A chemical matter of trust
As is often my wont, the last thing I did on Friday night was to listen to the midnight news. Ban Ki-moon spoke of Syria’s chemical weapons. His tone was firm but measured. He was also confident as he stated that thus far there was no evidence that the Syrian government had moved or interfered with the five known stockpiles of their chemical weapons.
On Saturday I was listening to the radio news again. This time it was reported that the UK had evidence that there are signs that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles have been interfered with amid some signs of readying for use.
The warnings of dire consequence flowed thick and fast from both Washington and London. That very axis with which we became so familiar in the build up the Iraq war, had an eery ring.
It seems inconceivable that the UN secretary general would stick his neck out on such an issue and tell a lie. The problem for the US/UK axis when it comes to trust anywhere in the Middle East is that whilst the political; and diplomatic personnel may have changed, history has not. That axis was seriously wrong in its understanding of Iraq’s possession of weapons of “mass destruction”. Is there any reason to believe they are any more right when it comes to Syria’s chemical stockpile?
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Experts to whom I have spoken tell me that the Syrian stockpiles are elderly and potentially extremely unstable if they were ever opened. In short, to make use of them the Syrian government would have itself to be on suicide mission. In the words of one expert, the chemicals would more likely kill the perpetrators before ever reaching the targets.
But as experts and governments wrangle over the chemicals themselves and their state of readiness or otherwise, another issue is exposed. It is that of trust.
The overhang of mistrust flowing from the Iraq war, specifically regarding British and American claims, is still very much alive. For both London and Washington, the fall-out from the origins of that war has a staying power that rivals the life of a chemical weapon itself. I sense from my Twitter feed and other intersections with the public, that skepticism is rife.
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