I assume most of my readers remember the phony “evidence” that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had stockpiled “weapons of mass destruction,” (WMDs can include nuclear weapons, biological weapons and chemical weapons) ready to be used at a moment’s notice, thus justifying an American attack in 2003 on this Hitlerian regime. The ‘shock and awe’ attack—and the years of mayhem that followed, still far from over—took place to the cheering of American news media, but somehow the WMD were never found. With the change of administrations, though, we went from Bush to Obama and, presumably, an end to such phony justifications for war. Now, however, Seymour Hersh, probably the premier investigative journalist of our time, has written a piece indicating that the era of the ‘phony’ casus belli is far from over. Rather, it seems to be part of America’s DNA.
Recall the dire situation: Syria and its president, Bashar al Assad, were engaged in a life-or-death struggle with what American media called “freedom fighters,” and what Assad called “terrorists.” The United States, of course, took the side of the “freedom fighters,” even though numerous reports made clear that these were not exactly democracy lovers, or nonviolent activists, or even native adversaries of the devilish Assad, but rather a rag-tag grouping of fundamentalist groups, many of whom openly declared their adherence to Al-Qaeda. The al Nusra Front was only the most prominent of these fighting groups, and it was also clear that it was supported mostly by Saudi Arabia (which had long wanted to get rid of Assad as the main secular leader opposing their hegemony in the Arab world) and other Gulf oil emirates. Yet the public was told that despite the jihadist tendencies of these freedom fighters—which should have fixed them in the camp of our mortal enemies—the United States supported them as the lesser of two evils. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is the way realpolitik types put it. And so we heard congressional hawks urging the president to ramp up the military aid, up to and including a possible U.S. invasion against the Assad regime; and the president and his men explaining that the U.S. was doing all in its power to support the “freedom fighters” short of providing a no-fly zone as it had in Libya. And of course, flush with Israeli intelligence insisting that Assad had used chemical weapons already, the American president in 2012 announced that any use of his chemical stockpile in the conflict was a “red line” beyond which Assad must not go. If he crossed that dread red line, it was implied, the United States would have no choice but to attack and save the world from weapons that threatened all of civilization.
In August of 2013 came the terrible news that such an attack by Assad’s forces had occurred in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, and, as “proof,” we were treated to horrifying videos of children writhing in death agony and piles of bodies allegedly killed by Assad’s sarin gas. We were told repeatedly that only Assad and his government forces had the capability to mount such an attack. We were given proofs such as the direction of the missiles that had carried the chemicals, and further proofs alleging that Assad’s forces had been gathering in just the place from which such missiles could be fired, and even alleged recordings of Assad’s commanders ordering the attacks. And so it appeared that with such an airtight case, the U.S. had no choice but to, once again, go to war in the Middle East against this latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler, now disguised as Bashar al Assad of Syria. Air strikes were being readied, we were told, while counter-claims that the gas attack might actually have come from the rebels, were laughed away as so much Syrian propaganda. BUT THEN, with two days to go before the planned strike, the president suddenly announced that prior to ordering the attack he would go to Congress to get approval. And in another two days, as Congress was preparing long hearings, the president accepted a deal brokered by Russian president Putin for Assad to get rid of his chemical arsenal under international supervision. The compulsory air strike and another American war had been avoided.
What Seymour Hersh addresses is, why? Why did the president suddenly shift from attack to compromise? And what Hersh has found is that it was British intelligence that did the job. At its defense lab in Wiltshire, the Brits had analyzed a sample of the sarin used in the August attack and found that the gas didn’t match what was known to be in Syria’s arsenal. Given that our most loyal ally had evidence that the Sarin attack hadn’t come from the Syrian regime after all, the Joint Chiefs—who had been alerted by British intelligence—urged the president to halt the air strike. And so we learn that, once again, an American administration, goaded by hawks and phony evidence, was on the brink of initiating a major conflict that could have ignited a new conflagration in the most volatile region on earth.
But Hersh goes further. What he demonstrates is not only that the sarin attack came from the jihadis, most likely the al Nusra Front, but also from its staunch supporter in Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Hersh quotes a former senior US intelligence official with access to current intelligence:
We knew there were some in the Turkish government…who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria—and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.
Furthermore, though the administration insisted repeatedly that only Assad’s forces had access to sarin gas, both American and British intelligence had known since early 2013 that some of the rebel groups were developing chemical weapons. In fact, analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency had issued a paper stating that al Nusra was engaged in a sarin production program that was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort.’ Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia were providing sarin precursors in bulk, and several members of the al Nusra front were arrested in southern Turkey in May 2013 with two kilos of sarin. Though Turkish officials claimed the seized material was not sarin at all but ‘anti-freeze,’ the DIA believed the initial arrests were valid. Furthermore, a UN investigation in March and April of 2013 of a series of chemical attacks concluded that the evidence linked NOT the government but the opposition groups to the attack: “It was clear that the rebels used the gas,” said one investigator. “It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.”
In short, the general public, not just in America but throughout the western world, was once again duped by the “chemical-weapons-in-the-hands-of-a-monster ploy” and very nearly went to war on the basis of phony allegations of WMD. Not everyone of course. There were many in the alternative press who vehemently disputed the claims coming out of Washington. But in the lame-stream media, there was not a peep. And notably, there still isn’t (except of course to ridicule.) Seymour Hersh had to go to England to get this latest piece published in The London Review of Books, where, fortunately, you can read it online (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line). Then, the next time you hear about WMD in the hands of a new ‘Hitler,’ you can start singing that old song: It seems, “we’ve heard it all before.”