Neocons Seek New Ultimatum on Syria

Exclusive: The Washington Post’s neocon editors are pushing for another U.S. military ultimatum against a Muslim country in the Mideast. Citing discredited “evidence” pinning the Aug. 21 Sarin attack on the Syrian government, the Post wants President Obama to re-issue a war threat, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

You have to hand it to the neocons; they never give up on their single-minded agenda of promoting wars against Israel’s Muslim “enemies,” even after the disastrous war in Iraq. The big difference now is that the neocon strategy is to endlessly insist that the U.S. government issue ultimatums of war unless a target country acquiesces to some demand.

The apparent neocon hope is that at some point the target won’t or can’t do something, thus requiring a U.S. military assault to maintain American “credibility.” The Washington Post’s neocon editors are the bellwether for this approach as they mix outraged propaganda against the targets with outrage over any perceived “failure” of the targets to comply — and then over President Barack Obama’s hesitancy to act.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Syria at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30, 2013. [State Department photo]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Syria at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30, 2013. Kerry blamed the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on the Syrian government, but presented no public evidence. [State Department photo]

A typical example was on Sunday’s editorial page, egging President Obama to reissue a threatened military strike against Syria for allegedly dragging its heels on delivering chemical weapons to a United Nations agency for destruction.

As you may recall, the Syrian government got high marks for implementing the initial phase of its promise to destroy equipment that could be used to prepare chemical weapons for deployment. But it was well known that the next phase collecting the chemicals and taking them to a Mediterranean port and then to sea for destruction would be much trickier because some of the CW depots were in areas controlled or contested by Syrian rebels and the routes to the sea also were insecure.

Even the Post’s editors acknowledge this reality, writing: “No one should be surprised that the international effort is behind schedule. The original deadline to remove all so-called Priority One chemicals, the most dangerous, by Dec. 31, and all Priority Two chemicals by Feb. 5, was terribly ambitious for an operation that is complex even in peacetime and doubly difficult in the midst of a civil war. The chemicals must be transported to the coast, then by sea to a destruction facility on board a U.S. vessel, the MV Cape Ray, and neutralized safely.”

Nevertheless, the Post’s neocon editors have decided that Bashar al-Assad’s government is intentionally foot-dragging and must be prodded with a renewed threat of a U.S. military bombardment. Or as the Post wrote, “If the effort cannot be put back on track, it will raise anew the question of whether Mr. Obama is still serious about his ‘threat of force.’”

The Post then reprised the now-discredited propaganda case, blaming the Assad regime for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians east of Damascus. Though the case against the Assad regime has essentially collapsed and the Obama administration still refuses to release any evidence supposedly fingering the Assad regime the Post editors simply pretend that the case is ironclad.

The editorial states: “The chemical weapons removal was the direct outgrowth of the use of poison gas to kill more than 1,400 people last year, including women and children. The evidence pointed directly at Mr. Assad’s forces for use of the chemical weapons. Further delay by Syria in the movement of these deadly substances to the coast will only compound Mr. Assad’s complicity in the grave crime of the original attack.”

Virtually everything about that paragraph has either been debunked or is in serious doubt. But the Post’s editors don’t care, much as they behaved in promoting false claims about Iraq’s WMD in the 2002-03 run-up to that invasion. The editors seem to understand that the key to propaganda is simply to repeat questionable claims as flat fact with unyielding confidence. Most readers won’t know or remember the details, so the propaganda will win out.

Exaggerating Numbers

In the Syria case, the U.S. government’s claim that “1,429” people were killed in the Aug. 21 incident was never substantiated and conflicted with on-the-ground estimates by doctors who put the number of victims at a few hundred.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the strangely precise “1,429” number resulted from the CIA applying facial recognition software to videos of corpses posted on YouTube and then subtracting duplications and victims with bloody shrouds. The problem with this “methodology” should be obvious, since there was no way to confirm the dates or the locations of the YouTube videos and people can die of many causes other than a gas attack and not have bloody shrouds.

To determine the cause of the deaths requires much more than scanning YouTube videos. Still, the Post accepts these dubious and surely exaggerated numbers as flat fact.

More significantly, the Aug. 21 evidence does not point directly at Assad’s forces, as the Post asserts. The only evidence against Assad’s forces that has been publicly presented the “vector analysis” retracing the trajectories of two rockets back to an intersection point 9.5 kilometers away at a Syrian military base has been thoroughly discredited, since the one rocket carrying Sarin had a range of only about two kilometers. [See’s “The Mistaken Guns of Last August.”]

That limited range suggested that the rocket, which landed in Zamalka, east of Damascus, was launched from territory controlled by the rebels, not by the government. The other rocket, which landed in Moadamiya, south of Damascus, was found by UN inspectors to have no Sarin or other chemical weapons agents, and it clipped a building in its descent, making a precise determination on its trajectory impossible.

Even the New York Times, which had promoted the “vector analysis” in a front-page article, was forced to grudgingly admit that its big scoop was bogus. [See’s “NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis.”]

There’s also never been an explanation of why Assad’s regime would have launched this attack just as UN inspectors were unpacking their bags at a Damascus hotel in preparation for checking out an earlier chemical weapons attack that the regime blamed on the rebels. The Aug. 21 incident was sure to divert the UN team and was likely to provoke a U.S. military intervention that the Assad regime wanted to avoid but that the rebels desperately desired.

Yet, the neocon editors of the Washington Post want you to forget all that and simply remember the propaganda barrage that followed the incident. What does it say about a major American newspaper that willfully seeks to mislead its readers?

The Post’s neocon editors apparently have put their ideology of seeking “regime change” in “hostile” Muslim countries ahead of telling the truth to the American people. And, if the Post can get President Obama to renew his military threats against Syria, Iran and possibly other countries, eventually the hope seems to be one of the targets will fail to comply with an ultimatum and Obama can then be badgered into another 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.

5 comments for “Neocons Seek New Ultimatum on Syria

  1. pj johanssen
    February 3, 2014 at 11:06

    The U.S. has no inherent right to attack Syria or any other country. Under the Constitution, Congress could do it, but the U.S. is also subject to treaty obligations that clearly block it from attacking Syria under present circumstances. The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which the U.S. Senate ratified by an 85-1 vote, bans all acts of military aggression. Many of the Nazi leaders executed at Nuremberg were convicted for violating this Pact. It remains in force as international and United States law.

    The U.S. Senate also approved the United Nations charter in 1945, thus giving it too the force of American law. The Charter states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” The Charter does not make exceptions for the three principal arguments made today in favor of attacking Syria: punishment, preemption, and deterrence.

    The calls for attacking Syria, or any other sovereign state, regardless of reason, are in fact admissions of premeditation to violate U.S. law, and ought to be dealt with as such.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    February 3, 2014 at 09:59

    In response to Mr. Parry’s “Mistaken Guns of Last August” article, I commented that years from now, they’ll still be claiming that, “Assad gassed his own people”. In a page taken directly from Paul Josef Goebbels, they’re at it again. When the shoe fits, and they’re wearing it, why is it so difficult to recognize what Chris Hedges has so aptly referred to as “creeping fascism”?

  3. N Dalton
    February 3, 2014 at 04:10

    You have to hand it to the neocons . . . they are ” The Hallmark of Thugs ” !
    No better chance to ” hand it to them ” comes November by ” kicking ” every single
    Republican in the Nuts during the upcoming Midterm Elections and sending a clear
    message to those ” Jewish Supremacists Appeasers ” and their masters in Israel.

  4. incontinent reader
    February 2, 2014 at 18:08

    Bob, Thanks for keeping on this. The Post has been disgusting and should realize that readers do have some leverage- e.g., by limiting its patronage of WAPO advertisers (and even of, and also with honest journalists such as yourself keeping the record straight such that the Post loses whatever credibility it has left.

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