There was recently a sarin gas attack in Syria, perpetrated by the Syrian government against a rebel-controlled area. Over 80 people were killed, including children. In response, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the facility thought to house the country’s chemical weapons. But, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claims the sarin attack didn’t actually happen. How do we know it did? Simple: Bashar al-Assad sucks at conspiracy theories. He may kill me for saying that, but at least everyone will know it was him – dude couldn’t make it look like someone else stole a pencil, much less killed somebody. So, if you’re still alive, give that pencil back to him, because Bashar al-Assad’s about to go to Conspiracy School…
Conspiracy Lesson 1: Make your conspiracy theory sound logical.
The most recent conspiracy theory being pushed by Assad is that the United States somehow staged the recent gas attack as a pretext to attack Syria. The problem here is that Trump spent the entire campaign running against attacking Syria, had previously said Obama shouldn’t attack Syria even if they used chemical weapons, and was even talking about not going into Syria a few days before the attack. Add in the fact that he sometimes makes split-second decisions based on what he just saw on TV, and what’s more likely – that the US staged a big gas attack so they could shoot at buildings, or that the Syrian government killed a bunch of people with gas, Trump saw the terrible aftermath on TV, and he and his advisers decided to attack where more gas was stored?
Conspiracy Lesson 2: Don’t leave fingerprints all over your conspiracy theory.
The gas attack is the most recent example of an Assad conspiracy theory, but it’s not the first. As a brutal dictator, Assad lives in a patented Dictator Echo Chamber (DEC), which means it’s incomprehensible that people could dislike him (because, you know, they all get killed). When the Syrian Civil War started, he claimed all the people fighting against him were either from outside of Syria or were being persuaded not to like him from outside of Syria. At the same time, he was playing all the Syrian rebel groups against each other to weaken them and doing things like releasing terrorists from Syrian prisons to radicalize them. In other words, Assad A) is a terrible guy who most Syrians hate, B) actively tried to make the people who hate him hate each other more, C) tried to radicalize the people who hated him so the international community wouldn’t get involved, and D) tried to blame everything on international conspiracies. Of course, outside countries and groups now support various rebel groups in the country. But, the war started because Syrians hated Assad, not because non-Syrians did.
Conspiracy Lesson 3: Make sure everyone pushing your conspiracy theory is on the same page.
It has to be killing Assad’s biggest ally, Russia, that he’s so bad at conspiracy theories. During the Cold War, Russia perfected conspiracy theories to an art form. Now, they can’t even get a dictator they’re basically propping up on the same page. Worse, Assad’s claim that the whole attack was faked undercuts his own army, which said that “terrorists” carried out the attack. Certainly, there are times when conflicting conspiracies can muddy the waters about what actually happened, but when you’re trying to make it look like you’re not guilty of something, the opposite is true. In this case, Russia’s claim (Syria struck a building that had rebel-controlled gas, releasing it) and the army’s claim (The rebels intentionally released the gas) already don’t match up, so adding a third view may as well be removing the mud altogether.
Conspiracy Lesson 4: If you’re going to deny the facts on the ground, at least have some kind of explanation for discounting them.
If you’re claiming the opposite of everything that actually happened is what actually happened, you have to come up with some alternative explanation. Think, “magic bullet,” or “Jet fuel doesn’t melt steel beams” – two classic examples of ridiculous explanations designed to make it look like the facts don’t add up. When Assad claims there was no sarin attack at all, he discounts the dead people, the people who examined the dead people, the injured people, the people who examined the injured people, the video evidence, the satellite evidence, and all the other evidence. He’s also discounting the fact that he’s carried out chemical attacks before, although he claimed those attacks were actually carried out by rebel groups. Which brings us to…
Conspiracy Lesson 5: Be consistent.
Like I said before, it’s important to be on the same page as other people pushing your conspiracy theory. It’s also important to be on the same page AS YOURSELF. See, this isn’t the first time Assad’s used chemical weapons against Syrians. It’s not even the first time he’s tried to come up with a conspiracy theory to claim he didn’t do it. It is, however, the first time he’s claimed a chemical attack was completely fake. In the past, he’s said rebel groups committed attacks to try and frame him, so the international community would get involved on their side (Hey, I told you he sucks at these things.). Now, he’s suddenly saying an attack was fake? Dude, nothing’s going to make you look like a Syrial killer more than changing your story every time you’re obviously the one carrying out an attack. People who think Americans never landed on the moon don’t randomly say the fifth mission there was real but the rest were fake; they stay consistent.
Had Assad followed these simple rules, he might have been able to turn his conspiracy hypothesis into a conspiracy theory. But, I guess when you’re a brutal dictator who always gets his way, you get used to doing things the easy way…