Tucker Carlson: How do we know that Assad was responsible for that gas attack?

Man, we’ve taken a dark turn when Fox News is running Russia-friendly conspiracy theories that even Trump won’t bite on. Although he never bit on Hannity’s Seth Rich speculation either, did he?

Tucker starts by citing Howard Dean for the proposition that pundits left and right are hellbent on “total war” with Syria over the Gouta gas attack a few days ago. Total war? Here’s what Dean tweeted at Trump:

How you tease “total war” out of that escapes me unless you’re straining to fit this into an agenda. Dean may just have meant that Trump should have hit Assad with new airstrikes after previous reports of battlefield gas attacks, like he did last spring, in hopes that that would have deterred him from this latest WMD incident. No one outside the ultra-hawkish McCain/Graham wing of the GOP is gung ho for a major U.S. build-up in Syria.

Things start to get weird a few minutes in, though, when he goes to bat for Assad by questioning whether it really was the regime that was behind the new Gouta attack. (As did Ron Paul recently, by the way, to show you what sort of company Tucker’s in with this.) What’s most striking about that is how unnecessary it is to his argument: Carlson gets back on track a few minutes later by claiming that a military strike would be counterproductive even if Assad did order the gas attack in Gouta. That’s a defensible position but it drowns in the paranoia that precedes it. And there’s sleight of hand there as well, as Carlson claims at one point that no less than James Mattis has said that the U.S. still isn’t sure about the alleged sarin attack last year that inspired Trump’s first missile attack on Assad. Is that right? Here’s Mattis on April 11, 2017:

There is “no doubt” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is behind a last week’s chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday.

The top U.S. military leader claimed the Syrian regime’s “inexplicably ruthless murders” violated a United Nations convention dating to before World War II, and issued a warning against the further use of chemical weapons.

“The United States will not passively stand by while Assad blithely ignores international law and employs chemical weapons he had declared destroyed,” Mattis said, in his first formal Pentagon briefing since taking office in January.

CNN reported two days later, citing a senior U.S. official, that American intelligence had intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical experts discussing the planned attack. When Carlson says that Mattis wasn’t sure about last year’s attack, he’s referring to remarks made in February of this year when Mattis said that the U.S. hadn’t confirmed that sarin, specifically, was used in that attack. He wasn’t questioning who was responsible for it, merely what particular gas had been used. Unless you’re paying very close attention to Tucker’s phrasing here, you’d think Mattis had doubts about Assad’s culpability, not his choice of weapon.

And by the way, Mattis didn’t appear skeptical of Assad’s, or Russia’s, culpability a few days ago after the Gouta attack. How is it, he wondered, that the regime still has chemical weapons after Russia promised us disarmament in 2013 in exchange from refraining from attacking at the time? He’s an odd person on whom to pin your false-flag hopes.

I wonder what sort of evidence Tucker would require to feel confident that Assad was responsible for this weekend’s gassing. If the CIA said it had evidence, would that sell him? No, of course not: The CIA also said it had evidence of WMDs in Iraq, therefore any CIA finding that undermines one’s political agenda can be discounted. If *Trump* said he was persuaded by the evidence, would that sell him? POTUS hasn’t been shy in the past about contradicting the findings of his intel chiefs, after all, and yet he seems all-in on the “Assad did it” theory this week. But no, that wouldn’t work either — we’d be told that the “deep state” had snookered Trump this time to advance its war agenda. Realistically nothing short of an admission by Assad himself would be persuasive to Tucker. That is, the word of Bashar Assad is the gold standard. But why would Assad admit it? Especially when Iranian state media is wringing propaganda out of Carlson’s skepticism.

Carlson’s best point is that the strategic value to the regime of using gas at this particular moment isn’t obvious. Trump just announced plans to withdraw from eastern Syria. Assad would be a fool to tempt him to stay put by launching a spectacular gas attack that invites a U.S. reprisal. There may be other, non-U.S. considerations at work here, though, per Thanassis Cambanis:

This latest attack in Ghouta, if it holds to the pattern, makes perfect sense in the calculus of Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The successful trio wants first and foremost to subdue the remaining rebels in Syria, with an eye toward the several million people remaining in rebel-held Idlib province. A particularly heinous death for the holdouts in Ghouta, according to this military logic, might discourage the rebels in Idlib from fighting to the bitter end.

The attack is also a way to test Trump’s intentions, however, argues Cambanis. He wants to leave; he’s already publicly announced that he’s leaving. He can’t reverse himself without losing face, after having spent the better part of a week telling Americans that the country has gotten nothing, nothing, nothing for the trillions it’s spent on Middle Eastern adventures over the last 15 years. Gassing Gouta is a way of defying the “red line” one more time as the U.S. heads for the exit. It may earn a reprisal but Assad might be willing to accept that as the price for showing Syrians how he stared down American threats about WMDs and won.

In lieu of an exit question, go read Noah Rothman on the disconnect here between the “America First” president and his nationalist fans. “So, why has the #MAGA right stood so steadfastly by Putin on Syria even as Trump is abandoning him? Perhaps because they don’t mirror Trump; Trump mirrors them.” Maybe that’s what Tucker’s after. The surest way to influence Trump is through the airwaves of Fox News. Here’s Carlson making the case for no reprisal.