Anyone watching the news or engaged in social media will have seen it. I know it’s been all over my news feeds this week as the story gathers momentum. The chemical attack in Idlib, Syria. As a human being I find the images heart wrenching. As a father, seeing the children gasping for air, I find the images heart breaking.

But, there’s an old saying that goes like this. “Truth is the first casualty of war”, and it looks to be a casualty here too. The US is claiming the Syrian Government launched a chemical air strike [1]. The Syrian government says it did no such thing [2]. The Russian government say there was a conventional air strike on a rebel facility, and if there is a chemical incident it’s because chemicals or chemical weapons were being stored in the facility [3]. With such diametrically opposed positions it’s clear that at best someone is taking positions without all the facts, or at worst, point blank lying. It’s a modern version of the great game as the great powers vie for supremacy in the information war.

However, here I am. In a sad state of affairs where I’m more inclined to believe the Russians over my own government and leaders, as well as those of our allied nations. Here’s why.

The Syrian Government has all but won this war. There are a few pockets of rebel/terrorist resistance, but it’s pretty much over [4]. Which leads me to my following short analysis of the situation;

  1. It serves absolutely no purpose for the Syrian Government to randomly attack a group of civilians with chemical weapons in an area and battle that it’s winning, in a war that it’s won. All it would do is turn public opinion against them. It serves no strategic or tactical value and would in fact be damaging to them. For a cunning adversary that Assad has turned out to be, it would defy reason, logic and expectations, based on past performances in the Public Relations war that his regime has turned out to be masters of.
  1. In 2014, a United Nations Weapons Inspection team certified the Syrian Government chemical weapons free [5]. This was following other incidents that the Syrian government denied responsibility for (which were later shown to just as likely be perpetrated by rebels/terrorists with possible manipulation of subsequent investigations [6]). This was after the Russian Government brokered an agreement whereby all chemical weapons facilities, equipment, production capacity etc, would be dismantled and handed over to the UN, to prevent such an accusation from happening again [7]. The United States and western allies agreed to this and accepted that Syria was now chemical weapons free [8].
  1. The only areas not inspected by the UN were those held by rebels/terrorists [9].

So, where does that leave us? Our government can’t have its cake and eat it too. Either they were successful in brokering the removal of chemical weapons from the Syrian Regime, or they weren’t. If they weren’t, why did they claim success (The Obama Administration et al [10])? If they were successful, then the only chemical weapons in the country are those in the hands of rebels/terrorists. On some level in one or both of those outcomes, our own leaders have misled us. These two narratives can’t coexist.

I don’t presume to know exactly what has happened in this latest chemical attack. But there are preceding facts presented above being ignored by the media narrative. Those facts can only lead to a couple of scenarios that I assess as the following.

  1. The rebels did it in a desperate attempt to turn the tide by bringing western opinion against the Assad Regime, like what is suspected to have happened in 2013/2014.
  2. It’s like the Russians said, if there was a chemical spill, it’s from whatever was in the rebel/terrorist weapons facility that was bombed. Or
  3. Our government have lied to us about their previous successes.

A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

So yes, war is terrible. The images pull hard on my heart strings. But our own governments gave support for the start of this conflict, and have fueled it ever it since. They have a clear outcome in mind with the intention of regime change. However, as shown above, either one or both narratives being given by our leaders and our media must be untrue. In a sea of bad guys fighting bad guys, our countries have become just another bad guy playing on the field and looking for propaganda victories, even it means dispensing with the truth. Without evidence and ignoring preceding factual events, our governments and media have pointed the finger and beat the drums of war.

Like all conflicts, truth has become a casualty, but this incident shows it’s our own government, leaders and media that are seeking to switch off truth’s life support. The facts do not support their assertions, and for that reason I am more inclined to do what I once thought impossible, and believe foreign powers over my own government.

I hope we as a nation continue to critically analyse the public accusations of our government and seek out only truth. We must bring back truth in reporting and drag truth off life support, fully revived and a living standard in the public discourse, before those who would switch off its life support to empower their agenda with falsehoods get a chance to.

(Edlib Media Center, via AP)
Syrian children receive treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017.(AFP Photo)

Brendan Day, MPA, MA

Guest Writer

Brent is a former Captain in the Australian Army. He has operational service on Operation Astute in Timor Leste, and Operation Qld Flood Assist. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon with a Diploma of Military Leadership, as well as a Masters in Strategy and Management from the Australian Defence Force Academy and a Masters in Public Administration from the Romney Institute of Public Management.

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