As the United Nations published its convincing report about the chemical weapons attack in Syria noting the manner in which the chemicals were deployed, it is pretty obvious that the Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people. This is in spite of his and the Russian ambassador’s pleas that the report is not convincing enough. Yet, I am reminded of the famous scene from “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto pulls back the curtain and the wizard says “don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain” to dissuade Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man from not believing what they were seeing. This is exactly what Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin want you to do as they try to convince you not to believe what is obvious.
A key reason I ask you not to believe The Wizard of Assad and his friend and benefactor in Russia, is that too many times what he has said could not be confused with the truth. There are numerous examples, but let me highlight three of his more telling, shall we say, misstatements. First, when the rebels in Syria first started the rebellion, he denounced them as terrorist groups. That may be more true now as the United Nations failed to act (due to Russia and China’s blocking in the UN Security Council), but when the rebellion first started, it was a rebellion of citizens reeling from past maltreatment and the repercussions of a severe drought that affected their food and water supply.
Second, last year al-Assad was speaking with a news reporter who asked about the Syrian government rolling tanks into Homs to crush the opposition. When he denied that his tanks were in Homs, the reporter showed video footage of Syrian army tanks rolling down the streets in Homs. The rebels did not have any tanks.
Third, after denying for years and months that Syria possessed chemical weapons, in an interview with Charlie Rose, al-Assad answered directly to Rose’s question that Syria did not have chemical weapons. This interview was aired Monday of last week and that same day after Secretary of State John Kerry answered a question regarding diplomatic options that Syria could turn over its chemical weapons, the Syrian Ambassador said they could do that. Now, call me crazy, but did not your President just deny on camera again that Syria did not have chemical weapons and you said you would agree to release these phantom weapons?
In the middle of all of this is our KGB trained friend Vladimir Putin, who may be the most savvy politician in the world. I use that term not as a term of admiration, but one of admonition. Putin is playing everyone for a fool to seize upon a relatively easy concession for Russia and his friend and foil in Syria. The Syrian government has killed 99% of the 100,000 deceased with conventional weapons and can easily concede the chemical weapons to remain in power and not face American bombing. Putin can keep his client happy and boost the Russian economy selling weapons, keep Russian access to a vital port and make the western world look belligerent as he comes across as the peacemaker. In this way of thinking, Winston Churchill must have looked belligerent to the folks supporting Adolph HItler’s march into Paris when Churchill stood up and said that is not right.
I recognize that the real rebel Syrians are getting a raw deal as the terrorists have seized their cause to gain power. I also recognize that the millions of Syrian refugees are the greater issue, which we must do even more to help. Yet, with real Americans having no appetite for another war without a clear-cut mission objective, I do applaud that we can find a peaceful way to resolve an issue and appreciate the Russians for being a key part of this. I must concede kudos to Putin (as well as Obama for his delaying tactic) for his role in this, but everyone should know that it is my belief that Putin does not do anything without trying to gain politically. And, if you disagree with my questioning his sincerity, just look at how he came back into power and is using old school Soviet tactics to squelch anyone that dares disagree with him.
But, getting back to The Wizard of Assad, I would not construe much of what he says as the truth. It would be inconsistent with his track record. It reminds me of when Senator John Kyl of Arizona was caught in giving misinformation, he famously said “Don’t construe what I say as a factual statement.” I would also not be surprised if al-Assad used methods to purposefully distance himself from the events, not unlike the infamous curtain behind which the wizard from the movie hid. So, I am asking you to use your eyes and ears as you consider what the Syrian and Russian government are saying relative to what the UN report and others are saying. My advice is to most definitely “pay attention to the men behind the curtain.” They are the ones who have the gas masks on.