Rushing to War Against Syria

Exclusive: In a bizarre replay of America’s disastrous rush to judgment on Iraq, the Obama administration and the U.S. press corps seem set on brushing aside doubts about the Syrian government’s guilt for alleged chemical weapons attacks and pulling the lever on a new war, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Deep inside a New York Times sidebar on the impending U.S. assault on Syria was the curious observation that whoever deployed chemicals, apparently inflicting death on hundreds of civilians last Wednesday, used “improvised tube-launched missiles,” one more factoid that should raise doubts about the Syrian government’s culpability.

The idea of an “improvised” missile would suggest the role of an irregular military force without access to regular armaments. That would seem to implicate the rebels or some paramilitary force outside the government’s direct control, although it could also be a case of the government trying to disguise its hand.

President Barack Obama applauds Staff Sergeant Ty M. Carter, U.S. Army, after presenting him with the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Aug. 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Still, the evidence that “improvised tube-launched missiles” were used poses more questions about the U.S. certainty that President Bashar al-Assad is at fault, since homemade missiles would fall within the capability of al-Qaeda-allied rebels and such extremists are known for ruthless attacks that endanger and kill civilians.

Plus, the rebels would have a more obvious motive for staging the attack, just as Syria was allowing in UN inspectors to investigate earlier allegations of chemical-weapons use. Why Assad would launch a chemical attack at that moment is one of the head-scratching aspects of this unfolding mystery.

Some neocon commentators were quick out of the gate with their own spin on Assad’s supposed motivation – that he was spitting in Barack Obama’s face and showing his contempt for the President’s resolve, but that sounds more like neocon agit-propaganda to prod Obama to retaliate than a serious argument.

And, as this hasty march toward war progresses, there’s also the troubling behavior of Secretary of State John Kerry and his State Department subordinates who initially demanded that Syria allow UN inspectors to visit the site of the attack but then – after Syria gave its okay on Sunday – began insisting that it was “too late” to collect “credible” evidence on the ground.

The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials even pressured UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon to withdraw his inspectors without their going to the scene and collecting evidence. Despite Kerry’s statement, many chemical weapons experts say tell-tale signs of Sarin and other chemicals can be detected months or even years after an event.

So, another question must arise: Why would Kerry not want the UN inspectors to do their best to determine what really happened?

Though it’s possible that Kerry simply believes that other as-yet unidentified evidence proves Assad’s guilt – and that the UN team is therefore not needed – there is the troubling déjà vu of President George W. Bush’s insistence that UN inspectors leave Iraq in March 2003 before they could reach a firm conclusion that Saddam Hussein’s government lacked the WMD stockpiles that Bush falsely claimed were there.

Given that history, one might think the U.S. government would be best served collecting as much evidence as possible – and processing it as carefully as can be done – before launching another military assault on a Middle Eastern country without approval of the UN Security Council and thus outside the UN Charter.

The Media’s Lust for War

The mainstream news media’s unseemly lust for another war also recalls those dark days before Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

On Monday, as I was waiting for a plane in the Detroit airport, television monitors showed CNN with alarmist headlines indicating that a U.S. attack could come “in hours.” To any casual observer, it would appear that CNN had been briefed on a presidential decision to attack and the missiles would fly within hours.

Only later did CNN revise the headline to indicate that the attack could come “in hours” once the President had authorized it. In other words, no decision had been made, but if one were made, the attack could be launched “in hours” – a very big if.

But the carelessness of CNN was typical of the U.S. news media’s reprise of its performance during the Iraq fiasco. On Wednesday, the Washington Post led its front page with more credulous reporting and the headline, “Proof against Assad at hand. Chemical Attack Timeline Mapped. U.S. military action appears all but certain.”

The article reported that “the Obama administration believes that U.S. intelligence has established how Syrian government forces stored, assembled and launched the chemical weapons allegedly used in last week’s attack outside Damascus, according to U.S. officials.

“The administration is planning to release evidence, possibly as soon as Thursday, that it will say proves that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bears responsibility for what U.S. officials have called an ‘undeniable’ chemical attack that killed hundreds on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

“The report, being completed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is one of the final steps that the administration is taking before President Obama makes a decision on a U.S. military strike against Syria, which now appears all but certain.”

Though the article reported that the administration would map how the Assad regime carried out the attack, the only detail provided to buttress the U.S. certainty was that “only the government has possession of the weapons and the rockets to deliver them.”

Which brings us back to the New York Times sidebar on Page A6, written by Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon. If you read down to – and into the middle of – the fourth-to-the-last paragraph, you would find this sentence:

“Evidence from videos and witnesses suggested that the toxic substances in last week’s attack were delivered by improvised tube-launched missiles that could be used by smaller, more mobile units than were thought to be needed for chemical weapons.”

The next paragraph noted that “Syria’s allies Russia and Iran have said the attack was carried out by rebels, who produce many homemade weapons. But the government has also used seemingly improvised weapons in conjunction with standard ones, as when its forces dropped barrel bombs from helicopters.”

However, filling an “improvised” missile with poison gas – when you have a much safer alternative – isn’t exactly like dropping barrel bombs from a helicopter. Granted, the technique might be employed as a deception, but Syrian officials would have to know that whatever ruse was used, they would almost certainly be blamed.

The logic of firing any kind of chemical weapon at this moment in the Syrian civil war rests much more heavily on the rebels, especially some of the al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists who have little regard for killing civilians if that will advance the cause.

Such doubts regarding the possibility that the United States is being lured into a military attack on a sovereign nation by an al-Qaeda affiliate should be enough to give President Obama and his entire administration pause. They should at least avoid a rush to judgment even if that means getting baited by the neocons and a war-hungry press.

I’m told that some U.S. intelligence analysts continue to harbor serious doubts about the certainty of Syrian guilt, unlike the administration’s senior levels. Some of these analysts say they are determined to voice their concerns whatever the personal consequences – rather than following the path of their compatriots on Iraq who put their careers ahead of their duty.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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21 comments on “Rushing to War Against Syria

  1. Hillary on said:

    As Gore Vidal said “I don’t see us winning the war. We have made enemies of one billion Muslims.””

    • DeWayne on said:

      This warmongering against Syria is evidently bogus-propaganda, also evident. Syria is being a set up to draw IRAN into this bogus-war.
      Also evident, Russia and China are ready to end the World Domination ‘Foreign Policy’ of the US “Military Industrial Complex” few.
      It may well prove that Russia and China are ready to spring a trap on America (militarily over extended all over the world), and the minute the US Congress (again) violates the Constitution with Resolution giving Obama permission to ‘Make War’, the first US military to enter IRAN begins WWIII… and not one nation on earth will support or come to the aid of America.

  2. Tom Blanton on said:

    What a horrible sight it is to see the so-called “progressives” with blood up to their elbows pretending that somehow it is the media and the neocons that make their dear leader do horrible things.

  3. incontinent reader on said:

    Bob, Thanks for being on top of this.

  4. BARBARABF on said:

    WILL RUSSIA ACTUALLY RETALIATE? WILL THERE REALLY BE A FALLOUT?

    Russia warns US of ‘extremely dangerous’ fallout of strike on Syria – Press TV – YouTube

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Tzx_npxCf5k

  5. Let the other Arab states take care of Assad. Heaven forbid if this was Israel instead of Syria. The radical islamists would be parachuting out of planes blowing themselves up over Tel Aviv!

  6. Faheem on said:

    The claims made by the Western states are based on secret information that smacks of contriving “facts” to fit their criminal political agenda of covert war and regime change. In other words, the Western regimes are engaging in baseless propaganda and lies to give themselves a license for yet more criminal war.

  7. incontinent reader on said:

    U.S. credibility is on the line, all the more so after hearing the Secretary of State affect an expression of outrage and accuse Syria of having committed a ‘moral obscenity’, and also suggest the investigation would be meaningless because the Syrian army had intentionally degraded the evidence, when the inspectors had only just began their investigation on Monday, August 26th.

    As of today, August 28, the Doctors Without Borders website at https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=7033&cat=press-release states:

    “Over the last two days, the American, British, and other governments have referred to reports from several groups, including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while stating that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was “undeniable” and designating the perpetrators.

    MSF today warned that its medical information could not be used as evidence to certify the precise origin of the exposure to a neurotoxic agent or to attribute responsibility.

    On August 24, MSF announced that three hospitals it supplies in Syria’s Damascus governorate had reportedly received 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms, of which 355 died. Although our information indicates mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent, MSF clearly stated that scientific confirmation of the toxic agent was required, and therefore called for an independent investigation to shed light on what would constitute, if confirmed, a massive and unacceptable violation of international humanitarian law.

    MSF also stated that in its role as an independent medical humanitarian organization, it was not in a position to determine responsibility for the event. Now that an investigation is underway by United Nations inspectors, MSF rejects that our statement be used as a substitute for the investigation or as a justification for military action. MSF’s sole purpose is to save lives, alleviate the suffering of populations torn by Syrian conflict, and bear witness when confronted with a critical event, in strict compliance with the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

    The latest massive influx of patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in Damascus governorate comes on top of an already catastrophic humanitarian situation facing the Syrian people, one characterized by extreme violence, displacement, the destruction of medical facilities, and severely limited or blocked humanitarian action.” (emphasis supplied).

    One would expect some measure of rationality from our Government (rather than a bipolar or other psychopathic response) including reserving judgment, rather than risking a repeat of the same mistakes it committed with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. By drawing its redlines, and threatening military action in the next few weeks after placing itself and its allies on military alert, the Administration is boxing itself in. If it rushes to judgment and initiates a preemptive attack against Syria without UN sanction, it will be violating the UN Charter and international law, and will be committing yet another act of war without a sufficient ‘casus belli’, no matter how much Secretary Kerry bellows or the President feigns caution. If the President decides to wait until the inspection has been completed, and it turns out that the jihadists and those nations aiding them were responsible, then he will risk looking foolish unless he takes action against them- though that would be a good enough reason to disarm the mercenaries and kick them out of Syria, and to force the Syrian opposition to the negotiating table The only ones who seem to be benefiting right now are the Saudis, Israelis, and jihadists, and of course our military contractors, energy companies with interests in the region and the banks that finance them.

  8. Is it a “slam dunk” yet?

    I’m so disgusted by Obama and Kerry.

  9. Catherine Orloff on said:

    The U.S. rush to war with Syria is really a “rush to hush” the dangerous and growing domestic civilian anger at NSA surveillance of innocent Americans having gone on for many years and related lies having been told by President Obama, Director of Intelligence James Clapper, and other high government officials to the public and to the Senate Intelligence Committee, thus misleading Congresspeople and preventing them from carrying out their mandated oversight function to protect our privacy and civil liberties. A quick “military action” (note with extremely limited and unmeasurable objectives) should get our minds off it, and should also get the economic pump primed with some military-industrial activity, also might make Obama look stronger and thus enable a Democratic win in 2014. Politics, power, money…who cares about lives, truth, statesmanship…?

  10. F. G. Sanford on said:

    I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies in my day, but the thing I noted about those “corpses” lined up in Syria was that they all had good color. They lacked the muscle flaccidity one expects to see in someone who is actually dead. The kid screaming and repeatedly wiping his face with a handkerchief reminded me of an experience in Alexandria, Egypt many years ago. The kid distracts the crowd with a hysterical outburst while the pickpockets go to work on the audience – all very smooth and practiced. Is the rumor true that Hagel and Dempsey have threatened to resign, as Franklin Lamb reports? European newspaper headlines boast, “We don’t want Syria to be another Iraq!” Could it be that the administration has a creeping awareness that reality asserts itself?

  11. mike01 on said:

    This horrible conflict which is nothing less than an ugly blight and the very worst of ” humanity”.
    It appears to be a fact that chemical weapons were used………but it is also a fact that it is very “murky” as to who actually did it. It is a fact that there are any member of “factions” in this conflict who could conceivably want to do use these type of weapons so in order to instigate a response that might best serve their own particular heinous objectives………. anyway, it is also a fact that a missile or bombing response attack on Syria WILL KILL CIVILLIANS. Isn’t it totally IRONIC that this crime against humanity is reported to have killed around 1300 civilians AND everyone seems to be “madly” calling for strike action which will undoubtedly KILL MANY MORE THAN 1300 CIVILLIANS….(in the name of humanity?)…….so who will be committing the biggest crime against humanity then, and who will “punished for it??…. this can’t be the way to go………

    • incontinent reader on said:

      No one is pointing to the thousands of canisters of sarin in Libya to which Al Nusra has had access, Nor the detention some months ago of jihadists trying to smuggle sarin through Turkey, nor the vast amount of sophisticated armaments (Manpads, etc.) that the Saudis are providing to the mercenaries, including what they have, or are purchasing from the U.S. Lawrence O’Donnell is fine on economic issues where he has some expertise. He is either disingenuous or an ignoramus, or both on foreign policy.

  12. Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out an inconvenient factoid last night on his MSNBC program. He was interviewing Steve Clemons from the magazine The Atlantic and was asking him the following- if the big worry is that Syria has a large cache of chemical weapons stockpiled in various parts of the country that are being held secure by the Assad government and that those chemical weapons in the hands of Al Qeada types could be used against Americans, why would we want to degrade the Assad governments ability to keep those weapons secure with an attack on them?

    Apparently Obama said in an NPR interview that those chemical weapons represented a threat to Americans. O’Donnell asked Clemons how these particular chemical weapons are threat to us unless they are physically inside the country. O’Donnell asked Clemons how would these chemical weapons get here. Answer – by ship.

    This whole scenario is preposterous on its face

  13. gregorylkruse on said:

    Rome and Britannia would have been very satisfied with the results of the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pax Natonia has been preserved, only to be threatened again in Syria. The same methods will be used and the same results will occur. We are perhaps three hundred years from the collapse of this empire and maybe eight hundred years from the rise of the next one.

  14. incontinent reader on said:

    Gareth Porter has written an excellent article on the U.S. effort to derail the UN investigation and also on what the experts have stated about the detection of sarin, e.g., in a site like the one being examined. It can be viewed at:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/28/in-rush-to-strike-syria-u-s-tried-to-derail-u-n-probe/
    or: http://ipsnorthamerica.net/news.php?idnews=4860

  15. Morton Kurzweil on said:

    Doubt is not a legitimate basis for argument. It is a feeling based on insecurity. The best facts without the precognition of belief carry degrees of uncertainty. The volume of debate rises with the degree of doubt. What are the available unbiased facts? What are the emotional delusions that reject them?
    The need to act, to do what is expected, is never a reason to act. Every choice requires calculated judgement including the results of success or failure.
    Every decision based on belief, the only source of certainty, is an emotional judgment without real and reproducible evidence. War is a game played by children who believe in Gods, ethnic superiority, and the morality of superior law, justice, racial and religious historic myths, and the stupidity of the survival of the fittest. Natural law is amoral. We are one species. The survival of the species, not the family, the tribe or the nation in an environment of limited resources, is the only war we must not lose.

  16. Thanks for linking the the Times story which mentions simple tube launchers for the rockets.

    That Times reporter is an odd case, Anne Bernard has no NYTimes articles linked to her name after Sept. 2011, though she’d been with the Times since 2007 by that point–I’d guess Ms Bernard’s kids took some of her time. (Albeit we won’t see the Times reporting on the general lack of paid maternity leave in the US. Good that Bernard has a union.)

    Too bad that in 2002 and early 2003 the Times wasn’t employing reporters who bothered to mention the obvious fact based contradictions to conventional wisdom–instead we got Judith Miller and the still employed by the Times Michael Gordon.

    (The NYTimes never worked out that quoting conventional wisdom as established fact problem regarding medical insurance reform reporting.)

  17. Norma Price on said:

    I keep thinking about the Gulf of Tonkin incident and what Ambassador Joe Wilson did not find in Africa and, let alone the war started by Wm Randolph Hearst with, “Remember the Maine.” All turned out to be phoney provocations in the media.

  18. hidflect on said:

    Why is no mention being made that the “intel” against Assad came from Israel. You know, the people holding the Syrian Golan Heights. Cui Bono?