“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information.” So says President Trump’s adviser Tucker Carlson speaking on his Fox News show about Ian Henderson – he’s the OPCW engineering expert whose assessment of the alleged 2018 Douma chemical attack was recently leaked to the public. Carlson is credited with since having stayed the president’s hand in response to recent calls for retaliation against Iran. The vindication of Carlson’s earlier scepticism about the Douma allegations would not have been lost on the Commander in Chief. So even if the battle for his ear is not over, as the New York Times cautions, this is still encouraging news for those who – like the OPCW whistleblower who leaked the Henderson document – want to do the right thing and speak out with the truth even in the face of corruption and intimidation.
In May this year, it was revealed that the OPCW’s final report on the alleged 2018 chemical attack in Douma had misrepresented its own investigation’s findings. The leaked engineers’ assessment – excluded from the final report published in March 2019 – effectively exculpates the Syrian government. It shows the munitions were more likely placed by hand than dropped from a government helicopter.
This finding would have been politically difficult to publish for those in control at OPCW (who are not the investigators). For the American, French and British, having peremptorily blamed the Assad government for the Douma attack, had already launched over 100 missiles at Syria in retaliation. The engineers’ assessment suggests that these Western allies had no legal, moral or factual grounds to justify their action.
Western mainstream media have been almost entirely silent about this major new revelation. One notable exception in America, however, has been Tucker Carlson. Already a lone sceptical voice at the time of the attack last year, he covered the leaked assessment in his show on Fox News. He highlights the significance of the assessment signed by the experienced OPCW engineering sub-team leader Ian Henderson:
“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information”
To talk about this, Carlson welcomes as guest Tulsi Gabbard. An Iraq war veteran and current presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Gabbard’s conspicuous valor has included speaking out openly about the US’s propensity to engage in wars on false pretexts. Inured to the smears of being an “Assadist”, she is a consistent critic of the interests vested in the war machine. She agrees that the OPCW revelation “is a significant and very important development that we’ve got to take seriously.” She emphasises the importance of “doing our due diligence and checking very carefully the evidence”.
Gabbard turns then to a still more pressing case where a responsible approach to foreign policy decisions is urgently needed:
“We’re at the brink of a war with Iran. The American people don’t seem to be prepared for how devastating and costly such a war would be…”
She emphasises how such a war would bring total chaos, could not be contained within Iran and would extend across the region. Many would die, many more would be displaced, and vast amounts of money would be diverted from where it is really needed. Moreover, everyone has also to ask – as she, a former soldier speaking for her comrades does,
“What are we fighting for? What would a victory be?”
That interview was shown on Fox News on 25 May. In June, we were to learn that the conversation had been picked up in circles beyond the anti-war movement. As the Daily Beast reported:
In the upper echelons of the Trump administration, hawkish voices on Iran predominate—most notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. But as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated over the last few weeks, there’s been another, far different voice in the president’s ear: that of Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Carlson had ‘privately advised Trump against taking military action against Iran’, also heavily criticising ‘the more “hawkish members” of his administration’. While they were calling for military retaliation against Iran in response to recent tanker attacks, the president was to adopt a view much closer to Carlson’s.
So, thanks in some measure to the OPCW whistleblower, it was evidently present to Trump’s mind that a president can sometimes be too readily persuaded to take precipitate action.
As for the OPCW, we have still to see what may be done to address the politicisation that non-aligned states have long complained of. But it is an encouraging sign that John Bolton, the man who most egregiously sought to undermine OPCW’s processes back in 2002, reportedly to the point of threatening harm to its Director General’s children, appears to have been sidelined by the president over Iran.
Whatever one may think of Trump and Fox News stances on other matters, this story has to be a cause for some cautious optimism. Certainly, the chances of victory over the forces of war will be improved if everybody who can see lies used to justify a war does speak out against them.