RICHARD BUTLER. US Missile Attack on Syria

The US missile strike on Syria was an act of aggression the consequences of which could be immense. The facts of what happened at Khan Sheikhun must be established. 

In the absence from our mainstream media, of a even a shred of critical analysis of the motives for the US attack, Ramesh Thakur and James O’Neill, and Pearls and Irritations, have filled this disgraceful gap. (Pearls and Irritations: 10th and 11th April)

No evidence for the US claim that Syria bombed Khan Sheikhun with chemical weapons (CW) has been provided, anywhere. Our political leaders, from both sides, have fulsomely supported the US action.

Until evidence is provided, it is not possible to accept the claim. And, there are abundant reasons, from past experience, and a good deal of logic to support skepticism about it.

The action by the US was an act of aggression, violating international law. It is not excusable on such clearly factual grounds that: what happened at Khan Sheikhun was dreadful, the Syrian regime is appalling, etc. What’s been happening across Syria for over 6 years, with the use of all manner of indiscriminate weapons, has been dreadful. 500,000 people have been killed, 6 million made homeless.

It is not merely academic to refer to the provisions of international law. Those who truly want its standards upheld must themselves adhere to them. What has happened, in this case, was not simply illegal, but holds the prospect of a further deepening of the moral vacuum in Syria and the very real prospect of elevating the level of conflict, including between the US and Russia. Now, that would really make law and rules seem academic.

It is evident that the US’ decision was not motivated by what it claims was high-minded revulsion at the use of CW. President Trump’s statement on it was derived from his sight of television images. He said so himself, and, his statement was crafted for television, the world in which he reportedly lives. There could hardly have been a more superficial basis, for such a serious decision.

It has been credibly reported that US intelligence agencies doubted the claim that Syria had bombed with CW agent. They had insufficient evidence for this and they could not see why Assad would make such a dubious decision. The leadership of those agencies was then excluded from the presidential decision making deliberation: this was demonstrated by their absence from the group photo at the Mar-a- Largo “situation room.”

Trump’s decision was motivated by domestic concerns, including: his wish to appear resolute, militarily; to distinguish himself from Obama who had declined in 2013 to take a similar action even though his “red line” on CW use had been crossed; and, to draw attention away from the scandals and enquiries in which his presidency is mired.

The missiles fired cost $70 million, and the airfield they attacked was back in operation a few hours later.

It is not too late for the international community to demand that the events at Khan Sheikhun be investigated so that credible evidence of what, in fact occurred, is made public. It is thought, for example, that the Syrian bombing may have hit a warehouse on the ground that contained the chemicals, in their binary form, which were thus combined and dispersed. It may, indeed prove to be the case that it was the Syrians who bombed the site with CW.

Only if the facts are known can the politics of attempts to end the Syria tragedy be advanced, not retarded, by these events.

The wider consequences of failure to establish the facts will be truly significant. Such failure, as seen for example in the deceptions upon which the 2003 invasion of Iraq was justified, could lead to further widespread destruction in the region and, as Ramesh Thakur has speculated, possibly of the United Nations itself, and the so called rules based system, of international law, of which it is the custodian.

In principle, Australia is exactly the kind of country, which could seek with others; Canada, Sweden, for example, to insist upon urgent action to determine the facts.

We did so over the shooting down of MH117 over Ukraine. Why not in this instance, when so much more is at stake?

Richard Butler AC was Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, and Ambassador for Disarmament.


Richard Butler AC former Ambassador to the United Nations; Head of the UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq.

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7 Responses to RICHARD BUTLER. US Missile Attack on Syria

  1. Geoff Seaman says:

    Thank you for conveying to us ordinary citizens who are not in a position to verify the facts for ourselves the better informed views of those like Richard Butler and James O’Neill. For me what they write confirms the suspicion I hold that once again the Government of the U S A along with its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia are engaging in a most damaging deception in order to further their own interests.

  2. David Brown says:

    thank you very much for this article and important comments

    US/Israeli (UK, Saudi, Australia etc puppets….) have been a terrible uncivilising force on our world

    military, covert government working through CIA NSA, economic neoliberalism
    rule by the wealthy multi-national corporations

    using democracy, religion(s) as excuses, justifications, cover stories

    what good have they done for us ordinary citizens?

    why do so many of our people swallow the right wing propaganda that politics is not important, accept their fear stories and lies, dont care about corruption

    and continue to vote for our own self-destruction… WHY?

  3. John Menadue says:

    Trump may find it politically useful in attacking the Assad regime to counter suggestions that he is a Russian stooge but his actions will entrench even further Russian support for the Assad regime. It is again the story of unintended consequences. John Menadue

  4. The same questions were being asked by a Kiwi Jesuit international lawyer now in Boston on April 6 in Eureka Street:

    As a first step, why would anyone trust the Americans either to get the facts let alone act on them. They haven’t won a war since 1945 and cover their tracks more meticulously than any in a waste of time face saving exercise.

  5. James O'Neill says:

    Richard, the highly respected American journalist Robert Parry has just published another possible version of what happened at Khan Sheikhoun. He cites his intelligence sources as saying that the damage was done by a drone that originated in a joint Israeli-Saudi base in Jordan. His website is The article is Trump withholds Syria-Sarin evidence, published on 12 April.
    Further confirmation comes from the similarly well informed Philip Geraldi and a scientific analysis from Professor Theodore Postol of MIT ( 11 April 2017 debunks the American version.
    The more evidence that emerges, the tattier the reputations of our politicians for their dangerous and premature criticism of Assad becomes. They will of course not learn as they are no more than an echo chamber for the inanities of the White House.

  6. NEIL says:

    HAND WRINGING IS NOT ENOUGH – We are dealing with a rogue yesterday-power. As the US (Sic) declines, we must act. Analysis is not enough to preserve peace. The unthinkable – overthrowing our own governments may be vital?

  7. John says:

    More than two dozen ex-U.S. intelligence officials urge President Trump to rethink his claims blaming the Syrian government for the chemical deaths in Idlib and to pull back from his dangerous escalation of tensions with Russia.

    “Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.””

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