There is just now a very worrying McCarthyesque campaign to discredit democratic dissent in the UK. In a democracy people should appreciate the value of democratic debate at times of crisis as a means of determining the correct course of action after taking all points of view on board. Establishing the truth in conflict situations is extremely difficult. Hence, the value of thoroughly investigating an alleged war crime to (a) confirm it has taken place and (b) establish who committed it.
It is one thing to defend Assad but, it is quite another to request that, before we bomb Syria, we ask questions that anyone who wants to find out what happened in Douma would ask. So, the branding people who ask such questions an “Assad apologist” raises its own questions.
What would those who wanted to bomb Syria have lost had they allowed an investigation - which was due to start on Saturday, the day after the bombs fell – to take place? The element of surprise? Bearing in mind Trump had tweeted the world that missiles were acomin’ that’s not credible. Fear of another imminent CW attack? With the rest of the world’s eyes on Douma and the actions of Assad’s army that isn’t credible either. So why the rush?
A cynic might suggest that US/UK feared any investigation might show there was either no CW attack or that Assad was not responsible for any CW attack, thus invalidating the ‘humanitarian intervention’ legal defence that US/UK intended to employ in their self-appointed role of World Policeman. Either way, perhaps the last thing the world needs is trigger happy sheriff. Hence the need for the rule of law to be respected. And if the sheriff’s suspect is convicted then punishment can be meted out. But surely not before an investigation, never mind before a trial.
So, anyone with respect for the rule of law, for justice and a determination to uncover the truth would welcome challenging questions, wouldn’t they? Apparently not. Not only is there a near-uniform across the media retort of “Assad apologist” directed to anyone asking these questions, there is now a determination among some that such questions should not be asked at all.
Take this example from Sky News yesterday involving The Henry Jackson Society’s Dr Alan Mendoza on the pro-bombing before investigation side and Prof Piers Robinson on the pro-investigation first side.
Mendoza started by reiterating the pro-bombing before investigation side’s mantra of “Assad has form” argument. Robinson countered by saying some sources (such as the Red Cross) stated there was no proof on the ground in this instance and followed up, logically, that a “proper investigation” should take place to avoid repeating “past mistakes”.
Mendoza replied that three countries (US/UK/France) have evidence, a contention he tries to back up with such expressions as these countries “clearly believe” and “It appears they have evidence”, rather than “have demonstrably proven” or “definitely have proof”.
Given that the pro-bombing before investigation argument was pushed forward with such equivocal phraseology it answered none of Robinson’s concerns. So, Robinson, without ever expressing any comment on Assad, far less anything sympathetic, merely suggests that “it's reasonable to keep an open mind” and we should “allow a proper investigation to find out who is responsible” and that “history gives pause for thought.”
Mendoza, in an apparently agitated state, says. “So, was it your mother who did this -seriously - this chemical weapons attack?” Robinson ignores the provocation and steadfastly reiterates pleas for “reason, “thought”, “investigation”, “objectivity.”
Obviously, such notions are not reasonable to some in The Henry Jackson Society, seeing them as obstacles to the march of their special brand of imperialism. Opponents are not there to be argued with. They are there to be crushed. Mendoza finally – and memorably – runs out of patience, ranting that its “absolutely appalling” that “national television” allowed someone with Robinson’s views to “defend a dictator”. Of course, run through the tape and you’ll find not even a slight defence of Assad. Mendoza either misunderstood the conversation or made that up. It was a crude attempt to delegitimise “reason, “thought”, “investigation”, “objectivity”.
The Sky anchor then reasonably suggests – more to defend Sky than Robinson, but commendably nonetheless - that it’s fair to ask questions like, “what might happen after Assad” without being called “an apologist for Assad”. But Mendoza is having none of that. His mission appears to have been to appear on our screens solely to spread this smear as far and as wide as he can in the time allowed. “No, I think you are very much being an apologist for what Assad has done”.
Exchanges like this tell us that legitimate dissent and argument is under attack. Mendoza’s momentary lapse of reason illustrated the desire among his ilk to intimidate the likes of Sky News out of (a) ever inviting dissenting voices into our screens and (b) ever daring to ask challenging questions themselves.
This isn’t idle conjecture. The organisation he is a member of, the super-connected Henry Jackson Society, is a Neocon outfit who see it as their mission to influence discourse and therefore opinion and indeed task some members with campaigning against dissenters from the Neocon narrative, such as Chomsky and others. See here this copy of the minutes of its Post London Launch Meeting, attended by, among others, one Dr Alan Mendoza, cited therein as its Executive Director.
Dr Mendoza and his sort are perfectly entitled to campaign for their views. But I’m not sure they believe we all are.