The well-known American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been digging and digging for truth about what really happened in those fateful days in August-September when President Barack Obama almost ordered a military strike against Syria over the alleged chemical weapons attacks by the regime in the suburbs of Damascus.
Hersh has put together his findings in a riveting essay titled ‘Whose sarin?’ which is the cover story of the current issue of the London Review of Books.
It makes shocking reading and Obama’s White House team appears as a bunch of conmen who deliberately doctored the available intelligence (which was very little) to justify the president’s case that Bashar Al-Assad ordered the chemical attack.
When Obama made the famous TV speech persuading us all that the Assad regime launched a chemical weapon attack and the US had monitored the preparations for the attack, it was a total lie. Not only that, he had every reason to suspect that the extremist group Al-Nusra might be responsible. But he pretended it was Assad who did it.
According to Hersh, the US intelligence community felt disgusted that the president and his cronies in the White House could perpetrate such a lie. Indeed, it’s a virtual replay of what the George W. Bush administration did to make out a case for the US launch its invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Obama comes out in Hersh’s essay as a pathetic figure — a cynic. Funnily, I read it on a day when Obama moralized so much with a straight face at Neslon Mandela’s funeral.
Hersh also casts the US media in a poor light. The White House spin doctors called in select journalists, dished out stories demonizing Assad and got them printed as the gospel truth. So much for the freedom of the press!
Why did Obama do it? Possibly, he was chaffing under the ridicule from his political detractors on Capitol Hill that Assad was crossing his ‘red line’ on WMD. Being an African-American, Obama needed to do one better to show he’s also got spunk in him worthy of a commander-in-chief as much as Bush or Bill Clinton.
Such a conclusion, however, is insufficient. The point is, if that is the case, why did Obama retract so swiftly and pass the buck to the Congress to approve the attack on Syria? Hersh thinks that at some stage the intelligence community confronted Obama with compelling evidence to show Assad did nothing wrong and the president was forced to backtrack.
Obviously, Hersh brought to light a lot of truth, but it is not yet the whole truth. And we may never even get to know the complete truth.
What if Obama deliberately falsified and exaggerated the situation over the WMD so as to hold out a threatening posture toward Syria?
He is a brilliant politician after all who would know that another war in the Middle East would have spelt doom for his presidency, and would be highly unpopular with the American public opinion as well as isolate the US internationally (even Britain dissociated.).
All the same, he was under sustained sniping form the ilk of Senator John McCain and the Israeli lobby that he was ‘weak’, ‘leading from behind’ and so on. So, what if Obama dared these noisy detractors, knowing fully well that they too wouldn’t have the audacity to be seen cheering wildly, as America lurches toward another war in the Middle East?
The heart of the matter is that it is a thankless job to preside over the destiny of a great power that is in inexorable decline. Obama seems to be doing as best as he can. If the US response to China’s declaration of the air defence zone (or the lack of response to UKraine’s impending membership of the Customs Union) is anything to go by, Obama has a fairly good understanding of the limits of US power in the contemporary world situation.
Doesn’t the distancing he has put between the US and the Saudi-led ‘regime change’ project in Syria tell its own story? On balance, Hersh was right that the White House falsified but, to my mind, with a definite political agenda to lead the US into the Geneva 2 conference on Syria.
The missing link here is whether President Vladimir Putin conjured up the Syria WMD initiative from thin air, or merely presented it on a platter to Obama at the right time in the light of prior US-Russia expert level exchanges regarding Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles — and after making sure Assad was on board.
M K Bhadrakumar
Indian Punchline, December 11, 2013.