Spotlight: Questions Linger in Syria
Front and Center
Syrian and Russian officials blocked independent inspectors belonging to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from entering the Damascus suburb of Douma on Monday morning. Although the U.S. and France claim to have evidence that chlorine gas and a nerve agent were used by the Syrian regime — and on this basis, alongside Britain, conducted military strikes against Syrian government targets on April 14th local time — the chemical weapons team has been in the Syrian capital since Saturdayattempting to conduct its own investigation. The OPCW inspectors have been cleared by the United Nations to enter Douma to collect soil samples and interview residents, but Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov nevertheless claimed that for security reasons the UN delayed the investigation. The delayed access and conflicting accounts have raised suspicions of evidence tampering by Russia. As of last night, Russia is promising to allow the team to visit Douma on Wednesday.
1) In a show of force just one day after the coordinated military strikes by the United States, France, and Britain, the Syrian regime continued to launch airstrikes and artillery against rebels and civilians in Homs and Hama. Further promoting the image of business as usual, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s office tweeted a short video of him walking to work, briefcase in hand.
2) A resolution proposed to the UN Security Council by Russia on Saturday condemning the military strikes against Syria as an act of “aggression” and calling for an end to “any further use of force” was resoundingly rejected by the 15-member body.
3) U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced on Sunday that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin would be introducing new sanctions against Russia on Monday in response to its continued involvement in Syria’s chemical weapons program. However, President Trump broke with Haley yesterday by rejecting these sanctions on the grounds they are currently “unnecessary.”
From the Right — By Dante Mazza
Refusing to let international investigators search for chemical weapons is the oldest move in the Middle Eastern Dictator playbook. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is doing absolutely nothing new in delaying the visit of investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to the site of April 7th’s chemical weapons attack. What is surprising, however, is how much support Syria is getting from Russia. The Kremlin has even gone so far as to accuse the United Kingdom of fabricating the attack. These Russian antics have gone too far.
Putin and Assad are stalling because they have no incentive not to. Beyond limited airstrikes like those we saw on early Saturday local time, Western powers have taken no concrete military steps to remove Assad from power or put an end to the Syrian Civil War. This call has saved countries like the United States the massive costs of getting embroiled in yet another Middle Eastern conflict, but at the same time have allowed Russia to move in and bolster Assad. Now situations like the current one are possible, where Assad can all but deny responsibility for using chemical weapons on his own people with the knowledge that a nuclear power has his back.
As President Trump stated in his speech announcing the airstrikes and several tweets, Russia is choosing to side with and support an animal that kills his own people with weapons that are illegal under international law. It is time for the president to create an incentive not to stall. Building on the spirit of cooperation seen in the airstrikes, President Trump should engage other world leaders in putting pressure on Russia to tone down its support of Assad. Russia cannot continue to get away with abetting murder.
From the Left — By Ankeet Ball
In the course of inquisition, when you are trying to get to the bottom of any problem, the simplest answer to explain a set of events is often the right one. Was there Russian interference in the 2016 election? All signs point to yes. Did the Trump campaign engage in some level of collusion with Russian agents? Evidence suggests at least some level of coordination. Did Syria and, to a larger extent, Russia, utilize chemical weapons last week in Douma? Considering there are multiple eyewitnesses who saw people screaming “CHLORINE!” while foaming at the mouth, I’m pretty sure the answer is also yes.
- We have obvious evidence that Russian agents interfered in our election. When you ask Russia about this suspicious evidence, it claims bogus. In the same manner, when the Western world demands Russia answer for the horrific events in Douma, Russia claims bogus again. This is a consistent attempt to gaslight the narrative around the atrocities in Syria, as well as the larger underhanded ploys that Russia is pulling all over the world. The constant denial of even the existence of a chemical attack in Douma fits into the sinister strategy of Russia to brush off any responsibility for its role in a rapidly unraveling Syria.
- At this point, Vladimir Putin is the sinister older brother constantly torturing his younger siblings and continuing to get away with this behavior despite the rampant cries and the visible bruises of his siblings. The more the world lets him get his way, the worse off the international order becomes.
I am unsure what endgame Russia is trying to achieve in Syria, but the quasi-World War occurring on the once-beautiful land of the Levant threatens more than ever to explode into the broader region. Someone — anyone at this point — needs to take a stand against an increasingly insubordinate Putin.
Here’s hoping when the chemical weapons inspectors are allowed to examine the scene in Douma on Wednesday they will find cold hard evidence of the human rights violations that occurred there. But, even if they do, we know what Russia will have to say about it, no matter how hard the proof: bogus.
Step Across the Aisle
Your Daily Shot of What the Partisan Media is Covering
1) After President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was ordered by a federal judge to disclose his full client list, it was revealed that Fox News host Sean Hannity previously sought Cohen’s services. Since last week, Hannity has been heavily criticizing the FBI raids on Cohen’s office and hotel room. (From the Right, The Weekly Standard)
2) U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood has denied a request from Michael Cohen to allow an independent third party to determine what information seized during the FBI raids falls under attorney-client privilege and another request from President Trump’s legal team to give Michael Cohen’s defense access to the documents before federal prosecutors. (From the Left, Daily Beast)
3) As revealed during his Sunday interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, former FBI Director James Comey applied the wrong legal standard in deciding to not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified information. Moreover, his attention to polls and public perception may have motivated the damaging public statements he made throughout Clinton’s presidential campaign. (From the Right, National Review)
4) The arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks located in a predominantly white part of the city highlights the hierarchies of race present in our public spaces and the heightened risks faced by black Americans. (From the Left, Slate)