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The Syrian Guns of August


Remember the thumping of Obama’s war drums for a US attack on Syria last August and September, including his spokesmen’s absurd invocations of Kosovo as a precedent for a limited cruise missile strike on Syria?  The trigger for hyping that war fever was a sarin gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, on August 21.  Obama was quick to blame Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for crossing Obama’s bizarre Netanyahu-esque “red line.”

The charge never made sense.  Assad was beginning to win the civil war, and a chemical attack was not needed militarily.  Moreover, such an attack would generate worldwide animosity and contribute to the further isolation of Assad.  So, Assad seemed to have far more to lose than to gain by launching such an attack.  Of course people do stupid things in war, so a chemical attack by Assad on his own people was not out of question, and that uncertainty coupled with the drumbeat made the American masses vulnerable to a con.

On the other hand, the Syrian rebels, particularly the Jihadi fighters, were beginning to lose the war, and they needed outside help.  Also, their donors were dragging their feet on supporting them, especially supplying them with lethal weapons.  Therefore, the Jihadis stood to gain in terms of favorable public relations caused by a chemical attack, if the attack could be pinned on Assad.  Finally, videos and pictures of the attack flooded the internet immediately after the attack, almost as if an orchestra was playing.

In short, even without invoking the Mossad, the chemical attack always had the strong odor, if not the certainty, of a classic false flag operation.

Perhaps it was the shaky foundation underpinning Obama’s war threats that caused the war fever to fizzle so quickly; but it was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 11 September  2013 NYT op-ed that pulled the rug out from under Obama’s case for another American-led,  pro-Israel war in the Middle East.  Of course, given America’s sound-byte mentality, the crisis was immediately forgotten in the chaos of the government shutdown and the growing hysteria over the implications of Iran’s peace offensive.

Now Seymour Hersh has produced a stunning  analysis of the intelligence information available to President Obama last August, when he was threatening to attack Syria.  Hersh is one of the world’s great investigative reporters — e.g., He exposed the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and much of the Abu Graib scandal in Iraq, among other things.  In his latest analysis, Hersh lays out in excruciating detail what Obama knew and when he knew it.  He paints a portrait of deception and delusion in Versailles on the Potomac that has become all too familiar since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, but especially since the lead up to the war in Kosovo.

Using sources in an intelligence community, angered by being manipulated again by politicians intent on war, Hersh demonstrates, inter alia, how Obama’s case for war was a mixture of (1) cherry picked intelligence data that omitted pertinent countervailing information, (2) assumptions posing as facts, (3) why satellite/ground sensor coverage in August was sufficient to conclude Assad probably did not launch the attack, and (4) most importantly, the failure to acknowledge contemporaneous intelligence revealing the rebels also had the capacity to assemble chemical weapons and launch the attack.  To appreciate the full persuasiveness of Hersh’s stunning report, you must read it for yourself.

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post and the New Yorker declined to publish his 5500 word tube steak, so Hersh had it published in the prestigious London Review of Books.

Bear in mind, the Syrian faux crisis may have passed, but war mongering against the Muslim world is not over — Iran is still in the crosshairs.  Israel is working its traps in Congress and on K Street to queer the peace deal, by “encouraging” its wholly owned subsidiaries to assemble the votes needed to intensify the sanctions, even though Iran is moving toward an accommodation. Obama, who claims to be promoting the deal, is again wringing his hands, Hamlet-like, damping expectations, now saying the chances for a deal with Iran are 50% at most.

The Syrian Guns of August are now ancient history to the attention-deficit, trigger-happy cognoscenti inhabiting the Washington echo chamber. But the deeper warning implicit in Hersh’s essay is that, sooner or later, the reckless disregard for truth and sanity that is now part of America’s political DNA — e.g., the mixing of boogered intelligence and crackpot red lines — is going to spin out of control and land our country in a really serious war we cannot win.

Next June 28 will be the 100 year anniversary of the day when one teenage Serbian terrorist in Sarajevo triggered a chain of unstoppable “red line” crossings and faulty intelligence appreciations that ended up destroying the European order.  We are still living with its unresolved consequences, especially in the Balkans and the Middle East.  It is an ironic time to have such a disaster-seeking grand-strategic decision cycle in Versailles on the Potomac.

To paraphrase Prince Bismarck, God may eventually tire of protecting fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at

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