrian Civil Defense,’ who are funded by the UK and US governments. Both of these organizations work exclusively in terrorist-held areas around Syria.

Western war hawks are all claiming that “Assad has form” and therefore must be guilty. The Syrian authorities have denied that government forces launched any such assault, while the Russian Foreign Ministry has described the event as “invented and fabricated.”

Washington has wasted no time, having already compiled its dossier of internet photos, social media videos, witness testimonies, and satellite images of ‘Syrian flights and helicopters’ in the area.

The obvious questions to anyone familiar with this conflict should be: Why would the Syrian government invite international condemnation and risk an all-out war by launching a chemical weapons attack against the very citizens its army has been fighting and dying for, to try to liberate from terrorist occupation? Why would they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Such common sense inquiries seem lost on the Western government-media complex.

If you are serious about finding out what really happened in Douma, you need to know which parties are in control of facts on the ground. On one hand, you have the Syrian government, the Syrian Arab Army, the Russian military. One the other side, you have a group that was still in control of some of this area over the weekend, Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), who are the ideological companions of ISIS, and who the Western media still refer to as a “Syrian rebel group.” Everything in their area operates under their authority, including the Western-backed SAMS and the White Helmets.

Government interests aside, we might ask how the West has arrived in a place where it is staking its position alongside a non-state actor and terrorist group, Jaysh al-Islam, over its fellow UN members?

For years now, Western media and politicians have been trying to prop-up the viability of various ‘rebel’ groups, as well lending them a semblance of political credibility by claiming they are ‘in opposition to the Assad regime.’ In fact, up until only a few weeks ago, Jaysh al-Islam was the dominant militant group in control of East Ghouta and Douma. Since 2012, this terrorist group and its affiliates have killed or captured thousands of civilian religious minorities, along with government workers and soldiers. One of their worst atrocities commenced on December 11, 2013, when thousands of militants from Jaysh al-Islam, Al-Nusra and others invaded the key workers’ town of Adra, located in the Rif Dimashq Governorate, northeast of Damascus. The terrorists – fully backed by the United States and its allies at this time – overran Syrian police and army positions before massacring the town’s residents, executing people in their homes, beheading others in the street, with bodies reportedly left in the open, and the heads of victims reportedly displayed on trees and poles. Some residents are reported to have been cooked alive in the town’s industrial baking ovens. On balance, the atrocities and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Jaysh al-Islam are as horrific as those of ISIS, who the US claims to be its sworn enemy in Syria. The hypocrisy is almost mind-bending.

While reporting in Syria last spring, I remember driving past Adra, and now a dead town. Locals spoke of this event in subdued tones and with empty expressions. The tragedy remains a scar on the national consciousness, but one which has been completely airbrushed from Western view for the simple reason that it would incriminate and defame the reprobate ‘moderate rebels’ who were being championed at the time by Western politicians like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Congressmen Ed Royce and Adam Kinzinger, British MP Brooks Newmark and many others. To the political architects of the Syrian war, the ‘rebels’ in Syria served exactly the same function as Reagan and Oliver North’s ‘freedom fighter’ Contras in Nicaragua. Their role was to foment violence and sectarian division while destabilizing the state structures in that country, softening it up for an eventual regime change. Like the Contras, the US government allegedly trafficked over $1.5 billion in illicit weapons to their ‘rebels’ in Syria – and like the Iranian Contra scandal, much of the bill was paid by a third party, in this case Saudi Arabia.

After subduing its competition in East Ghouta and Douma, Jaysh al-Islam then proceeded to hold religious minorities in cages and parade them around the streets through their new suburban caliphate, before torturing and beheading some of them. Those who were allowed to live were then used for various forms of slave labor, including helping to dig an impressive network of tunnels underneath Ghouta, Jobar and other terrorist-held areas. These are not Vietcong-style four-by-four-foot shafts, but concrete-reinforced tunnels large enough to drive a truck through. While this underground operation has been well-documented in the Syrian, Russian and independent press, it’s been more or less blacked-out by the Western mainstream media. Why? Maybe because the Western PR machine is wary of allowing their public to understand the insidious nature and substantial backing which these so-called ‘rebels’ have enjoyed courtesy of the US, UK, France, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and most notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar – massive foreign support which has undoubtedly extended this long war. In other words, it’s the US-led coalition that is ultimately responsible for prolonging this bloody war, not Bashar Assad.

It’s important to understand that Western governments and media are not merely reacting to some “atrocity” this week, rather they have been geared-up for escalating a hot war on Syria since 2011, and even well before that. At every turn, a concerted effort have been made to downplay any reports which run counter to the US-led coalition’s narrative and to promote any claims or video footage supplied by Western-financed media producers like the White Helmets, Aleppo Media Center, and the SOHR (based in the UK), as three prime examples, but there are dozens of other outlets performing the same function. This command and control structure of the West’s ‘Syrian’ information network should be obvious by now. Instead, all we hear from the mainstream media is a steady chorus of “Assad’s Barrel Bombs,” followed by “Assad is butchering his own people,” and “Assad has killed 400,000 of his own people,” and “Assad and the Russians are targeting hospitals and schools and killing children.” Such talking points are often repeated, but never challenged.

The last seven years has seen one of the most coordinated propaganda campaigns in history and, save for a few brave award-winning journalists like Seymour Hersh, John Pilger, Gareth Porter, there’s been little self-examination in the Western media. It’s as if there’s a party whip line in West where no one dares cross it for fear of being accused of being against “the children of Syria,” or being branded with derogatory McCarthyist labels like ‘Assadist’ and ‘Putinist,’ or the latest iteration, ‘white supremacist.’ Such slurs suit those whose mission it is to silence dissent against what is looking more and more like an official declaration of war by the US and UK against Syria, Russia and Iran.

When you peel back all the pejoratives and political smears, however, what you are left with are the facts, and they are damning. But the problem is that you cannot find many facts in The Guardian, or the Washington Post; only polemics and narratives which are synonymous with the public policy positions of the US State Department and the UK Foreign Office. One reason is that these mainstream outlets do not have reporters on the ground in Syria, and if they do, they tend to be embedded with ‘rebel’ terrorist factions – which is the only side of the story which is being transmitted to Western audiences.

The day after the Rashideen Massacre in April 2017, I was with a group of journalists and international observers at the Jibrin Refugee Center outside of Aleppo, where I sought to speak to some of the survivors of what became Syria’s most deadly terrorist car bombing, which killed over 120 innocents, most of them children (with some still missing to this day). I remember seeing a Washington Post journalist there and wondered how the mainstream press might report this awful tragedy. My answer came soon enough. Leading US mainstream media outlets called it “a hiccup,” perhaps because they were embarrassed by the depths to which their freedom-fighting ‘rebels’ have sunk this time – carrying out a sectarian mass murder of Shia residents from the villages of Foua and Kafarya.

The systematic anti-Syrian bias of Western mainstream media has effectively robbed the people of Syria of any chance of getting a fair adjudication in the court of Western public opinion. It’s not that they can’t report the truth, it’s that they won’t. They can hype-up a situation and flood the information sphere with misinformation and distractions, but void of truth. Their propaganda fodder has no staying power once the facts begin to trickle in. The liberation of East Aleppo is a perfect example, as is the mainstream coverage of East Ghouta – both a universe away from reality.

This brings us back to the Douma chemical attack. At every key juncture in this long war, when the Syrian government was making significant advances, or a US official uttered that maybe the US should think about pulling out of Syria – all of the sudden and inexplicably – a “chemical weapons attack” manifests itself. Journalist Vanessa Beeley so aptly described this uncanny phenomenon in her detailed report this week on the ground in Damascus:

If we were to map the chemical weapon claims in each terrorist-held area undergoing liberation by the Syrian Arab Army, we would clearly see that the claims are commensurate with the pressure felt by the terrorist factions as the SAA closes in on their stronghold. In other words, as the SAA nears victory and liberation of Syrian civilians, we are expected to believe they would use chemical weapons against those civilians in an urban area which is even more densely packed as the terrorists withdraw into a shrinking combat zone, taking the civilians with them as human shields and hostages.”

Beeley adds: “It appears to be a propaganda tactic employed by the terrorist factions to gain time, secure a ceasefire and to call for a No Fly Zone and further “humanitarian” intervention from the regime-change-war alliance. A ceasefire allows the militants to organize themselves and to re-arm. We know that terrorist chemical weapon attacks against the civilian population in West Aleppo were never given equivalent importance by the same “humanitarian” minded nations, in fact they were largely ignored. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that crying “chemical weapon” is a tactic designed to protect the NATO-member-state assets occupying Syrian territory.”

The US seems certain about “Assad’s chemical weapons,” but what about the WMD capabilities of the ‘rebel’ terrorists? Another independent journalist, Sharmine Narwani, was actually in Eastern Ghouta as it was liberated in March, where she discovered one chemical-weapons laboratory located in the farmlands between between Shifouniyeh and Douma. Narwani also noted how the Western media journalists in her press pool seemed categorically “disinterested” in this crucial discovery.

It seems that the US, UK and others have dug such a deep hole with years of deceptive reporting and fictional accounts of “Assad’s atrocities” over the years, that they cannot lose face now.

After seven years of being marinated in anti-Syrian and anti-Russian propaganda, there is little chance the Western electorate can be rehabilitated with facts. These parallel realities may be irreconcilable.

With the stakes this high, we can only pray for any divine wisdom coming from Washington or London. If it comes, it will be most welcome, but it seems the wheels of war are already in motion. Perhaps the only thing standing between a wider war and de-escalation is the press. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but can we really expect the media use it against its own corporate overlords?

If it’s ever going to happen, it needs to be now.

Originally published: Patrick Henningsen (RT | Op-Ed)

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