The pattern is familiar and well-established.
A group of organisation who is ‘on our side’ (the US/West) produces some ‘evidence’ that paints whomever the State Department is opposed to / has designated as being next in line for the chop, as evil beyond compare. The ‘evidence’ is accepted without question by the State Department. The claim is then reinforced by references to classified material – which is never produced. The claim is repeated ad nauseum by the ‘free’ press in the West with virtually no questioning. Even when the official source qualifies the claims-making with a phrase such as ‘high degree of confidence’ the press soon forgets the qualification and just broadcasts it as truth.
From a point of view of anyone who is concerned that policy should be rational and evidence based this is problematic. The material which comes from the opposition groups (an intelligence agency on ‘our side’, a defector, a ‘human rights’ group supported by the West) is rarely rationally credible. It plays to the emotions. It doesn’t provide a basis for the conclusions which its originators would like you to make. And, by definition, we (the thinking public) can’t assess the classified information.
Time and time again then policy is made without the slightest rational basis – at least from the point of view of the ordinary citizen. This is something which the press should be concerned about. In reality they are too busy playing their part amplifying the information / disinformation (who knows?) to question it.
The reason these ‘facts’ are accepted is that they align with a) Western policy and b) Western narratives.
This is all age old. This is how things were in the Roman Empire. (The Roman Empire too liked to present itself as benign. There was always a valid reason for falling on one of their neighbours. It was never admitted to be expansionist aggression).
From the point of view of philosophy this is a problem. From the point of view of philosophy the test for truth is that the claim is in accordance with the facts. It is indeed how things are. (As Heidegger comments: if the claim is a sign saying ‘house over there’ then there must indeed be a house over there or the claim was not true).The Western power elites and their PR agents (the ‘free’ press) however have a very different conception of truth. For them the test is essentially does the claim fit in with the narrative. They are to some extent concerned with whether it can be tested but the concern is that of the corporate lawyer: “can this position be defended”. Whether or not it is true as in in actual accordance with the facts, doesn’t come into it. The concern is “if we put up a sign saying ‘house over there’ can we produce some bits and pieces of evidence that make it look plausible and, in the worst case, give us room for claiming we made an honest mistake”. They are not concerned about whether or not there is a house over there.
We see this in the case of the claims about the chemical attack in Idlib province in Syria. The claims that this was an attack by Assad’s air-force are based on a) claims made by groups linked to terrorists who are trying to unseat the Syrian government (if the White Helmets are involved this organisation is directly funded by the UK Foreign Office) and posted on social media and b) claims by the State Department about ‘classified material’. The former include, for example, a photograph of a crater in a road, with a red skull and crossbones stuck in it. This image proves nothing at all. It may be a bomb crater – but without any forensic evidence there can be no way of knowing if it was the site of a chemical weapon detonation or not. (People standing near the whole wearing masks proves nothing either). So; in reality no evidence on which a rationally minded free citizen could make a judgement.
But – the claim, in this case – Assad dropped chemical weapons – is absolutely ideal for those in the US and UK military-financial establishment who have long hankered after a regime change in Syria. Who are (despite Iraq and Libya) still dreaming that if/when Assad ‘gets out of the way’ he will be replaced by something much better (and of course much more favourable towards the West). The claim works and so it becomes ‘true’.
It may indeed be true in the real sense of the word. It may be that Assad really did (in fact) drop a chemical weapon on Khan Sheikhun last week. But there is no sign that this matters to the war-machine in the West. What matters is – can it be made to look reasonably plausible and does it suit the purpose.
Another example would be evidence on social media that the airline which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 was brought down with a Buk missile system supplied by Russia. One well-publicised piece of ‘evidence’ was a grainy video of a Buk missile system ostensibly making its way back towards Russia through a Ukrainian village and shot the night of the tragedy. It even had a missile missing from one of its tubes. But such ‘evidence’ proves nothing. It could have been mocked up by Ukrainian intelligence anywhere in Ukraine. And the militias in Eastern Ukraine and by extension Russia have been condemned by the State Department and the press on the basis of just such material plus, of course, the ‘classified material’ which we cannot see. (The official Western investigation into this tragedy explicitly claimed the Buk system came from Russia and appears to have relied on social media postings and intelligence supplied by an interested party as part of this ‘investigation’).
In the run up to the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 Western intelligence produced a vision of an Iraq armed with chemical weapons and with an active and dangerous nuclear programme. Part of this story was based on claims made by Iraqi defectors. Claims – false and exaggerated – were made by defectors, accepted by British intelligence and written up into a report for government ministers. Of course defectors make these kinds of claims. On the one hand they probably hate the regime they have left behind. They have every reason to want to see it fall. And, on the other hand, they want to please their new masters and convince them that they are a high value asset. This should be obvious and anyone with an interest in truth (in the philosophical sense) would be aware of this and treat their claims with caution. But when it comes to Western power elites this isn’t done. If someone says “Saddam can unleash chemical weapons in 45 minutes” and if the current policy aim is to invade Iraq then this claim will be accepted, (even if what it actually means is unclear). The claim meets the convenience test of truth. In the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, the Daily Telegraph published a story about the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun based entirely on claims made by a Syrian army defector, that Assad kept back a very large part of his chemical weapons stockpile from OPCW inspectors in 2014. There is no way of verifying these claims. They fit the profile we outline above; a defecting general who has everything to gain by telling a story hostile to the regime he has just left. But there is no way of knowing. (Though in this particular case it seems a little implausible; surely this man would have come forwards before now?)
Real power in the Empire lies in the invisible and unaccountable financial and military nexuses of power. The State Department is the secretariat of these people; and how they interface with the public (citizens of the Empire). The Western press is, by and large, the PR arm of the State Department. And the concept of truth which these people have is fundamentally different from that which you and I were taught, growing up; namely that for something to be true it must be a real fact.
Update 18 April
On the specific question of the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun. Boris Johnson, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, has now provided a detailed ‘case’ against the Assad regime. This includes the specific claims that shell fragments were tested for Sarin (which goes against the idea of a local release), that the Sarin bears the chemical signature of Assad’s stockpile (this goes against the idea of manufacture of Sarin by rebels) and a link to Syrian army planes whose movements are known (presumably by radar tracking). How this information was obtained is not disclosed. For example; were the shell fragments obtained by agents on the ground or supplied to Britain by, say, Turkey, for testing? (And, interestingly, this appears to mean that the Foreign Office has, directly or indirectly, been treating with Al Qaeda). The lack of this background detail allows the Russians to question the validity of these claims. Nonetheless this is much more specific information than we usually see. And, if we take a certain amount on trust, does amount to a case at least that the chemical weapon was launched by Assad’s forces.
None of this obviates the essential point of the original post – that the West prefers narrative over facts. In this case they are (unusually) trying to back up the narrative with apparent facts. The facts even look possibly plausible. But, at the end of the day, we’ll still end up with a narrative. Assad is a monster who is gassing his own people and he “must go” and Russia is backing him and they are evil and our plan for regime change is the only “right thing to do”. It just so happens that this is convenient for the West’s political and economic strategic goals… (Or; so they think; in reality the likely outcome will be more chaos; which is why Russia is resisting them). Johnson even says: “The essential thing will be to have a political process that preserves the institutions of the Syrian state while decapitating the monster”, missing the irony that this is what the Russians have been trying with amazing patience to do for ages – have a political process which preserves the institutions of the Syrian state. It is the UK and the US who have been backing rebels who are trying to overturn the Syrian state.