National Security & Defense

The Corner

Insult to Injury (and Murder)

Recently, the Assad regime in Syria gassed civilians, same as it has done for years. Today, Vladimir Putin has said that the regime — his ally and partner — did not do this. Rather, someone else did, in a “provocation.”

This is an old Soviet, an old KGB, tactic: passing off one’s own atrocities — or a partner’s atrocities — as “provocations.” Elliott Abrams made this point to me today.

Now and then, I’m accused of confusing contemporary Russia with the old Soviet Union. It seems to me that it’s the KGB officer in the Kremlin who blurs the lines.

In my “Oslo Journal” today, I discuss the Syrian Civil Defense, commonly known as the “White Helmets.” These are Syrian volunteers who pull people from rubble after the bombs go off. Some 200 of them have been killed in the line of duty (as they see their duty). Another 500 have been injured, some critically.

Many have been victims of “double strikes.” These strikes have been going on since the Russians teamed up with Assad in late 2015. What happens is this: A bomb goes off, and rescuers rush in. Then Assad & Co. drop another bomb, to get the rescuers.

To add insult to injury, so to speak, Russian propaganda accuses the White Helmets of being al-Qaeda. RT is part of this propaganda effort. The purpose is to damage the White Helmets’ reputation in the West, and discourage support of them.

Why is it so important to the Kremlin and the Assad regime to discredit the White Helmets? In Oslo, an official of the organization, Abdulrahman al-Mawwas, gave three reasons.

First, dictators are loath for there to be witnesses to their crimes. They will go to great lengths to cover up their crimes. And the White Helmets are witnesses. Second, the White Helmets know that the Assad regime has used weapons banned by international law. And third, they have proof.

The tendency in the West, I think, is to look away from Syria, because the scale of the horror is so great. And then we reassure ourselves about non-intervention by saying, “There are no good guys there. They’re all bad guys.” As Sarah Palin says, “Let Allah sort it out.” That’s the spirit.

Whatever your views on U.S. policy toward Syria, live not by lies (to quote Solzhenitsyn). And Vladimir Putin is big into the lying business, among other businesses.

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