ONE MONTH AGO, I AWOKE ON October 10, 2013, to the news that once again Bob Dylan did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Instead, the Swedish Academy announced the winner to be Canadian author Alice Munro, referring to her as the "master of the contemporary short story."
Bobby D could not care less about the frivolousness of a subjective determination of his artistic excellence. In 1965, he dismissed a question about whether he is a songwriter or a poet by responding: "I consider myself more as a song-and-dance man." His cultural significance is a distraction he will not abide, and he is rightfully suspicious of those who wish to manipulate him by awarding to him "prizes"; he guards his persona to the extent he doesn't even care what his audiences think. But I do. In 2010, an old college friend and I swore like blood sisters that we would not die until Dylan received the international recognition that he deserved. A few months later, after a short illness, Wendy Govier died on February 1, 2011 -- which happened to be the day nominations closed for that year's Nobel prizes. I was left to carry our passionate torch, and on October 5, 2011, it was reported that Ladbrokes PLC, "a leader in the global betting and gaming market with annual Group revenues of over £1 billion," had our Bob as the 5-1, odds on favorite to bring home the gold. This one's for Wendy! Or so I thought.
The next day, on October 6, 2011, instead the Swedes home-towned Bobby D by selecting for only the second time in history one of their own -- poet Tomas Transtromer -- to be the next laureate in literature: “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.” He is also described by reviewer Bill Coyle as a "Christian poet" who was catapulted into the public eye in 1975 by none other than his pal Robert Bly, American poet, author, activist and leader of the mythopoetic men's movement. By manipulating Carl Jung's archetype of the Evil Witch, which developed from Jung's own conflicted relationship with his mother, Bly has made a career lamenting "a total decline in the traditional role of the father in modern families," a vacuum into which power-grabby feminists flocked to create "soft males" who lack "the outwardly directed strength to revitalize the community with assertiveness and a certain warrior strength."
Haunted by the Ghost of "Eve"
Yes. It was those female-fabricated "soft males," systematically drained of their "warrior strength," who recently brought us to the brink of war with Syria after civil unrest challenging the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad began in that country on March 15, 2011, part of the protest movement that had spread throughout the Middle East known as the Arab Spring. But more than 28 months later the Syrian death toll reportedly exceeded 100,000; on July 26, 2013, members of the Syrian opposition met with Secretary of State John Kerry to implore the United States to provide arms to the badly battered, so-called rebel groups. As reported that day by Ed Payne, Greg Botelho, and Mohammed Tawfeeq for CNN.com, there was a particular urgency to their request:
Allegations that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons against the opposition are not new. Almost a year to the day before the Syrian National Coalition pleaded with Kerry for an infusement of traditional military arms, on July 23, 2012, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi confirmed for the first time that Syria had chemical weapons, and stated that these weapons would never be used against the Syrian people, only against “external aggression.” More than a month later, on August 20, 2012, President Obama responded:
"Other Players on the Ground?" Are We Talking Soccer in the Sand?
"Other players on the ground" is a subliminal reminder that Middle East politics is more like a game of Monopoly™: iconic pieces move around and around the board, and alliances are formed and discarded as everyone's goal is to capture property and money. And there is always a chance of being sent to jail, or score a Get Out of Jail Free card. In global politics, the U.S. and the "other players on the ground" had decided that Syria should no longer pass Go and collect $200; the first allegation that the Assad regime had used the poisonous gas "b-quinuclidinylbenzilate" (BZ) in the Homs region of Syria, killing seven, occurred four months later on December 23, 2012. But it was months after that before serious inquiries into not just the validity of such claims, but also the motivations, publicly began to surface:
Less than three months later, on March 19, 2013, it was reported that alleged chemical weapons attacks killed about 25 people and injured dozens of others in Syria’s two main cities, the Khan al-Assel neighborhood of Aleppo and the Damascus suburb of al-Atebeh. The Assad regime claimed that Syrian opposition forces used chemical weapons in the fighting there, and the next day requested a United Nations investigation. Also the next day, President Obama, on his first state trip to Israel, participated in a joint news conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu:
On the day following that, March 21, 2013, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a joint investigation by the United Nations, the World Health Organization (W.H.O), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.), into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. Yet three days later, on March 24, 2013 -- with the international community buzzing and surely visions of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, and Mohamed Morsi dancing in his head, inexplicably Assad allegedly elevated his game. Opposition activists claimed multiple rocket launchers were used to propel phosphorous bombs into Adra, northeast of Damascus, killing two and injuring 23 people. On April 13, 2013, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (S.O.H.R.) announced that the Syrian army had dropped two gas bombs on Aleppo, killing two and wounding 12 more.
Indicative of the flimsiness of such claims is the reality of such highfalutin-sounding sources: "S.O.H.R.," for example, is in essence one exiled man's operation, assisted by a few aides inside of Syria, that is based in the United Kingdom, and operates from a semidetached, red-brick house "on an ordinary residential street in [the] drab industrial city" of Coventry, England. (Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times, April 13, 2013.) This is not to imply that Rami Abdul Rahman lacks passion: it does, however, suggest the possibility of bias.
While Secretary-General Ban and Assad dithered over the scope of the joint U.N. inquiry, Eli Lake of The Daily Beast reported on April 25, 2013, that the Syrian Support Group -- a U.S.-based advocacy organization that had been pushing Obama to supply "the rebels" with advanced military weaponry -- was claiming that two chemical attacks occurred that day in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, injuring 100 people. Lake could not confirm: but if the collective reliability of an angry Syrian exile and a U.S. lobbying group could be considered a stretch in credulity, Lake had sources within the government challenging the reliability of intelligence accumulated by U.S. allies. Assessments by France and the United Kingdom were described as "squishy" by one U.S. official working on Syria. Another U.S. official confirmed that the Israeli assessment was largely based on photographic evidence, subject to alteration and not considered as airtight as other forms of evidence.
A third official disagreed with those critiques, and perennial war-monger Senator Dianne Feinstein -- the Red Queen to America's Alice -- was off with her head as she adjusted her imaginary tiara and insisted that “red lines have been crossed”! That there was no smoking gun was inconsequential to her stridency; her war-weary fellow citizens, however, were less impressed. On April 29, 2013, there was an opposition claim that a helicopter dropped canisters alleged to contain chemical weapons on the town of Saraqeb. Eight people reportedly complained about trouble breathing and nausea, and it was further reported that later one of them died. He could have been hit by a bus.
A tense lull that marked the summer of 2013 ended abruptly in the early morning hours of August 21, 2013, when reports of a massive chemical weapons attack near Damascus surfaced. An organization called the Syrian Revolution General Commission accused the Assad regime of attacking Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus, with sarin gas. Initial casualty reports indicated 635 people were killed, and with more than 3,600 wounded, the number of fatalities was reportedly expected to rise. The Syrian Local Coordination Committee (L.C.C.) called the attacks a "massacre."
The timing defied logic. Only one week earlier, on August 14, 2013, Assad had agreed to allow the joint U.N. Inspection Team to investigate whether three alleged chemical weapons attacks occurred. The team was not tasked with determining fault. Four days later its members arrived in Syria, and three days after that they were asleep in their hotel rooms just a few miles from Ghouta at the time of the alleged "massacre." Tim Lister, CNN.com, August 22, 2013. Gruesome videos and photographs of dying and dead children, and larger human forms covered with white shrouds, immediately surfaced on the internet and in social media, with each side using them to implicate the other.
You Want Us to do What ?
Obama had come face-to-face with his self-described "red line" if the opposition claims were true. If, however, forces within the rebels, and not Assad, had done the dancing across Obama's "red line," and were responsible for an obscene violation of human rights by use of chemical weapons, there was no contingency plan in place. That possibility had never been discussed, at least openly. In fact, there were ambiguities in the videos and photographs: experts noted that many of the tell-tale symptoms of a chemical weapons attack were not visible in many of the patients depicted in the videos. Further, although one photograph displayed a homemade rocket purportedly used in the attack, loyalist militias and Hezbollah had both used makeshift rockets against the rebels in Syria's ongoing conflict.
And there was the Iran factor. On December 11, 2009, Iran and Syria had signed a defense cooperation pact "to strengthen political, security, and economic relations between the two countries." Was engaging Iran -- one branch of the triage that George W. Bush had identified as the "axis of evil" -- the real motivation for the rush for military intervention in Syria?
Another complication that should have troubled the White House was an August 24, 2013, Reuters poll, which indicated that 60 percent of the American people opposed intervention in Syria no matter who was responsible for any chemical weapons attack, while only nine percent supported it. In fact, a war with Syria would be the least popular U.S. war in at least the last 20 years.
None of these factors seemed to pose a quandary for Obama. Knowing that he would not receive United Nations approval to attack Syria because Russia, a Syrian ally, has veto power, the need for such was airily dismissed by a senior White House official, who claimed the four-day delay of the joint team's access into opposition-controlled Ghouta was "too late to be credible," that evidence "would be corrupted," and that was there was "very little doubt" that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on August 21. Al Jazeera, August 25, 2013. Eyeing the alarming polls while listening to the growing chorus of opposition from their constituents, some members of Congress decided they wanted an opportunity to vote on the action before Obama declared, "Bombs away!" Rosie Gray, Buzzfeed, August 24, 2013.
This encroaching resistance to the notion that one's political party leader deserved unwavering loyalty, as though he or she was the quarterback of one's local professional football team, was a phenomenon that even Leon Festinger's 1957 theory of cognitive dissonance could not have predicted. After eight years of lies, manipulation, secrets, and economic collapse emanating from the George W. Bush administration, including the pants-on-fire insistence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, Barack Obama had campaigned with a promise to bring transparency to the White House. Shortly after his inauguration in 2008, he released a memorandum that stated:
What derailed Obama's much-vaunted road to transparency? In an article published in Slate, more than five months before the Reuters poll indicated that Americans were in fact beginning to abandon Obama's Titanic, and which was entitled Where the Sun Don't Shine, March 12, 2013, reporter Paul D. Thacker, who had covered both the George W. Bush and the current administrations, declared that Obama had "failed miserably" to deliver on his promised transparency. Thacker stated: "The storyline is classic Washington: Whistleblowers run to Congress about bad behavior; Congress demands answers; the White House throws up a wall. But where is the outrage, especially from the very groups who are supposed to be holding the government accountable? It doesn’t exist."
Not to mention his obsessive effort to prosecute whistleblowers, the very same people whom President-elect Obama had described as those who are "[o]ften the best source of information about waste, fraud and abuse of government." Former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the agency's use of torture and who would be reporting to prison two weeks after the publication of the Slate article, related to Thacker conversations he had with Daniel Ellsberg, who Kiriakou said repeatedly asked: "Where is the outrage? If this were a Republican administration, people would be in the streets, right? We would be marching in the streets. But people cut Obama a break to the point of irrationality." As Thacker wryly noted: "The most absurd example came a couple years ago when a group of Washington watchdogs went to the White House to give the president a “transparency” award, and the president refused to accept the award in public. The meeting wasn’t even listed on the president’s public schedule."
Awaiting his pending imprisonment, Kiriakou mused:
In 2009, Was That "Prize" Benign?
Yes, that odd decision made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the 2009 Peace Prize to President Obama. "Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics," the committee gushed in a press release dated October 9, 2009. Only, Obama had been in office for less than nine months when he was so effusively lauded. Even worse, the deadline for nominations for the 2009 Peace Prize was February 1, 2009. Assuming the decision to nominate him was delayed right up until the cut-off date, Obama had by then been President of the United States for only two weeks. All the time in the world needed by this former, one-term United States senator who spent most of his time in that office running for president, or so the Norwegians apparently concluded, to whip up "a new climate in international politics." A mighty feat. Or was Obama merely "a song-and-dance man" without the irony, and who lacked the temerity to slough off as a distraction and an effort to co-opt him an "award" of an as yet undeserved and therefore phony political prize? But more on that later.
Legacy of a True Hero
So to what can this five-month shift in blind political loyalty be attributed? Enter into the picture Private First Class Bradley Manning, a twenty-three-year-old United States Army soldier who in 2010 was working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. In February, 2010, he provided to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks "the largest cache of classified documents in U.S. history." Among the documents leaked was the so-called "collateral murder" video shot from an Apache Helicopter, which depicted the assassination of seven unarmed Afghan civilians, a photojournalist from Reuters and his driver, and the wounding of two children. On July 13, 2007, the incident was reported by the military:
"The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed." Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times, July 13, 2007
In Obama's era of "transparency," Reuters' Freedom of Information Act request for the video of the attack had been denied. When the video was made public by WikiLeaks, the contradiction between the official military account and what occurred that day was startling: toward the end, the wounded Reuters' driver was attempting to crawl to safety while an Army soldier aboard the Apache can be heard in radio chatter begging him to pick up a weapon, and repeatedly requesting permission to fire. It was granted. The video can be viewed at www.collateralmurder.com.
Manning, who had sought counseling for sex reassignment surgery in November, 2009, struck up an online acquaintance with Adrian Lamo, a former hacker and FBI informant. In a chat on May 22, 2010, Manning was hesitant to discuss his role as a source for Wikileaks, but Lamo was persistent: "give me some bona fides ... yanno? any specifics." Manning was arrested on May 26, 2010.
In one of those awkward, "He-sounds-like-Nixon-insisting-Charlie-Manson-is-guilty-before-trial" moments, less than one year after Manning was arrested and more than two years before he would finally face trial, Obama told an audience that Manning "broke the law," itself an egregious violation of protocol and ethics, and counter to federal law itself.
During the protracted United States of America v. PFC Bradley Manning , prosecutors portrayed Manning as an "anarchist" and a "traitor." On July 30, 2013, he was acquitted of the most serious charge -- aiding the enemy -- but convicted of six charges pursuant to the 1917 Espionage Act, and most other charges he faced.
On August 21, 2013 -- the same day the Assad regime was accused of using sarin gas against its own people -- Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. He received 3 1/2 years off his sentence for pretrial detainment, and for the "abusive treatment," or torture, he endured while being held at Quantico. He is eligible for parole in seven years.
After his conviction, Manning expressed his desire to continue transitioning to female, and requested to be known thereafter as "Chelsea." She also released a statement that read in part:
A document released by WikiLeaks, dated December 13, 2006, and marked "classified," self-identifies its origin "from Syria Damascus." It is addressed to The Department of Treasury; Israel Tel Aviv; National Security Council; Secretary of State; The League of Arab States; U.S. Mission to European Union (formerly EC) (Brussels); United Nations (New York); United States Central Command; and the White House. It is entitled: "INFLUENCING THE SARG [Syrian Arab Republic Government] IN THE END OF 2006." After some fussing that, "As the end of 2006 approaches, Bashar appears in some ways to be stronger than he has in two years," the memo identifies some methods to destabilize his regime:
For at least seven years, that has been the strategy of the West, its allies in the Middle East and Europe, and the U.N. to topple the Assad regime. The opportunity had arrived -- just as Chelsea Manning was brought to trial; Julian Assange, editor of WikiLeaks, remained in well-publicised asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London; and on June 5, 2013, a contracted employee of the National Security Agency, who four days later revealed himself to be Edward Snowden, surfaced in Hong Kong and blew the whistle on the NSA and its annual $20 million surveillance program called PRISM: his files revealed that the NSA, and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, were spying on... everyone, often without individual warrants, collecting data that had been stored by major U.S. technology companies, and often with the secret cooperation of those companies -- like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, AOL, PalTalk and Yahoo. Further, PRISM allowed a "mass interception of data from the fibre-optic cables which make up the backbone of global phone and internet networks." Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian. Our government is tapping our phones and monitoring our internet activity. Daily. No one is immune. Asked by Greenwald why Americans should be concerned about this invasion of their privacy and violation of their Fourth Amendment rights, Snowden replied:
Two days after what was just the beginning of a tsunami of stunning revelations from Edward Snowden, Obama's giddy, post-election Change.gov site, which included his ode to whistleblowers and had been linked to the White House website ever since, suddenly vanished without any official acknowledgement or explanation. Like all things that distract from the government's narrative, this was unreported by the corporate-owned mainstream media. But it did not escape the eyes of citizen journalists and savvy internet warriors.
"It may be that Obama’s description of the importance of whistleblowers went from being an artifact of his campaign to a political liability." emptywheel, July 25, 2013.
Our Collective Conscience: Overshocked
As our leaders tread the rising water about ongoing government abuse of its authority, the ever-condescending patrician, Secretary of State John Kerry, was quickly tasked with scolding us into plebeian submission. In prepared remarks he delivered with thundering aristocracy on August 26, 2013, John Kerry tried to shame us:
I may have taken that proverbial trip to the woodshed with John-Boy had the Atlantic Wire not posted the day before, on August 25, 2013, that recently declassified CIA documents obtained by Foreign Policy exposed how askew was our government's own moral compass. During the 1980s, the U.S. knew about, and in one case helped, Iraq's chemical weapons attacks against Iran. "The evidence, FP writes, is 'tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.'"
Secretary Kerry, you might want to remove your bony, elitist finger out of the faces of the American public. When it comes to wielding moral compasses, ours are way out of your league.
What was finally becoming apparent to the U.S. government and some of its allies is that the majorities in their populations were remaining steadfast in the face of a media blitz, and were also shaking their heads and saying, "It ain't me, babe." On the day before Kerry's piteous appeal for our submissiveness, August 25, 2013, the Israelis decided to be helpful and reveal to the German magazine Focus that they had intercepted, in real time, senior officials in the Syrian government discussing the alleged August 21 chemical attacks, which were conducted, the Israelis said, by a division commanded by Bashar al-Assad's even more insidious brother, Maher Assad. They just forgot to mention it sooner. The same information, quoting the article in Focus, was subsequently reported by The Times of Israel on August 26, 2013: "Israel, like the rest of the world, has refrained from responding to the Syrian crisis in any large-scale way, taking in only a small number of injured Syrians and reportedly carrying out covert air strikes at regime weapons sites. Yet officials have said action must be taken, with most expecting Washington to respond to the attack."
Someone needs to inform these people that we are not the same bunch who pretended to believe the Warren Commission Report during the 1960s. As Bobby D has said: "Things have changed."
Far from being shamed by Kerry's chastisement, more and more people were speaking up. Even CNN was asking some hard questions, and reporting on others who were asking with more authority. With more than 100,000 Syrians killed and millions displaced during two years of civil strife, was a single attack with chemical weapons that killed either a few hundred or more than a thousand, regardless of who were the perpetrators, sufficient justification for intervention now? "Given the massive human toll of attacks with conventional weapons, what makes this a potential turning point for the world to act?" asked Josh Levs, CNN.com, August 28, 2013. Levs cites an article written for the Atlantic by political science Professor Dominic Tierney:
What Obama failed to disclose to Gwen and Judy was that just the day before, on August 27, 2013, NBC Nightly News cited senior U.S. officials in reporting that U.S. military intervention in Syria could begin as early as August 29. Four Navy Destroyers with the capacity to fire Tomahawk missiles at Syrian targets for an anticipated three days were already positioned in the Mediterranean, waiting for an order to strike.
The British Aren't Coming
August 29, 2013, a date upon which many believed would be D-Day for Syria, the British Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee delivered a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, in preparation for his motion to Parliament requesting authorization to attack Syria. Outlining its assessment of Assad's responsibility for the August 21 chemical weapons attack, it was noted that some of the intelligence was "extremely sensitive" [and therefore not subject to public dissemination]. The letter concluded that "there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility."
Later that day, Cameron made his impassioned motion for authorization to intervene in Syria "if necessary" in response to the chemical weapons attacks that were claimed to have occurred eight days earlier. But in what was described as a "severe blow" to his authority and international standing, and amid calls for his resignation, the motion was rejected 385 to 372, a difference of 13 votes. The Daily Mail reported: "In what is thought to be an unprecedented parliamentary reversal over British military action, Tory rebels joined with Labour to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Prime Minister.
Well, that's one way to put lipstick on a pig. Another is to acknowledge that people are tired of war-mongering and ongoing regime changes that lead to our buddying up with formerly declared sworn enemies. Or the reverse. I would have expected Obama to comprehend that. Instead, in response to the stunning developments in the UK, he cowboyed up like his predecessor, and shortly after Commons vote, declared his intention to have the U.S. go it alone, now that he had a coalition of the non-existent and had severely jeopardized David Cameron's job.
Members of Congress, however, were still facing primary challenges and reelections with which they had to contend. Their Richter scales were more finely tuned, and the reverberations from across the pond more keenly felt. Shortly after the Commons debacle, 150 bipartisan members of Congress had signed two letters to Obama demanding a vote to authorize military intervention in Syria. (By August 31, 2013, that number had grown to nearly 200.) Rep. Justin Amish, a Republican congressman from Michigan, tweeted: "UK Parliament votes on going to war. Congress votes on critical things, too, like renaming post offices."
In fairness, Congress has also voted at least 41 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, an egregious and unforgivable waste of time, money, and the ability to progress on to important issues, like joblessness and an economy that is still in a free-fall. But few people would ever defend our congressional representatives from accusations of hypocrisy.
And even worse for Obama, his slavishly devoted mainstream media was also smelling a loser and turning on him. Dylan Beyers, writing for Politico on August 29, 2013, said: "For a moment, it looked like the media were going to go quietly along as America bombed Syria."
"The Only Thing Left to Do Was to Keep on Keepin' on... Like a Bird that Flew"
On August 30, 2013, the White House released its own assessment of the events in Syria on August 21: an "unclassified summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community's analysis of what took place." But: "Our classified assessments have been shared with the U.S. Congress and key international partners." One of whom had just the day before said, "Nah, we're not getting involved in this."
All of this was just a euphemism for, "Trust us! We're lookin' out for ya! Have we let you down before?" Well, yes. Chelsea Manning had shown us that. WikiLeaks had served up for us a litany of lies we have been told by the U.S. government. Edward Snowden had to break to us the news that, to our government, our allies and even the people of the United States had morphed into "the enemy."
Coinciding with the release of the "unclassified summary," Secretary of State Kerry was trotted out again to deliver prepared remarks at the State Department. Lampooned back in 1970 as the self-proclaimed "Gorgeous Preppie" by Garry Trudeau in Doonesbury, Kerry was determined to win over his audience this time. So he wheedled:
But the "unclassified" findings were not clear at all. And the people who would be paying for this war, with their money, and their blood, and the blood of their children, were not entitled to analyze a complete assessment. The Gorgeous Preppie tried to clarify that.
How utterly convincing. The American people went to bed that night with the incessant drumbeat of war echoing in their ears.
"Hands off Syria!"
Saturday morning, August 31, 2013, brought unsurprising news: President Obama would be addressing the nation about the "crisis in Syria" that afternoon from the Rose Garden. Protests against Syrian intervention were already ongoing throughout the world, and as Obama appeared at the podium, "crowds" of anti-war protesters could be heard clearly by the gathered press shouting, "Obama, hands off Syria!" as they waved yellow signs that read: "No War in Syria!"
And then he punted.
The message emanating from the White House since the inception of this fast and furiously-declared Syrian "crisis" had consistently been that neither U.N. nor congressional approval was needed for President Obama to order military strikes. So he qualified his capitulation by adding:
"Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective."
It also bought him some time. Congress was enjoying its summer recess, scheduled to end September 9, 2013.
"Rush to War, Interrupted"
In the days following the "Rush to War, Interrupted," questions began to arise involving the reliability of intelligence cited (or claimed to be classified) to support the assertion that the Assad regime had indeed crossed Obama's now infamous red line. In an article entitled, Dubious Intelligence and Iran Blackmail: How Israel is driving the U.S. to war in Syria, dated September 1, 2013, Max Blumenthal stated:
"President Barack Obama’s August 31 announcement that he would seek congressional authorization to strike Syria has complicated an aggressive Israeli campaign to render a U.S. attack inevitable."
Blumenthal challenged the Israeli claim to have intercepted regime chatter in real time about the chemical weapons attack in real time (but neglected to say anything about it for several days until it first surfaced in the German magazine Focus, and a day later in The New Times of Israel):
Former Israeli intelligence officer Giora Inbar boasted to Channel 2 on August 27, 2013, that the United States was "aware" that his country had made a priority of gathering intelligence about the Assad regime, "and relies on it." And indeed, despite a U.S. Intelligence assessment that Kerry so aptly described as: "Now, what do we really know that we can talk about?", it did refer to "intercepted communications" in language nearly identical to that which was originally reported in Focus . As Blumenthal noted, on September 1, 2013, "Likud-friendly correspondent Herb Keinon dismissed in the Jerusalem Post the British and American response to Syria as "international dallying" that would not "install confidence in Israeli leaders that they can count on the world when it comes to Iran."
Yes. The I-word had surfaced. And as a menacing talking point was reinforced: In Haaretz, also on September 1, 2013, Amos Harel claimed "Arabs perceive Obama as weak" (without citing any specific Arab), and commiserated that Netanyahu feared he may be forced to go it alone if Iran attacked Israel.
In the week or so before Congress returned from recess, the threat that Israel may unilaterally attack Iran, Blumenthal said, could even force the "night flower-style" Israeli lobbying group AIPAC to blossom in the sunshine and lean on U.S. representatives.
Someone Lost an 800-Pound Gorilla?
Blumenthal's reference to AIPAC was prophetic. On September 2, 2013, The New York Times reported that Obama's decision to bomb Syria had gained the critical support of Sen. John McCain. It also reported that the French had declassified their intelligence report, but (as she slowly exhales cigarette smoke), so what? The next day, M.J. Rosenberg, a long-time Beltway pol and Mideast expert was quick to seize on the overnight deletion of a paragraph in the Times article in which the Obama administration had admitted that AIPAC was key to a Syrian attack:
On September 2, 2013, Secretary Kerry invoked "Godwin's Law" in a conference call with House Democrats when he told them the U.S. faced "a Munich moment" in deciding whether to attack Assad, whom he described as a "two-bit dictator" who will "continue to act with impunity."
In what was beginning to resemble not soccer, but ping-pong, Truthout challenged Kerry's insistence that the Syrian intelligence assessment was more accurate than the 2002 disastrous intelligence insistence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Instead, parsing every word in the report, Gareth Porter asserted the unclassified Syrian intelligence assessment utilized "misleading language evocative of the infamous Iraq estimate's deceptive phrasing."
Truthout also joined the chorus of those questioning the intercepted Syrian chatter "involving a senior official intimately familiar" with the chemical weapons attack offensive. Although that wording suggested it was the United States which had intercepted that "chatter," Truthout quoted former British Ambassador Craig Murray, who in his blog on August 30, 2013, explained that the GCHQ listening post on Mount Troodos in Cyprus was "the most valued asset that the U.K. contributes to U.K./U.S. intelligence cooperation... Troodos is valued enormously by the NSA. It monitors all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East, ranging from Egypt and Eastern Libya right through to the Caucasus. Even almost all landline telephone communication in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage, picked up on Troodos."
The ping-pong ball landed this time on the German side of the table, whose own intelligence claimed on September 4, 2013, to have intercepted a telephone call from an Hezbollah official and Assad ally to Iran that confirmed the chemical weapons attack was ordered by Bashar al-Assad (but not the evil brother, as Israel had claimed). German lawmakers, however, were less than impressed. Having been burned in 2002 after claims made to German intelligence by alleged Iraqi defector, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, infamously codenamed "curveball" as he proceeded to do just that -- concoct a fabrication about Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction -- they had no intention of participating in any intervention in Syria, a decision that would be deeply unpopular at home.
The Russians Arrive
Also on September 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syria's strongest ally, said his country could not rule out military strikes against that country "if it could be proved that Assad was really behind the attack." However, that same day Putin publicly accused Kerry of "lying" for telling Congress that there was no al-Quaeda presence among the Syrian opposition. Putin said in televised comments:
Although Kerry had acknowledged to members of Congress the presence among the Syrian rebels of al-Nusra, he did not identify the group with al-Quaeda. However, at an August 15, 2013, meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, State Department records indicate that Kerry said that there were "many al-Quaeda leaders now operating in Syria." Putin, however, called it "absurd" to assume that Assad would utilize chemical weapons at a time he was about to defeat his opposition.
Either way, it was a similarly convoluted, misleading use of language that distorted the facts.
Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave
The same day, Obama was holding a press conference in Sweden when a reporter quizzed him about his now infamous "red line." His response was astonishing:
As the G20 leaders gathered in Saint Petersburg for their annual meeting, on September 5, 2013, China hopped aboard Putin's bandwagon, saying military action would "have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on oil prices -- it will cause a hike in the oil price." Even the newly beloved Pope Francis weighed in: in a letter he wrote to Putin, the Pope "reiterated his strong opposition to any military intervention in the country," adding that "armed conflicts… create profound divisions and deep wounds which require many years to heal."
That same day, Reuters all but called Kerry a liar, noting that his portrait of "moderate Syrian opposition groups" that he claimed were "growing in influence" did not match up with U.S. and allied intelligence sources, and private experts on Syria's civil war.
How could this be "news" to those gathering intelligence in preparation for a war with Syria? As far back as July, 2013, the deputy director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd, "estimated that there were at least 1,200 different Syrian rebel groups and that Islamic extremists, notably the Nusra Front, were well-placed to expand their influence."
So. For the 15 long days that the world -- and the American people -- remained poised for another war in the Mideast, none of our "intelligence assessments" bothered to inform us that by aiding the "rebels" with military strikes against Syria, we would be climbing in bed with al-Quaeda, the same group that allegedly (because who knows what to believe any more) hijacked airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, launching our never-ending "War on Terror"? Or was that part "classified"?
Also on September 5, 2013, The New York Times published a video it said was smuggled out of Syria "a few days ago" by a "rebel" who had become disgusted by his team's brutality, and which depicted the sickening execution of seven Syrian soldiers by the opposition. "Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West," the headline mused.
Oh, those pesky "dilemmas," mucking up the plans that had been in the works for at least seven years (and obviously much longer than that).
The Silence of the Lambs
The drumbeat to war in Syria -- for the purposes of preserving humanity and above all saving the chiiiiiildren -- had drowned out the voices of Assad's real opposition, ordinary Syrians -- many of whom were and remain nonviolent, and who had been engaging in an effort to be free from the ruthless dictator Assad since the Arab Spring. In a September 9, 2013 article entitled: "Syria's Nonviolent Resistance is Dying to be Heard," Al Jazeera America reported: "Many civil society activists who continue to defy the Assad regime are not convinced by the case for U.S. airstrikes."
Khaled Harbash, age 21, who has been part of the resistance since the Arab Spring, echoed the sentiment of many when he blamed Russia, the Gulf states, the West and Turkey as all "part of the problem and complicit in the crimes committed against civilians in Syrian villages and cities. What started as interference is now an assault on Syria's sovereignty."
"'The United States is not an international judge who can punish and forgive as they please,' said Harbash. 'Any military strike would not be against the regime, but against the entire country. And Syrians who for two and a half years have suffered from the war will bear the consequences.'"
Were Kerry's Lips Loose? Or Did He Take One For The Team?
"John Kerry is in trouble again," intoned John Cassidy from The New Yorker on September 9, 2013. His purported crime were statements made that day during a press conference in London that left the world scratching its collective head. First, in what appeared to be more of his wearying effort to sell a war with Syria, he minimized it: he described any potential U.S. air strikes against Syria as "an unbelievably small, limited kind of effort." Well, uh, what would be the point then?
Next, he implied that Assad could avoid any punitive action if he relinquished his chemical weapons "to the international community," and permitted a "full and total accounting" of the program.
The White House shrieked that Kerry's comments were rhetorical, and even trotted out Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton as window dressing while her mother contradicted Kerry's assertions. Obama was poised for a pro-attack media blitz to a public who was no longer listening to a word he said. But there was a new glint in one man's icy blue eyes: Carpe Diem! Vladimir Putin seized the day. Russia announced it would "support the establishment of international control over Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons." Syria quickly responded that it welcomed the "Russian initiative." And the White House? Obama told CNN that he would "engage with the Russians and the international community to see, can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious."
In fact, the only aspect of Kerry's comments that appeared to bristle the president was the suggestion that any U.S. attack would be "unbelievably small."
“The U.S. does not do pinpricks,” Obama sniffed during a primetime address on September 10, 2013 about the Syrian crisis. “Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria.”
By this point, it was not difficult to conclude that, while the U.S. "does not do" pinpricks, it still harbors its share of pin-headed pricks. The September 10 prime time address, that had been scheduled four days earlier -- and was originally intended to push Obama's war agenda -- transformed instead into what "one New York Times columnist called 'an extraordinarily strange evening'": Obama's continued insistence that while we should invade Syria (he invoked "the chiiiildren" five times), while he simultaneously insisted he had a "deeply held preference for peaceful solutions," and would work with Russia, China, and U.S. allies to "force Syria to hand over its chemical weapons" -- something it had already agreed to do.
Obama also revealed that he had asked Congress to delay a vote on Syria, which had been scheduled for the next day -- the bone-chilling 12th anniversary of September 11, 2001 -- while negotiations were ongoing and the U.N. inspectors completed their report; again, an event he had previously written off as unnecessary. Then he reassured America of its "exceptionalism."
On September 11, 2013, Vladimir Putin appeared in the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times reiterating from the outset Russia had advocated for a "peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future." Then he challenged head-on Obama's claim of America's "exceptionalism":
On September 11, 2013, the pro-Syrian intervention expert favored by John Kerry and John McCain -- Elizabeth O'Bagy -- was fired from the nonpartisan Institute for Study of War for faking her credentials.
On September 13, 2013, the joint United Nation Team, which included the World Health Organization and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, delivered its report confirming there was a chemical weapons attack in Syria, and strongly hinting that the Assad regime was responsible.
Oh. And October 11, 2013 -- one day after the Swedes did not award to Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the winner of the 2013 Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel remains a curious man. One of the world's pioneers in weapons manufacturing and arms dealing, he established a year before his death -- in what may have been an Oppenheimer moment -- the Nobel Foundation, establishing prizes in physics; chemistry; physiology or medicine; literature; and eventually economic sciences -- all to be chosen each year by the Swedish Academy. Determination of each year's winner of the peace prize was reserved for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the members of which are selected by the Stortie, the Norwegian Parliament. Its current chairman is Thorbjorn Jagland, a career Norwegian politician who, like Barack Obama, had a banner year in 2009: He was first named Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and elected to the position of Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, although he had to battle to retain the former position after he strong-armed the committee to award that year's peace prize to Barack Obama, a decision many claim politicized the prestigious honor.
The winner of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize? The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, part of the joint U.N. team that investigated the Assad regime for use of chemical weapons in Syria, "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons." Congratulations, O.P.C.W.! I wonder when you will be given back your throat.
On November 13, 2013, the French government presented Bob Dylan with its country's highest award, the Legion of Honour. Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti called him "a hero for young people hungry for justice and independence."