Lies, Missile Strikes and a Whole Lot of History

Recently, two stories have been in the news – though not enough in the news. They have been in the news because they are both stories of American missile strikes that importantly changed events and because they are both stories of missile strikes that were justified by lies. They have been not enough in the news because the foreign policy pattern that they reveal has gone unremarked upon. They reveal a foreign policy that is not based on truth, a foreign policy that does not respond to situations but that creates situations. They reveal a foreign policy that is not measured to events but events that are fabricated to justify a foreign policy.

On January 2, 2020, Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani. Though the reason for that likely illegal killing has been in a Protean process of evolution that finally ended with Trump’s declaration that "it doesn’t really matter," the cycle of events that led to the assassination of Suleimani began on December 27, 2019 with an attack on the Iraqi K-1 military base near Kirkuk in Iraq. K-1 is also used by American forces, and an American contractor, Nawres Waeed Hamid, was killed. The U.S. immediately blamed Khataib Hezbollah, a militia that works as part of the Iraqi military with the support of Iran and that has been intimately involved in the fight against ISIS. So, in answer to the attack, the US hit five Khataib bases, escalating the conflict, and killing around fifty members of Khataib Hezbollah. That disproportionate escalation led to Iraqi protests at the US embassy in Baghdad. The US answer to that was the killing of Qassem Suleimani.

But the event that began the cycle that led to the assassination was a lie. It was not the Iranian supported Iraqi militia that launched the strike that killed the American contractor. It was ISIS. The US used that lie to justify escalating its aggression on Iran.

Brigadier General Ahmed Adnan, the chief of intelligence of the Iraqi police at the K-1 base insists that "All indications are that it was Daesh [ISIS]." According to reporting by the New York Times, while Khataib Hezbollah has not had a presence in Kirkuk since the early days of the fight against ISIS in 2014, and while the region the rockets were launched from is a Sunni area that would have been hostile to the presence of the Shiite militia, the area had become "notorious for attacks by the Islamic State." In the past year, ISIS had become more and more active in the area. In the ten days leading up to the attack, ISIS had executed three attacks in close proximity to the K-1 base. Iraqi intelligence had even warned the US on multiple occasions that ISIS was planning to attack the K-1 base. Iraq’s National Security Council informed the US that "ISIS terrorists have endeavored to target K-1 base."

So, the narrative that set the scene for the assassination of the Iranian general was a lie.

Across the border in Syria, another lie was being told. On April 7, 2018, an alleged chemical attack on the Syrian suburb of Douma was quickly blamed on the Assad government. One week later, Trump ordered the launch of 126 cruise missiles from an American warship. The problem in Syria, though, as in Iraq, was that the US strike was based on lie.

Only days before the missile strikes, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the US lacked the intelligence that Assad was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack. They lacked the intelligence because there was none. Russian chemical weapons specialists who were at the site found no trace of chemical weapon use. Neither did Red Crescent doctors who treated people. According to Robert Fisk, who was the first reporter into Douma, local doctors insisted that no chemical attack had even happened. Instead, Fisk reported, the people seen in videos distributed by the rebel-affiliated and western financed White Helmets were suffering from oxygen starvation. Huge wind and dust clouds that night choked the tunnels and basements in which people were hiding from conventional shelling. They were struggling, not from chemical exposure, but from hypoxia.

When Russia brought seventeen witnesses from Douma to the Hague to testify before the OPCW, the US, U.K., and France not only did not listen to the evidence, they did not show up. The witnesses from Douma supported the story that Robert Fisk had heard when he was in Douma. Each witness was either a victim of that night’s events or a doctor who treated them. Some of the victim witnesses even show up in the White Helmet videos. They all said that there had been no chemical attack: they were sucking in dust, not gas.

But the lying gets even worse. In its March 2019 report, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that a chlorine gas attack had likely occurred in Douma and the blame was pinned on Assad. But Ian Henderson, an OPCW inspection team leader who analyzed the chlorine cylinders, says that his conclusion contradicted the published report and that his engineering assessment was suppressed. Henderson says that his team "had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred." He says that his engineering and ballistics studies of the cylinders "support . . . the view that there had been no chemical attack."

Other members of the OPCW report that the levels of chlorine found at the scene were too low for the source to be a military attack: levels "were no higher than you would expect in any household environment." Toxicology reports also testify that "the experts were conclusive in their statements that there was no correlation between symptoms and chlorine exposure."

Henderson’s testimony, and that of the other OPCW officials, supports the claim that the chemical attack that triggered the cruise missile strike on Syria was a lie, that the OPCW cooperated in covering up a false flag chemical attack. Other OPCW officials have said that important findings were manipulated and suppressed and that the cover-up occurred under external American pressure and threats. One member of the OPCW fact finding mission reports that a US delegation came to OPCW headquarters and applied "unacceptable pressure" on the inspectors to endorse the conclusion that Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks.

As in Iraq, a crucial American missile strike was justified by a lie. The foreign policy pattern that reveals America’s willingness to fabricate an event that is then used to justify a predesired military strike is not new: it is, unfortunately, a much bigger and older pattern than just these two recent events reveal.

The most famous fabrication is the Golf of Tonkin lie that helped justify the war in Vietnam. In 1964, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would mislead President Johnson in an attempt to pressure him into war in Vietnam. McNamara would use the story of an attack by North Vietnamese boats on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin to pressure Johnson into retaliating by bombing the North Vietnamese and to pressure congress into passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. But McNamara knew that John Herrick, the US task force commander in the Gulf, had come to doubt the attack and wanted “a complete evaluation before any further action taken.” He knew too that, based on those doubts, Admiral Sharp, the US Commander, told McNamara to hold off on the retaliatory bombing. But McNamara maintained the lie so that a fabrication could be used to justify an American attack.

Thought the most famous, the Golf of Tonkin is not the first. The first goes all the way back to one of America’s first foreign wars. President Polk would justify war by claiming to congress that Mexico had attacked a US army detachment on American soil. In 1848, a congressman named Abraham Lincoln would make one of his first appearances in history by standing up on the floor to demand that Polk reveal to the House the exact spot at which the attack took place. Polk refused to answer. And a lie led to a war.

Exactly half a century later, in 1898, the US battleship Maine would sink to the bottom of Havana harbor in a dramatic explosion. 268 men were killed and public support was whipped up for war with Spain. No evidence was ever provided to implicate the Spanish. But the claim was made that the American ship had been treacherously sunk “by an enemy’s secret infernal machine” and the treachery was attributed to Spain. The real cause was a mystery, but the attribution of blame was fabricated to justify war against the country America already wanted to go to war against.

During the same period, a false narrative of an attack would be used in a parallel way. The Treaty of Paris would give the Philippines to the United States against the wishes of the people of the Philippines. But the treaty required ratification by the US senate, and the senate was torn over the question of ratification and foreign expansion. Just then, Filipino insurgents attacked American soldiers in Manila. But what was not reported to the senate at the time was that the insurgents only entered the skirmish after an American soldier had fired first. The fabricated unprovoked attack on Americans led the senate to protect American soldiers abroad and ratify the treaty. This second fictitious assault made the Philippines, along with Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba, American possessions.

A century later, the fiction department would go to work in Korea. The official American transcript of the Korean War states clearly that on June 25, 1950, the North Korean army swarmed across the 38th parallel in a surprise invasion of South Korea. This account was read into the record on June 26 in the Security Council. This official account is repeated everywhere in the West and remains uncontested. North Korea was never permitted to provide its account to the U.N. Though the starting date is convenient, battles had been taking place across the dividing line for years, and, as The New York Times admitted on June 26, 1950, "The warlike talk strangely has almost all come from South Korean leaders." South Korean leader Syngman Rhee had repeatedly and publicly threatened to reunify the Korean peninsula by force. And though the American lie has North Korea invading South Korea on June 25 and South Korea retaliating on the morning of June 26, the real chronology reveals that the South Korean "retaliation" occurred the day before on the 25th prior to the North Korean "invasion." And even that isn’t the real starting point, since two days of South Korean bombing of the North preceded the South Korean attack. In Killing Hope, William Blum reports that an American military status report confirms the Southern incursion on June 25 and adds that Western press reports at the time confirmed the South Korean attack. Another lie; another war.

More recently, the US led military intervention in Libya was justified on the dangerous ground of military humanism. The US argued that the intervention was justified because of the need to protect Libyan civilians from an imminent blood bath and slaughter. But that was a lie. The US fabricated evidence of an imminent bloodbath to justify a predesired war. Max Blumenthal reports in The Management of Savagery that Gaddafi’s forces "recaptured most Libyan cities at a cost of about 1,000 dead," and included in that 1,000 are hundreds of Libyan soldiers, bringing the civilian death toll the US was worried about even lower. In his study of the Libyan intervention, Harvard’s Alan Kuperman concludes that "Qaddafi did not perpetrate a ‘bloodbath’ in any of the cities that his forces recaptured from rebels prior to the NATO intervention . . . so there was virtually no risk of such an outcome if he had been permitted to recapture the last rebel stronghold of Benghazi." Similarly, a September 2016 British House of Commons committee concluded that "the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence."

The recent events in Syria and Iraq fit neatly into a disturbing pattern that reveals an American foreign policy unmoored from the truth, an American foreign policy that does not address factual events but, instead, fabricates events to justify foreign policy.

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.