Trump Cites "Fake News" to Justify New Threat to Attack Syria
June 28, 2017
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & David Choi / Business Insider & Peter Weber / The Week
In April, the US fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base after falsely accusing Syria of using a chemical weapon against civilians. US intelligence investigations ultimately concluded there was no evidence a chemical weapon attack took place. The Pentagon and State Department were caught flat-footed when Donald Trump suddenly threatened to attack Syria, which he accused of plotting "another chemical weapons attack" -- another Trump falsehood.
Pentagon, State Dept 'Clueless' on Trump's Assad Allegation
White House Didn't Discuss Matter With Security Agencies
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
WASHINGTON (June 27, 2017) -- Last night, the White House issued a surprise statement accusing the Syrian government of preparing a chemical weapons attack and threatening to make them pay "a heavy price" for doing so. This immediately suggested another US attack on Syria was imminent. No one saw this coming, including the Pentagon and the State Department.
Pentagon officials say they were totally unaware if this putative evidence of a chemical attack until the moment the White House issued the statement, something they completely didn't see coming. The State Department, which would normally be involved in coordinating such an important press release, also wasn't consulted.
Indeed, such an announcement would normally involve myriad security agencies, including the Pentagon, State Department, and intelligence agencies, particularly whoever was the source of the allegation about Syria in the first place. All signs, however, are that this wasn't the case with anyone, and they're not even sure where Trump got the idea that a chemical attack might be imminent.
The White House has since offered a secondary comment insisting that all of the officials who are quoted in the media saying they didn't know about the announcement are lying, and that the White House did, somehow, consult with everybody without anybody knowing about it.
The only person who may conceivably have been in the loop is US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who almost immediately after the White House statement Tweeted that any future attacks in Syria would be blamed on Assad, Russia, and Iran.
This too gives the impression that last night's brief, evidence-free statement was mostly a pretext for picking a fight in Syria, and the fact that it came mere hours after Secretary of State Tillerson spoke with the Russian Foreign Minister about a new ceasefire gives the appearance this was a none-too-subtle way of turning that proposal down.
White House Appears to Be Planning Attack on Assad
Press Statement Lays Groundwork for US Attack
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
WASHINGTON (June 26, 2017) – Raising speculation that the US is about to attack Syria again, the White House has issued a statement late this evening accusing the Assad government in Syria of conducting "potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack," claiming that such an attack would involve the "mass murder of civilians, including innocent children."
The late night report was extremely light on details, but threatened to make Syria's government and military "pay a heavy price," suggesting that the statement was only issued to lay the groundwork for a new round of US attacks on Syrian government targets.
The US last attacked Syria in earnest in early April, firing  cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. The attack was carried out despite reports ultimately showing that the US intelligence community found no evidence a chemical weapon attack took place.
The White House statement ignored that revelation, and presented the early April incident as a "chemical weapons attack" just like the one they believe to be imminent. Since the administration is very keen to present what they did in April as justified, it would not be surprising if they did so again.
Such a move would be particularly risky now, coming amid Russian warnings that the US needs to stop attacking Syrian government targets. It also comes just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with Russia's Foreign Minister about a ceasefire, which seems a particularly inopportune time to attack.
Military Officials Reportedly Caught
Off Guard by White House's Warning to Syria
David Choi / Business Insider
(June 26, 2017) -- Several military officials were caught off guard by a White House statement Monday night that said Syria was suspected of planning a new chemical attack, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The statement issued by the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Syria's military would "pay a heavy price" if it launched a new chemical attack.
The apparent lack of communication among military channels appeared to be corroborated by a BuzzFeed News report that cited five defense officials who said they did not know of the details regarding a potential chemical attack and were not aware of the White House's plans to release a statement.
The White House disputed this characterization in a statement on Tuesday morning.
"In response to several inquiries regarding the Syria statement issued last night, we want to clarify that all relevant agencies," including the State Department, the Defense Department, the CIA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, "were involved in the process from the beginning," a White House official said in a statement. "Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false."
Shortly after the White House statement was released on Monday night, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said on Twitter: "Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people."
In April, President Donald Trump authorized the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield from which the US said a chemical weapons attack originated that killed scores of civilians.
Though the US strike temporarily disabled several air assets in the area, Syrian forces quickly began redistributing jets back to the airfield.
Pentagon, State Department Appear Surprised
By Trump's New Red Line on Syria and Chemical Weapons
Peter Weber / The Week
(June 27, 2017) -- The White House appeared to draw a new red line on Syria Monday night, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer warning that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been caught making "potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack" that "would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children," and if he "conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."
The rest of the government, including the military, appears to have been caught off guard by the announcement.
Five US defense officials "said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from, and were unaware the White House was planning to release its statement," BuzzFeed News reports.
"Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn't appear to be discussed in advance with other national security agencies," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon, and US intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals."
Various agencies and departments referred reporters to the White House for comment. It's "unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was," The New York Times notes, after similarly reporting that "several military officials were caught off guard by the statement" from Spicer.
"While the White House's motivation in releasing the highly unusual statement is uncertain, it is possible that Mr. Trump or his advisers decided a public warning to Mr. Assad might deter another chemical strike," the Times suggests, adding that the president has "absolute power to declassify anything he chooses to release," including intelligence on chemical weapons.
At least one Trump administration official appeared unfazed by the statement:
Nikki Haley ✔ @nikkihaley
Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.
After US intelligence pointed the finger at Assad for an April 4 chemical weapon attack on Syrian civilians, Trump ordered 59 missiles fired at an Assad air base; Russia blamed the anti-Assad opposition, claiming Syrian warplanes had hit rebel stockpiles. Last week, the US shot down a Syrian government warplane after it targeted US allies fighting the Islamic State.
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