Recycling a Bush Iraq Ploy on Syria

Exclusive: Syria’s tentative acceptance of a plan for putting its chemical weapons under international control opens a pathway to avoid a U.S. military strike, but the Obama administration may use the opening as a new route for winning congressional war authorization and even UN backing, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Obama administration is dusting off another sales pitch for bombing Syria, one that ironically was last used by President George W. Bush to dupe then-Sen. John Kerry into voting for the Iraq War, the claim that a war authorization is needed to create pressure for a diplomatic settlement.

On Monday, after the Russian government followed up an offhand suggestion from Secretary of State Kerry about Syria surrendering its chemical weapons, deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken was immediately spinning the Russian initiative as another reason to vote for war.

President George W. Bush.

“It’s very important to note that it’s clear that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the President is exerting,” Blinken said. “So it’s even more important that we don’t take the pressure off and that Congress give the President the authority he’s requested.”

President Barack Obama struck a similar note during an interview with Fox News in which he urged Congress to press ahead with votes on a limited war resolution. “I think it is important for us not to let the pedal off the metal when it comes to making sure they understand we mean what we say,” he said.

In other words, the Obama administration’s lobbying for its Syria war plan now will include the argument that a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Syria requires a war resolution from Congress.

The irony of this retread argument should be not lost on Kerry and other congressional Democrats who bought it as a reason to give Bush the authority to go to war against Iraq in 2002. Later after Bush pocketed the congressional approval and made a mockery of any diplomatic strategy to avoid war with Iraq Kerry complained that he had been tricked.

During his presidential run in 2004, Kerry repeatedly offered as his excuse for voting in favor of the Iraq War resolution the argument that he had simply wanted to give Bush the clout to force concessions from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. What Kerry learned, however, was that once Congress granted Bush the war power, Bush was free to use it as he wished and what Bush wanted was war.

Bush simply went through the motions of resolving the dispute over Iraq’s WMD peacefully at the United Nations. After Iraq formally declared that it had destroyed its WMD and accepted UN inspectors who then found no WMD, Bush ridiculed Iraq’s WMD denials and pressured the inspectors to leave so he could press ahead with his invasion.

Only after the U.S.-led invasion was it discovered that Iraq had been telling the truth about its WMD, but for many of Bush’s neocon advisers the WMD case had always been a P.R. pitch to gain popular support for the removal of an Arab leader who was considered a threat to Israel and to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

A decade later, the new target is Syria’s Bashar al-Assad who is seen as a crucial ally of Iran, which is regarded as Israel’s new chief nemesis and the ultimate bete noire for the neocons today. Over the past few years, the neocons from their perches at major think tanks and on influential op-ed pages have been maneuvering Obama toward a more belligerent position against both Syria and Iran.

Poor Staff Support

For his part, Obama has surrounded himself with older conventional thinkers like John Kerry at State and John Brennan at CIA, who long since have had any original thoughts bleached out of them, and younger foreign policy careerists like Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who recognize that their tickets to the top echelons of the national security establishment depend on burnishing hawkish reputations.

All of Obama’s team understands that the Israel Lobby and the neocons remain extremely powerful forces in Washington who are crossed at one’s personal peril. So, it’s far safer for your career — or your next confirmation hearing — to stay on the good side of those interest groups.

It also makes a lot of sense to keep silent about why Syria possesses chemical weapons in the first place, the unmentionable fact that Israel owns a sophisticated (and undeclared) arsenal of nuclear weapons (as well as its own stockpile of poison gases). For Syria, chemical weapons have served as the poor man’s deterrent to Israel’s nukes.

As veteran journalist Barry Lando writes, “An air of inanity pervades the debate about Syria It’s evident, for instance, that the 800-pound [gorilla] hovering behind the debate is Israel and its American backers, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

“What has not been made clear is that, lurking in the background, is another shadowy hulking presence: Israel’s nuclear weapons capacity, which, as I’ve previously blogged Israel has never officially acknowledged and most U.S. administrations have done their best to ignore. As have the mainstream press and the gaggle of statesmen, commentators and ‘experts’ with weighty proposals on how to resolve the current crisis.”

Lando notes that Syrian officials amassed chemical weapons “not with the intention of deploying CW against their own people. It was instead an attempt to develop an affordable and meaningful deterrent to Israel’s daunting military might, particularly to Israel’s nuclear capability.

“That’s the bottom line of several serious studies of Syria’s weapons program, done over the past few years by American and other experts. As a study published by the European Union’s non-proliferation consortium in July 2012, concluded, ‘Syria’s CWs are not tactical or battlefield weapons, but rather a strategic deterrence against Israel’s conventional superiority and its nuclear weapons arsenal.’

“While Israeli leaders have always portrayed their country as an embattled David, confronting an existential threat from an Arab   and now, Iranian, Goliath, Syria’s perspective has been totally different.  As the rulers in Damascus have seen it, Israel, thanks to its sophisticated industrial base,  and unwavering financial and political support from the United States, has been able to develop by far the most powerful military forces in the region, with its own nuclear trump card.

“The Syrians, on the other hand, have suffered one humiliating setback after another, from the failure to defeat Israel in 1948, to Israel’s on-going occupation of the Golan Heights, which they took in 1967, to Israel’s repeated forays into South Lebanon. The Syrians, however, came to realize they could never equal Israel’s military might. They opted instead for a practical alternative: chemical weapons. If not strategic parity, CW would at least give Syria, if the chips were down, a fearful enough weapon to brandish against Israel’s nuclear capabilities.”

An Israeli Edge

So, Syria’s tentative agreement to relinquish its chemical weapons represents another strategic victory for Israel, even as U.S. politicians and pundits keep their blinders in place whenever it comes to addressing or even acknowledging Israel’s fearsome WMD arsenal.

And, to make sure that Syria divests itself of its chemical weapons, the Obama administration now has some new political and diplomatic options. It could push a binding UN resolution that could include punishment of Syria if it is deemed in breach of its commitment to relinquish its CW, much as President Bush advanced his Iraq War plan behind the cover of counter-proliferation resolutions approved by the UN Security Council. Syria might find it as difficult to prove the negative — that it no longer possesses chemical weapons — as Iraq did in 2002-2003.

As the UN maneuvering plays out, the Obama administration also could continue pushing for a congressional war authorization arguing as Bush did on Iraq that having a club in the closet is necessary to keep Syria and Russia honest.

Adding to the irony, Secretary of State John Kerry was back in Washington on Tuesday telling a House committee that the Obama administration would not tolerate any “delay” or “avoidance” in implementing the Russian plan. “We’re waiting for that proposal, but we’re not waiting for long,” said Kerry.

Those were words that George W. Bush could have spoken in persuading Sen. John Kerry to vote for the Iraq War.

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 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.

11 comments for “Recycling a Bush Iraq Ploy on Syria

  1. Rhys
    September 14, 2013 at 00:28

    All the words that are used to describe our current state of total denial of the current state that befalls us is a cop out. You need to look at the the underlining false narrative that has been givin to the brain washed American people. That bankers and the US GOVERNMENT HAS THE PEOPLE’S BEST INTERST IN MIND!!!

  2. David Hamilton
    September 11, 2013 at 16:45

    Yes, duplicity is pretending to want to avoid war, while really wanting it so badly as to be willing to retract your own peace offers and diplomacy options. It is the way American presidents have been been operating since at least the Gulf War, if not since Nixon in 1968. For an excellent history of this principle in action during the runup to the Gulf War – featuring Dennis Ross, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, and George Bush – see this link. In 1991, “a vote for war is a vote for peace!”,%20Peace%20Initiatives%20By%20Hassan%20A%20El-Najjar.htm

  3. Wat
    September 11, 2013 at 04:00

    Whatever happened to the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity’s (VIPS) “strong circumstantial case that the August 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters”? And the numerous other stunning claims they made that seem more and more unlikely as the days go by?

  4. Jim-jams
    September 10, 2013 at 17:41

    The whole American Govt. seems to be suffering from a combination of short term memory loss combined with delusions of adequacy. If they keep allowing themselves to be led by the noses into one more Middle Eastern debacle they will undoubtedly bring down the whole house of cards that passes for the world banking system. The true value of the U.S. dollar will be revealed as only being useful for hanging in the little wooden house out back. The doomsday clock is showing less than a minute left to disaster. I feel this terrible urge to shake some sense into
    these Hollywood heroes inside the Beltway.

  5. Hillary
    September 10, 2013 at 17:03

    “Powell floats the idea: give ‘em a way out, but make it impossible”.
    The absolute massacre of the Iraqi soldiers retreating from the Gulf War was of no consequence to him as he sold the G.W.Bush Iraq war at the UN.
    Colin Powell the US Generalissimo could be on a par with the all time merciless killers of history. Yet is an American Hero to many Americans ?

  6. bobzz
    September 10, 2013 at 14:56

    Watching how quickly the Russians seized on Kerry’s inadvertent comment leaves me wondering if he is thinking, “Oh s–t, why did I say that?” Not to fear. The US can use the Colin Powell plan of Gulf War I. Sadaam was willing to leave Kuwait, but the US would not have its war. What to do? Powell floats the idea: give ’em a way out, but make it impossible for them to do it. So the US gave Sadaam 24 hours to pull out and they, of course, could not do it. So, we fought the war to protect oil and kick the “Viet Nam” syndrome—if I understand Robert Parry’s previous articles. Kerry’s, “I don’t think they can (hand over to chemicals) in a week sounds the same. Kerry has come full circle since VN, hasn’t he?

    • George Collins
      September 10, 2013 at 15:56

      I haven’t been here regularly recently but this is Bob at his best: adding new substantive information and no-holds barred candor/commentary regarding the motivations and competence of Obama’s team. No punches pulled on behalf of the Democrats.

      The already mentioned complicity of the US with Saddam’s use of Sarin against both Kurds and Iranians, bears repeating for “unclean hands: as well as does mention of the Nam era use of napalm, agent orange, the ravages of depleted uranium left in Iraq and elsewhere, the use of white phosphorous at Fallujah.

      These and depressingly more examples leave Kerry & Company lacking the moral gravitas to lead any humanitarian mission without first addressing his own team’s bleak history.

      If Obama were pragmatically sincere would he not offer to destroy the US’ remaining piles of chemical weapons, urge Russia to do the same, call upon Israel to confess its use of chemical savagery and to own its non-secret nuclear capacity?

      Perhaps Israel’s nuclear capacity needs to be publicly secret lest the US citizenry suspect that, if crossed, Israel could be a greater threat than Russia.

  7. incontinent reader
    September 10, 2013 at 14:56

    Zunes makes good points. However, I would take issue with the language of the second sentence of his article which states:

    “..[t]he Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilian areas on August 21 constitutes a breach of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the world’s most important disarmament treaties, which banned the use of chemical weapons…”

    It would have been less ambiguous if it had read:

    “..[t]he Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilian areas on August 21, IF PROVEN WOULD HAVE CONSTITUTED a breach of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the world’s most important disarmament treaties, which banned the use of chemical weapons…”

    September 10, 2013 at 14:08

    The US Has No Credibility Dealing With Chemical Weapons
    Monday, 09 September 2013 13:01 By Stephen Zunes, Truthout | News Analysis

    Had the United States pursued a policy stemming the proliferation of chemical and other nonconventional weapons through region-wide disarmament, when it was proposed in 2003 by Syria, it is likely there would be no apparent use of such ordnance and no present rush to war on that basis, says Zunes.

    The Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilian areas on August 21 constitutes a breach of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the world’s most important disarmament treaties, which banned the use of chemical weapons.

    In 1993, the international community came together to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a binding international treaty that would also prohibit the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, and transfer or use of chemical weapons. Syria is one of only eight of the world’s 193 countries not party to the convention.

    However, US policy regarding chemical weapons has been so inconsistent and politicized that the United States is in no position to take leadership in any military response to any use of such weaponry by Syria.

    The controversy over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles is not new. Both the Bush administration and Congress, in the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, raised the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, specifically Syria’s refusal to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. The failure of Syria to end its chemical weapons program was deemed sufficient grounds by a large bipartisan majority of Congress to impose strict sanctions on that country. Syria rejected such calls for unilateral disarmament on the grounds that it was not the only country in the region that had failed to sign the CWC—nor was it the first country in the region to develop chemical weapons, nor did it have the largest chemical weapons arsenal in the region.

    Indeed, neither of the world’s two largest recipients of US military aid – Israel and Egypt – is a party to the convention either. Never has Congress or any administration of either party called on Israel or Egypt to disarm their chemical weapons arsenals, much less threatened sanctions for their failure to do so. US policy, therefore, appears to be that while it is legitimate for its allies Israel and Egypt to refuse to ratify this important arms control convention, Syria needed to be singled out for punishment for its refusal.

    The first country in the Middle East to obtain and use chemical weapons was Egypt, which used phosgene and mustard gas in the mid-1960s during its intervention in Yemen’s civil war. There is no indication Egypt has ever destroyed any of its chemical agents or weapons. The US-backed Mubarak regime continued its chemical weapons research and development program until its ouster in a popular uprising two years ago, and the program is believed to have continued subsequently.

    Israel is widely believed to have produced and stockpiled an extensive range of chemical weapons and is engaged in ongoing research and development of additional chemical weaponry. (Israel is also believed to maintain a sophisticated biological weapons program, which is widely thought to include anthrax and more advanced weaponized agents and other toxins, as well as a sizable nuclear weapons arsenal with sophisticated delivery systems.) For more than 45 years, the Syrians have witnessed successive US administrations provide massive amounts of armaments to a neighboring country with a vastly superior military capability which has invaded, occupied, and colonized Syria’s Golan province in the southwest. In 2007, the United States successfully pressured Israel to reject peace overtures from the Syrian government in which the Syrians offered to recognize Israel and agree to strict security guarantees in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied Syrian territory.

    The US position that Syria must unilaterally give up its chemical weapons and missiles while allowing a powerful and hostile neighbor to maintain and expand its sizable arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is simply unreasonable. No country, whether autocratic or democratic, could be expected to accept such conditions.

    This is part of a longstanding pattern of hostility by the United States toward international efforts to eliminate chemical weapons through universal disarmament agreements.

  9. Greg Driscoll
    September 10, 2013 at 14:01

    Bob – Thanks for pointing this almost forgotten ploy out. We also have the Secretary of State telling our representatives in Congress that not approving use of military force will do “irreparable damage” to the prohibition against using chemical weapons — although the United States itself used chemical weapons (white phosphorus) in Iraq and stood by mutely as its protege, Israel, used white phosphorus against Gaza. So the irreparable damage has, in fact, already taken place – by the Israel Defense Force and the U.S. military — but, of course, in both cases “exceptionalism” is “operative”. We and the Israelis do only God’s work…

  10. Jerry D Riley
    September 10, 2013 at 13:57

    Here’s another disturbing possibility which can be used to trigger the attack on Syria:

    RT sources: Syrian rebels plan chem attack on Israel from Assad-controlled territories

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