- Tariq AliBritish-Pakistani political commentator, historian, activist, filmmaker, novelist, and an editor of the New Left Review. He recently wrote an article for the London Review of Books blog called “On Intervening in Syria.”
- Steven ClemonsWashington editor-at-large for The Atlantic and senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
- Read Steven Clemons in The Atlantic
- "On Intervening in Syria." By Tariq Ali. (London Review of Books blog)
- New America Foundation
- See recent Democracy Now! reports on Syria
- Patrick Cockburn on U.S. Plans to Arm Syrian Rebels: Where is the Skepticism About Chemical Weapons? (Democracy Now!)
- As U.S. Moves to Arm Syrian Rebels, Questions Raised About Chemical Weapons Attack Reports (Democracy Now!)
- Robert Fisk on Syria’s Civil War, Chemical Weapons "Theater" & Obama’s Backing of Israeli Strikes (Democracy Now!)
- Last Week: Syrian Activist on Ghouta Attack: "I Haven’t Seen Such Death in My Whole Life" (Democracy Now!)
- Pentagon Reverses Position & Admits U.S. Troops Used White Phosphorus Against Iraqis in Fallujah (2005, Democracy Now!)
The Obama administration appears to be pressing ahead with military strikes on Syria despite new obstacles at home and abroad. On Wednesday, an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council failed to reach an agreement after Russia and China opposed any authorization of force in response to last week’s alleged chemical attack by Assad forces in Ghouta. After domestic pressure, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he will seek parliamentary authorization for using force against Syria, and only after U.N. inspectors complete their current mission. And in Washington, the White House plans to brief lawmakers today following growing calls that President Obama seek congressional backing for any use of force. The administration is expected to make public soon some of its intelligence, but skeptics say there remains no smoking gun implicating the Assad regime. We host a debate on military intervention in Syria between Tariq Ali of the New Left Review and Steven Clemons of The Atlantic.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Syria. On Wednesday, President Obama declared unequivocally that the United States has concluded that the Syrian government carried out a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians last week. President Obama spoke on PBS NewsHour.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons of that—or, chemical weapons of that sort. We do not believe that given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government, in fact, carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences. So, we are consulting with our allies. We’re consulting with the international community. And, you know, I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: During his interview on PBS NewsHour, Obama did not present any direct evidence to back up his assertion that the Syrian government was behind the attack. Privately, U.S. intelligence officials say there are still many questions about who carried out and who ordered last week’s deadly chemical attack. In interviews with the Associated Press, multiple U.S. officials said this is, quote, “not a slam dunk” — a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a, quote, “slam dunk.” Unnamed U.S. officials told The New York Times there is, quote, “no smoking gun” that directly links President Bashar al-Assad to the attack
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council failed to reach an agreement after Russia and China opposed any authorization of force in response to last week’s alleged chemical attack in Ghouta. The U.S. is also facing resistance from its closest ally, Britain. After domestic pressure, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he’ll seek parliamentary authorization for using force against Syria, and only after U.N. inspectors complete their current mission.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. In London, Tariq Ali is with us, editor of the New Left Review. He recently wrote a piece for the London Review of Books blog called “On Intervening in Syria.” He spoke yesterday in London at a rally opposing the bombing of Syria. And in Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Steve Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for The Atlantic and senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
Steven Clemons, let’s begin with you. What is your assessment of the evidence that the United States has and what the U.S. should do in Syria?
STEVEN CLEMONS: My current assessment is that we have signals intelligence, and we’ve had it from the very beginning, both our own and others’ supplied by allies, that shows that there was command staff authorization and instruction to launch the attacks that were had. And we didn’t have that evidence in the earlier designation of chemical weapons usage, in which the Obama administration declared that the regime had used that. There was confusion about whether the opposition had potentially used chemical weapons or the government. But in this particular case, it’s not all public, which is, I think, quite regrettable, but there’s significant signals intelligence that tells us who was responsible within the Syrian command staff for what happened in this deadly, horrible attack.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, assuming that that information is accurate, why then still would the Obama administration not wait until the weapons inspectors, who are already in Syria, conduct their own investigation?
STEVEN CLEMONS: What I’m told—and this is a fair point for people to debate, but what I’m told is—and perhaps Tariq Ali and others know what’s significant about this, but that the Syrian regime actually went to the areas in Ghouta that were attacked and began pummeling them and trying—and engaged in sort of a second conventional attack on the area. When the U.N. weapons inspectors went in the first time, of course, the delay was because the convoy was fired upon. And it became a concern of the White House that this was all delaying tactics, and the Russian enthusiasm for weapons inspections in this particular case was that it would be inconclusive and that you would find—get into a process that would end up, you know, in—according to one source of mine in the White House, muddying up the waters and preventing international action.
And I think the president, for a variety of reasons—and I think this issue of weapons of mass destruction use or potential proliferation is a defining concern for the Obama administration. In April 2010, Joe Biden and Barack Obama convened leaders from around the world here in Washington about these kinds of concerns, so this kind of issue is one that is not only important for the international community, I think the Obama administration sees it defining for itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Tariq Ali in London. You spoke at a rally against an attack on Syria. Your response to what Steven Clemons is saying?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think the main evidence which has been supplied is from an ally, certainly, but the name of the ally is Israel. Israeli intelligence has supplied the signals intelligence to the United States. It should be made public so we can judge it for ourselves. But virtually no one who knows the region believes that these attacks were carried out by the Syrian government, or on its orders. It’s crazy, if you think about it. They let the inspectors in, and then in a hotel barely 10 miles from—in a location barely 10 miles from where the inspectors are staying, there’s a chemical attack. And what good does it do the Syrian government to actually open fire on these inspectors? They want them there. So, I think it’s slightly incredible. And given that citizens in the United States and Europe were lied to in the run-up to the Iraq War—simple, straightforward lies—it’s very difficult to take the West seriously when it cries wolf again. So, 'til the evidence is there, it's impossible to take this at face value.
Secondly, the country that has of course used chemical weapons is the United States, which used white phosphorus in Fallujah. No red lines were drawn them, except the red lines of Iraqi blood.
Thirdly, why is the United States wanting to do this? And I think the reasons are to do with the situation on the battlefield in this awful, ugly, depressing civil war, which is that the opposition to the regime had been losing out, and, effectively, the West wants to improve the relationship of forces on the field. They’ve sent in more arms to the opposition—whoever it may be, and it’s dubious in many cases. And now they want to punish the regime, once again, to push it back. Meanwhile, the civil war continues. You know, no one is really pushing for talks. In Geneva, the opposition refused to come and participate in these talks. And what is required is a political solution; otherwise, you have endless war. And this policy of Obama, we’re not going in for regime change, I think he’s right about that. He’s not—he’s not misleading us. But we are basically wanting to weaken the regime so the civil war continues. What other option is there?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tariq, I’d like to ask you—Tariq, I’d like to ask you about the—what the potential impact is of yet another U.S. military attack on another Arab country, especially in view of the fact that Syria has a mutual defense pact with Iran. And what would be the possible repercussions of such an attack?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think the Iranian regime has made a very strong statement—whether it’s pure bluff, we don’t know—saying that if Syria is attacked, they will retaliate as they see fit. And this is a regime which has been recently elected, the new government, which people said was going to be very different from Ahmadinejad, and yet is saying exactly the same things as the prior government was saying to this, that an attack on Syria will be taken as an attack on Iran because of their defense pact. And they have the possibility, of course, of escalating in Iraq, of escalating in Lebanon and escalating in Afghanistan—three battlefield areas where the United States are involved, which I think is one reason that there has been a lot more caution in the Pentagon and from British military officers, who’ve been on television screens—you know, recently retired, who were involved in Iraq—saying that there is no justification for this war.
People are extremely worried about the consequences. I mean, in Britain, we have 70 Conservative members of Parliament, the ruling party, from the coalition, saying they will not vote for a war. Eighty percent of the population is opposed to it. So, of course, the United States can push it through, and probably the British government, which, you know, is a sort of vassal state-type outfit, will go along with it, but against the will of a huge majority of its people.
AMY GOODMAN: Steven Clemons, your response?
STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, Tariq Ali is an outstanding intellectual, and I’m a fan of much of his work. I disagree with him on the question. I mean, I was one of the first to raise the issues of the opposition somehow getting access to chemical weapons when we saw the lower yield use. I’d respectfully disagree with him in this particular case. And the Syrian government has an opportunity. There was an attack, and there was a missile-launched version of these chemical weapons. If a rogue general or a rogue command staff element of the Syrian regime was responsible in trying to help the opposition screen-pass the red line, that’s an option the Syrian government can reveal to the world, but that doesn’t appear to be what happened.
The only thing I would say, where I substantially disagree, is that in the run-up to the Iraq War, which I, as, Amy, you and I discussed this many times—which I also opposed on a variety of grounds, you had an administration at that time, under Bush and Cheney, that didn’t care about evidence whatsoever, because they just wanted to go to war. They just wanted to settle old scores with Saddam Hussein, and, to a certain degree, they opened up much of the nightmare that we’ve seen in the Middle East. This is an administration, under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, his chief of staff Denis McDonough, who have been working hard not to get more deeply engaged, to try to not have the third major military intervention there. And that is what I find unusual and, frankly, more compelling about this, and I find many of my friends on the progressive side that are worried about another intervention, and I see the neoconservatives applauding an intervention because they hope that there is a slippery slope into a much fuller engagement that’s about regime change, about boots on the ground, and about a deeper engagement of the United States in this mess, which I oppose.
So, I believe—and it could be a complete mess—that it is important for the international community in matters of weapons of mass destruction to respond, to try and secure those weapons, or hold those who use them accountable, and to use—and to make that effort one that’s distinct from other political skirmishes and realities. I believe—and it may be to fine a needle to thread—that there’s a way to get from the attack, that I think is impending and that I think will happen, towards some form of peace process that is inclusive of all parties. I think Tariq Ali is absolutely right that the opposition didn’t want to go and participate last time, but perhaps the effort now to strengthen the U.S. position but not overthrow Bashar al-Assad gives everybody an opportunity to pause and come back. Perhaps that’s a naive view, but this is an administration that, frankly, I find does not want to go to war, and that’s why I think that the evidence that they are trying to bring to bear and the actions they’re considering are quite different than what happened in Iraq. And I suppose I’m admitting that I’m supportive of this action. And it is awkward to support it, because I know that it could have profound unintended and unexpected consequences, but I do believe that the president is on the right track in this particular case.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break for a minute, and then we’re going to come back. Steven Clemons, editor-at-large for The Atlantic, senior fellow, New America Foundation. Tariq Ali, editor of the New Left Review, he’s speaking to us from London. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking on PBS on Wednesday, President Obama suggested Syria’s chemical weapons may pose a threat against the United States.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When you start talking about chemical weapons, in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where, over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they’re allied to known terrorist organizations that in the past have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons, that can have devastating effects, could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.
AMY GOODMAN: That is President Obama speaking yesterday on PBS. Our guests are Tariq Ali, editor of the New Left Review, and Steven Clemons, editor-at-large for The Atlantic. Tariq Ali, your response to President Obama? And also comment on the switch in Britain with your prime minister, Cameron, as a result of public pressure.
TARIQ ALI: Well, first, on what Obama said, he sounds more and more like Bush. In fact, Amy, this has been my view since the day he took power, that he does things and gets away with things which Bush couldn’t. Were Bush carrying out these measures and preparing to attack another country, there’d be mayhem in the United States. Because it’s Obama, people accept it. The notion that a country or a group of terrorists could use chemical weapons or nuclear weapons against the United States, given the degree of high surveillance which the NSA has over everything, is mind-boggling, really. I mean, this is frightening people at home. We are going to war because we might be under threat. This can’t be taken too seriously. If we are going to have a campaign to stop chemical weapons, it should apply to all countries, and then we should see how it’s going to be implemented, and we should stop companies from producing them and manufacturing them. Where are these companies? Quite a few of them are in the West, within the ranks of the so-called international community. So, that is the way of operating if you’re going to take this seriously.
And, secondly, on this question, the only people who might even consider a maniacal act like using chemical weapons against civilians in the United States or elsewhere, some of them are the very people, at the moment, who are actually fighting against the regime in Syria. So, here, the United States, which has been backing the opposition, and its surrogates in the Middle East have been arming it, have a huge responsibility themselves. So it doesn’t quite make sense.
As far as Britain is concerned, I think—I have very little doubt that once the United States goes to war, the British will back it. I mean, it is completely tied into the United States on many levels, especially the strategic and defense levels, though there’s a great deal of unease within the British military and intelligence circles, as there is in the United States, about politicians taking us into yet another war with unforeseeable consequences. I think if the U.S. decides to go, Britain will back it. I think Cameron would probably get a majority in Parliament, though there will be a sizable opposition. The Labour leader, who formerly said he was giving a reluctant backing, I think will give supposedly reluctant backing to this war, even though the United Nations has not had time to carry through a full investigation, which was the fig leaf with which they were covering themselves. But there is no doubt in my mind that you will have a large opposition in the country, which will this time be reflected more in Parliament than it’s ever been before, but largely because of these dissident Conservatives who are not convinced by it at all. And hardly a day goes by on British television where you get military experts and others, all of them coming out and saying they’re not in favor of this war. So there is a strong antiwar mood, which covers both left and right of the spectrum, which doesn’t favor this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Steve—Tariq, I’d like to switch to Steve Clemons for a second and ask Steve about the comments of Robert Fisk, the well-known foreign correspondent from The Independent, who has been based for decades in the Middle East. He wrote recently, “If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured—for the very first time in history—that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida. …
“The men who destroyed so many thousands on 9/11 will then be fighting alongside the very nation whose innocents they so cruelly murdered almost exactly 12 years ago. Quite an achievement for Obama, Cameron, Hollande and the rest of the miniature warlords.
“This, of course, will not be trumpeted by the Pentagon or the White House—nor, I suppose, by al-Qa’ida—though they are both trying to destroy Bashar. So are the Nusra front, one of al-Qa’ida’s affiliates.”
Steve Clemons, your response to this irony in this situation, if this attack goes forward?
STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, one should always take Robert Fisk seriously and read what he has to say. I see it differently, because I also hear from this administration a commitment I didn’t hear from the first time they talked about chemical weapons use in Syria. This time they’re very, very clearly saying this is not about regime change. Tariq Ali just said that that was appropriate, this was not about targeting Bashar al-Assad. And in my book, that is a signal to the Russians to keep open a Geneva process down the road, because I believe it was a huge mistake at one point for President Obama to say that Assad had to go. Whether he has to go or not, that simply limited dramatically the opportunities for a negotiated outcome with this. The United States, to some degree, kind of spoiled the water for that to happen.
I think the broad issue, though, is one where you see the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, and others recently writing to Congress and saying the Syrian opposition is undependable, inchoate and too dominated at the moment by the al-Nusra Front and by a radical Islamist faction, that we’ve just learned has been responsible for kidnapping several Western journalists and torturing them. One of these journalists just escaped, while others remain in captivity and held by a component of the Syrian opposition that we and other allies have been supporting at some level. So it is a horrible knot, where, as I’ve written in the past, in this particular case, the enemy of our enemy is still our enemy, not our friend. And I think that, to some degree, this mess inside is more complex than Robert Fisk shares.
I don’t believe that we will—and if we try to punish the system for the use and deployment of chemical weapons—and people just need to go back and remind themselves and look at the preponderance of material that was pushed out on social media of women, children, men dying in the streets in horrible, agonizing death, and to look at images that, of course, happened previously in the Iraq-Iran War and happened elsewhere, but that used to be the norm in World War I. And the world made a very big investment in trying to never go that direction again.
Tariq Ali just said that we should be moving to shut down chemical weapons production around the world. I couldn’t agree with him more, that that should be something connected with any action. It shouldn’t just be an ad hoc military attack. If Obama and Biden feel as strongly to attack, they should—Tariq Ali is absolutely right that there ought to be other component pieces of this allergy that I think does matter in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Steven Clemons, you said that you became convinced by the signal information, in speaking to intelligence officials in the United States. What exactly is that?
STEVEN CLEMONS: Signals intelligence—you know, one of the unfortunate realities is we do have in the United States today a many—much infrastructure that’s part of a security-obsessed national security state. And we’re listening—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we’ve learned in all the NSA scandal stuff. But what—
STEVEN CLEMONS: Yeah, we’re listening to—well, every—no, but everything that—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, what exactly is the information?
STEVEN CLEMONS: I’m sorry, how did I get the information?
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah—no, what exactly is that information that has convinced you?
STEVEN CLEMONS: What is—so, from the moment this began to unroll—one of the areas I report on and work on is in the intelligence sector. And when there were attacks, low-level attacks, reported previously, and they were popping up here and there in Syria, it seemed to me natural, given the many months we talked about red lines, that the opposition would be the biggest winner if those were crossed. And so, I went at the time to people that I knew had access to and that were close to what’s called signals intelligence, electronic and digital eavesdropping, if you will, of which there are enormous, not just Israeli interceptors, but lots of other states that are essentially picking up communications inside Syria and filtering that. The NSA’s raison d’être is this. And at that time, there was no evidence whatsoever that there was command staff authority or Assad. There was speculation, but it just didn’t exist. And I got a very clear read from intelligence sources that we just had no evidence at all at that time of this lower chemical weapons usage that it was there.
This time I went in, and said, “Steve, it is—it is definitive, and it’s definitive that members of the command staff of the Syrian army are responsible.” There may be factions, and subsequent—you know, reported in the press by Foreign Policy magazine, have reported that there was dismay and shock in some part of the command staff and a panic call to other elements of that. That’s the tip of the iceberg of the communications material we have. But it seems that a portion of the Syrian army, this time, communicated strongly enough that these attacks were held. And so, that intelligence is held there. I agree it should be made public. I think it should be put out into the public.
AMY GOODMAN: So you haven’t seen it, but they told you that this is what it said.
STEVEN CLEMONS: Yes. And because I had a benchmark of the previous inquiries I made, because I suspected that the opposition was benefiting too much, that there had been too much discussion of red lines, the folks that I spoke to who said there was no evidence of command staff authorization the last time around had a very different story this time.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go—
STEVEN CLEMONS: And so I was one of the first to go out [inaudible] anyway—
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to President Obama on PBS NewsHour.
STEVEN CLEMONS: Yeah, sure.
AMY GOODMAN: This is host Judy Woodruff.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. President, with all due respect, what does it accomplish? I mean, you’re—the signals the American people are getting is that this would be a limited strike over a limited duration. If it’s not going to do that much harm to the Assad regime, what have you accomplished? How—what—what’s changed?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, again, I have not made a decision, but I think it’s important that if in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime, which is involved in a civil war, trying to protect itself, will have received a pretty strong signal that, in fact, it better not do it again. And that doesn’t solve all the problems inside of Syria, and, you know, it doesn’t, obviously, end the death of innocent civilians inside of Syria.
And we hope that, in fact, ultimately, a political transition can take place inside of Syria, and we’re prepared to work with anybody—the Russians and others—to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict. But we want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people—against women, against infants, against children—that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you’re also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected, and that needs to stop.
AMY GOODMAN: So, President Obama says he’s not interested in regime change, but he wants to send a message. Tariq Ali of the New Left Review, your response?
TARIQ ALI: Well, in other words, this is punishment that is going to be inflicted on a country, with targets being bombed and presumably lots of what we used to call collateral damage, i.e. casualties on the ground. For what? To save Obama’s face? That’s all it’s become, because he said and Biden has talked about red lines. That’s the only reason. Takes one back to—I am totally unconvinced that a regime, backed by the Russians, in close touch with Iran, is so out of touch that they would actually use these weapons. I mean, who benefits from the red line being crossed? It’s not the government. It could be rogue elements within it. Whose orders they’re acting on might also be quite interesting. The fact is, we don’t know. And before the United Nations team can discover anything, they have now been asked to leave, as they were asked to leave Iraq, because a bombing has been planned.
And whatever Obama says now, he cannot foresee the effects of missile attacks on Syria in the region as a whole, because, effectively, Amy, what the Iraq War has produced in the Middle East is a huge divide. This has been America’s big success. Arab unity has been effectively destroyed by creating the Sunni-Shia divide, which was created in Iraq after the Americans occupied it and handed over power to Shia clerical parties. This, in effect, made Tehran a major player in the region and brought the Saudis and other Sunni governments into line behind the United States to try and blockade and keep Iran at length. And I think that in one sense this conflict in Syria is playing along similar lines. I mean, the Israeli aim is very clear. The people they loathe the most in the Middle East are Hezbollah in Lebanon, were the only organization which have fought the Israelis to a standstill and were responsible for driving them out of Lebanon. They want this organization crushed. They feel that if the Syrian regime is defeated, there will be no conduit for Iranian arms to Hezbollah.
So, it’s a huge, complex picture that we’re facing. And Obama talking as if nuke—as if chemical weapons were threatening the United States is really childish and creating an atmosphere of fear in the country, to try and convince a reluctant citizenry to back yet another American strike on an Arab country. It’s totally unconvincing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring Steven Clemons back in and ask him—Steve, an unlikely figure recently criticized the Obama administration’s failure to provide what he believes is an explanation of what the national interest is here. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on the Fox Business Network on Wednesday evening, said, quote, “There really hasn’t been any indication from the administration as to what our national interest is with respect to this particular situation.” This, of course, brings in the whole debate of humanitarian intervention versus national interest. Your response?
STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, I think Barack Obama is, in a way, making a distinction between humanitarian intervention, which many people have been calling for in Syria for a long time after 100,000 deaths—even the number of deaths that died out of this chemical weapons attack, less than 1 percent of the total, would say, “Where were we before?” What the president is saying is that there’s something unique and different and distinct about the use of a weapon of mass destruction. And if that regime is accountable and responsible for the deployment of that, then there should be a different kind of punishment.
I think what Don Rumsfeld is referring to is great debate between realists, neoconservatives, liberal interventionists—have debates about when do you marshal and deploy forces and sacrifice blood and treasure beyond your shores. And it’s—when I worked with Chalmers Johnson, we were convinced at the time that America was engaged in many of these wars of empire, many of these manipulations of the international system, for parochial reasons. And the question is: Does that meet that test? I think this debate and discussion is a vital one for the nation to have, no matter what my views are. I certainly respect those that have a great skepticism about American engagement in these kinds of things. Don Rumsfeld, who basically led the charge, along with Paul Wolfowitz and others, into Iraq, because they were so focused on trying to unseat Saddam Hussein, and evidence to the side, is, I think, a remarkable man for saying, “OK, what’s the national interest here?”
The national interest is, chemical weapons deployments fits in that list for realists of things that you don’t want to create an opportunity for expansion of. You don’t want to, by not acting, essentially promote the proliferation, the use, the further use of these weapons. And perhaps they’re wrong. I think we have to be humble in this. Perhaps they’re wrong, but that many analysts believe that the failure, the watch that we’ve been doing of seeing sarin gas pop up here and there around Syria, and the absence of a response, led someone in the Syrian command staff to think that this was a viable option. It’s kind of like—it’s hard to imagine this, but in the days of Curtis LeMay in the United States, when you had essentially a group around the president of the United States that wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on every problem we had in the world, that may be the situation that Bashar al-Assad is facing inside his regime, that he has Curtis LeMays that are—that have the authority and the ability to deploy those chemical weapons.
And the question is: What does the world do about that? Does it matter beyond the borders of Syria or not? I believe, in this particular case, it does. But I have respect for those who argue that it’s not, and I want to hear them. But I would not spend a lot of time listening to Don Rumsfeld make a case one way or another on this particular question, given his history.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, very quickly—we just have 30 seconds—Tariq Ali, newly disclosed CIA files show the United States provided critical intelligence to help Saddam Hussein launch chemical attacks on Iran. In the waning days of the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. provided Saddam Hussein with satellite imagery showing Iran was poised to exploit a hole in Iraq’s military positioning, the U.S. giving Iraq the location of Iranian troops, despite knowing that Saddam would use nerve gas.
TARIQ ALI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: The attacks killed anywhere between hundreds to thousands of Iranians. According to Foreign Policy magazine, the U.S. had “firm evidence” of Iraqi chemical attacks on Iran as early as 1983. In Foreign Policy, they said the disclosures in internal CIA files that top U.S. officials were aware “are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.” Tariq, your final comment?
TARIQ ALI: Well, we know this, Amy, and we know also the chemical attacks launched on Fallujah by the United States in 2004, which is why what is going on now, in my opinion, has very little to do with the use of chemical weapons, but a great deal to do with restoring the balance in Syria and not allowing the regime to take more and more of the country back, which they were doing over the last six months to a year.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave it there, Tariq Ali, editor of the New Left Review, Steven Clemons, editor-at-large for The Atlantic, senior fellow at New America Foundation. When we come back, yesterday the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, major rally on the Mall. We’ll talk with Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. Stay with us.