Will they . . . won’t they

Britain, for now at least, has broken free of the compulsion to “do something” about Syria.[1] Not so the US, where matters still hang very much in the balance.

Quite why Obama and co seem hellbent on risking so much based on so little remains a mystery. Is he so in thrall to the responsibility to protect crowd? Or maybe he really does think his credibility (and, perhaps, America’s) is on the line. Who knows? In any case, the hard sell is on, with back-to-back media appearances and much emotional arm-twisting.

Amidst all this confected drama, there’s an almost complete silence surrounding the question of whether the Syrian regime was responsible for the attacks. Its guilt is generally assumed; what’s at issue is how best to punish them.

Which is odd, considering cui bono is not a difficult question to answer: the regime had been on the front foot again for some time; it knew UN weapons inspectors were already in Damascus; and, it knew Obama had drawn a red line around chemical weapons usage and a lot of senior people in Washington were itching for an excuse to escalate their anti-regime activities.

So why would they do it? Why risk world opprobrium, heightened isolation and military strikes when there’s apparently nothing to gain? Could it have been a fog of war thing, or out-of-control elements within the regime? Sure, but it doesn’t look the high probability bet.

The rebels, on the other hand, would have every reason to stage a chemical weapons attack and blame it on the regime. Providing they don’t get caught in any such deception, it’s all upside, no downside. All the negatives for the regime are positives for them.

You’d assume from all this that the evidence against the regime must be rather convincing. A “slam dunk”, in 2003 terms. Not so. Indeed, according to a warning letter sent to Obama by a group of US retired intelligence professionals, not so at all.

This same group, on 5 February, 2003 wrote a similar letter to then President Bush, noting that “the fraudulent nature of [Colin] Powell’s speech was a no-brainer” and urging Bush to ““widen the discussion beyond …  the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

They’re scathing about the current intelligence hierarchy and its claims:

Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us that CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public – and perhaps even you.

We have observed John Brennan closely over recent years and, sadly, we find what our former colleagues are now telling us easy to believe. Sadder still, this goes in spades for those of us who have worked with him personally; we give him zero credence. And that goes, as well, for his titular boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper . . .

These retired professionals are far from alone in their grave doubts about the veracity of the administration’s case. Trouble is, very few of these reports ever reach the mainstream media and so the public at large (and probably much of Congress) has no idea quite how weak that case is. One of the co-drafters and signatories of the letter to Obama (W Patrick Lang) replied to a comment on his site about the near complete exclusion of contrary opinion on the serious weekend talk shows.

The unanimity of the media in backing the war forces is impressive across the networks. they would never ask any of us. That would interfere with propagation of the narrative. Wolfowitz! My God! This is the man who admitted that the bushies lied the US into war with Iraq. Frank Sesno on his show today referred to anyone who did not accept the government’s version of events as a “conspiracy theorist.” 1984 is here. pl

It remains to be seen if the current resistance within Congress will hold in the face of the administration’s sales pitch. If so, it may mark an important turning point. Memories of the blatantly skewed pitch back in 2002-2003 linger, for some at least, and public opinion is radically different from those post 9/11 days. Running an imperial presidency isn’t quite as easy as it used to be.

1 Mind you, it’s a little early to get too confident; vital though it was, 285-272 wasn’t an entirely convincing rejection.

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