The debate over chemical weapons and potential U.S. military retaliation has taken an inevitable turn: The conspiracy theories have arrived and, for modern conspiracists, no conjecture seems out of bounds. Here's your guide to the craziest ones out there.
Obama did it!
Yossef Bodansky, a defense analyst, argues that President Barack Obama planned the attacks. The allegation -- if it can even be called that -- was given wider circulation Tuesday when Rush Limbaugh talked up the story. Why would Mr. Obama do this? Mr. Bodansky contends that the Syrian opposition recently was provided with a massive influx of weapons by Turkish and Qatari intelligence agents with the support of U.S. spies. Under cover of U.S. air strikes launched in retaliation for chemical weapons use, the Syrian opposition would launch a massive offensive and break the back of the Assad regime, thus advancing the strategic interests of the United States.
Why it's crazy: First, there's the prima facie craziness of the notion that a sitting U.S. president would plan a chemical weapons strike in a country where he has strenuously sought to avoid U.S. military entanglement. Next, if the chemical weapons strike was a U.S. operation, why did Mr. Obama take the issue to Congress? If he had already decided that 1,400 Syrian dead was a price worth paying for some air cover, why would he care what Congress thinks? I could go on, but ...
The Israelis did it!
Lest you think that only lunatics on the political fringes propagate conspiracy theories, let's look at comments by none other than Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. In an interview with Current TV, Mr. Wilkerson alleged that the chemical weapons attack was a "false flag" operation carried out by Israel to discredit Mr. Assad and his allies.
Why it's crazy: Well, mainly because Mr. Wilkerson has no evidence whatsoever to back up the claim beyond what he describes as the stupidity of the Netanyahu government: "I think we've got a basically geostrategically, geopolitical inept regime in Tel Aviv right now," he said.
The Syrians were framed!
Another line of "thinking" holds that Mr. Obama didn't plan the strikes but framed the Syrians. A video purports to prove the claim by citing emails allegedly obtained by a hacker from a little-known British contractor.
Why it's crazy: The emails at most suggest that somebody in the Qatari government was hatching some wild schemes, but they show no links to the U.S. government.
The rebels did it!
Next up is the allegation that the chemical weapons attack was the result of an accident after Saudi Arabia provided Syrian rebels with nerve agent. According to an article in MintPress News, rebels unfamiliar with handling the weapons set off an explosion, resulting in the deaths of more than a thousand people.
Why it's crazy: The story bears little relation to all the other available evidence. The chemically laden rockets were launched from government-controlled territory into rebel-held lands. Western intelligence agencies intercepted phone calls from within the Assad regime panicking over the chemical attack's massive spread. The regime launched a series of conventional rockets in an apparent attempt to cover up the crime.
It wasn't nerve gas!
The theory: Truthout questions the reliability of U.S. intelligence, pointing out that it remains unclear who in the Syrian government ordered the attack. But if this is to be cited as the principal failure of U.S. intelligence, it's odd that administration spokespersons acknowledge it freely. Truthout goes on to cast doubt on claims chemical weapons were used by arguing that symptoms consistent with a nerve agent -- mass vomiting and diarrhea -- appeared not to be present.
Why it's crazy: None other than Doctors Without Borders, the medical charity whose hospitals treated many of the victims, said that victims' symptoms matched exposure to a nerve agent, and that's an assessment most independent experts agree with. In casting doubt on reports of chemical weapons usage, Truthout relies on the voluminous video record of the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when social media activists sped to the scene to document the carnage. But if it wasn't a chemical weapons attack, why then did all but one of the media activists at one local coordination committee die after filming at the site of the attack?
Elias Groll writes for Foreign Policy.