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Robert Fisk: Who doesn’t read books is ignorant of history
April 13, 2017
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When I wrote a few weeks ago that the Middle East would at some point reach out and grab America’s crackpot President, I never guessed it would do so at such speed. Nor that the entire fandango would come wrapped up in a Hitler fiasco which dumped the White House madmen back in another hole. Nor, indeed, that an American media which had identified Trump as insane should so quickly fall into line and regard the firing of 59 Cruise missiles at Syria as a change of US foreign “policy”.

What were they talking about? There is no policy — because the President appears deranged, because most of his colleagues are barking, and because Washington no more cares about the Arab world when Syrians are gassed or when US-supported Iraqi forces kill civilians trapped in Daesh-held western Mosul.

But let’s start with Hitler. A president who doesn’t read books and reacts instead to night-time television news pictures obviously doesn’t know his history. The same clearly applies to his pet chump Sean Spicer.

It’s not just a question of leaving Hitler’s ghost alone; never, ever, compare anything to the horrors Hitler unleashed on the world in the Second World War. Obviously, if the White House really wanted to dump on Assad — whose name, I notice, they still cannot pronounce correctly — it should have compared the Syrian president with Saddam Hussein, who really did use gas “against his own people”.

But there’s a problem there, too. Because the moment you mention Saddam, you recall for your audience all the lies and “fake news” the George W Bush White House spewed out about the Iraqi dictator before its illegal 2003 invasion — “fake news” assisted at the time, let us remember, by the New York Times. And then you also remind your audience that the whole Iraqi adventure ended in a bloodbath for Iraqis and utter catastrophe for the United States. So Saddam is out — and Hitler has to be brought back to life yet again.

And yes, we compared Saddam to Hitler. Indeed, the son of our present Queen reportedly told a woman who had lost relatives in the Holocaust that Putin was doing in Ukraine “just about the same as Hitler”. Moscow called this “outrageous”. That was almost exactly two years ago.

Of course, Spicer simply could not grasp that Hitler used a chemical weapon called Zyklon B with which the Nazis gassed up to a million of the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. No, they were not fired from the air. Actually, they were dropped through the roof of the gas chambers. But Hitler certainly did use gas “on his own people” since many of the murdered Jews had been German citizens, some of whom had actually fought for their country in the First World War.

And there’s a clue for poor old Spicer. He might, I suppose, have referred to the German use of chemical weapons in the First World War. But the Kaiser doesn’t actually have the cachet of Hitler in the hate stakes, and the British then used gas themselves. Besides, I have my doubts that Spicer could even give the dates of the First World War. Nor Trump, for that matter.

In his sloppy excuses later, Spicer actually apologised not only to survivors of the Holocaust but to “anyone who was offended”. That would include anyone who cares about the truth and about history and about facts.

Then Spicer said his words were a “blunder” and that they were “inappropriate” and “insensitive”. But they were not “insensitive” — they were a disgrace.

Did Assad use chemical weapons in the recent attack? Or was this an Al Qaeda weapons store which the Syrians blew up (which wouldn’t actually let Syria off the hook, since the aftermath of such an attack would obviously kill civilians)? The problem is that we know Assad’s opponents have chemical weapons — some captured, I suspect, from Syrian government stocks before Assad handed them over to the West for destruction on Putin’s orders. Other chemicals passed across the northern frontier of Syria from Turkey (Nato member and a “friend” of the West, before Erdogan went bonkers). And if the Syrian military did use chemicals “on their own people” why should they do so when they are now winning their war with Daesh and when such use would clearly embarrass Putin?

Yet oddly, the American media have fallen back into Saddam mode. Not only are they seriously talking about Trump’s “policy” in the Middle East (something he clearly doesn’t have) but are talking, in the New York Times last week, about Assad’s “depravity” — precisely the word the US press used about Saddam when they were supporting Bush’s path to war in Iraq and publishing his lies about the Iraqi dictator.

Oddly, the Americans started suggesting further missile strikes, not just if Assad uses chemicals, but if he uses barrel bombs again. The trouble with this argument is that the regime has been using barrel bombs for three years. Was this also a change in Trump policy? I doubt it. I think the White House are just so ill informed and plain dumb that they don’t know when barrel bombs were first used in the Syrian war.

Trump’s team then appeared to roll back on the barrel bombs threat. Perhaps someone tipped them off about this little bit of history, too?

Gas, cruise missiles, barrel bombs, Hitler and the American media. Mix them all up and I suppose you get Trump’s new policy in the Middle East.

The Independent

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