Obama, Interventionist: Study of a War Criminal

War criminals are not born, they are made, or rather make themselves through the experience of having an inner motif of self-promotion directed to cultivating, and thus bringing themselves to the attention of, those possessing wealth and power. No subtlety here, no shame of wanting recognition; instead, merely an active fantasy life of grand leadership as a presumed visionary entitled to inordinate deference and respect. Merited achievement is irrelevant and beside the point, for what matters is to ride the wave of organized power, command at one’s fingertips, an institutionalized militarism inseparable from the person himself/herself. Such presence, if it is to convince others, requires serial acts of violence sanctioned by law and government: Le State, c’est moi, i.e., once one has arrived, one then becomes the titular head (titular because serving to front a hierarchical system) of an elitist framework composed of the financial, industrial, and military communities, an integrated system disconnected from, while manipulating, the people to ensure social discipline at home and market expansion, via the threat and/or use of force, abroad. This describes the criminalization of historical development and public policy, or to be exact, the context and mental-set of the war criminal, for war is a useful tool for engineering conformity, promoting deference and submission to ruling groups, and diverting attention from social problems at home, and criminal, because the Leader is obsessed with maintaining order and identifying enemies of the State, in this case, primarily the business system as the directing force of State and society alike. Expand or deliquesce, dissolve in a puddle of weakness. This requires placing advanced capitalism on a sustainable basis, militarism becoming the midwife of profitability and expansion.

Sound familiar? It should. We’ve had decades of it in America, Obama being the latest in a line of specifically fascist-inclined leaders-administrations-Congresses beginning with Reagan, those coming before, especially Kennedy, reaching toward that destination yet not quite crossing the threshold. Before 1960, anticommunism/McCarthyism had already eroded the foundations of civil liberties, democratic government, peace as the approach to international politics, so that with Obama we not surprisingly see the archetypal servitor of a militarized plutocracy familiar in the annals of demagoguery now made presentable, however, as off-beat hip-fascism in the form of more casual deeds of violence, as in drone assassination. The apparatus of the State is kept seemingly in the background to conduct, before and still today (if not more than ever), its course of intervention, regime change, covert action, death squads whether in mufti or uniform as normal procedure in facing out into the world. How Kennedy would have admired Obama’s achievements, both sharing a sangfroid which served to popularize an ethos of combativeness, supported by the steady drumbeat of the MSM, that extended well beyond what was dreamed of in the 1960s: then, Russia primarily if not exclusively in the crosshairs, now China perceived as the more consequential adversary, Obama leapfrogging his predecessors including Kennedy in broadening the battleground of confrontation.

This brings us to Syria, perhaps a blip on the radar screen of US global hegemonic thirst, still though instructive and illustrative of the larger picture, a globalization of American-sponsored counterrevolution, in which surgically picking out strategic areas that create an atmosphere of showdown has the desired effect of validating America’s Great Power Status. Russia and China will do, but first, clear out the political-ideological debris which then places maximum pressure on the projected enemies—the Middle East an obvious cauldron of mayhem capable of being steered, under proper guidance, into a wider conflict as conceived by the politically criminal mind. To wit: Obama has charged Assad with the genocide of his own people, the use of sarin gas on a civilian population, an utterly despicable act justifying humanitarian intervention by the US, which happens also to deal a blow to Assad’s chief allies, Russia and Iran. If nothing else, and there is more, as in, once wiping out Assad, running pipe lines for oil and natural gas through Syria and thereby blocking Russia’s exports to the European market, the pretext for intervening in Syria strengthens US ties with Saudi Arabia and Israel (both, for different reasons, fearful of Assad’s secularism, and silently cooperating among themselves) and makes of Syria itself the fulcrum for a geopolitical strategy having the potential for inaugurating World War III.

Only, what if Assad did not use sarin gas on his people and the evidence is now being shown to have been shaky, contrived, a false flag operation to offer that very pretext for regime change? When one’s amoral cynicism allows for drone assassination, massive surveillance, black holes, as in Obama’s signature usage, anything quite frankly is possible, and one believes him with the same degree of confidence one does a snake-oil salesman at carnival time. Here I lay out some evidence and analysis that suggest the preordained conventional wisdom of officials, starting with Obama, designed to disguise America’s aggressive intent, is at best questionable and more likely deceitful. For an overview, I turn first to Eric Zuesse’s Strategic Culture Foundation article, “Seymour Hersh’s News Report Banned in U.S., is Finally Confirmed in Turkey,” (Oct. 30), which is a significant defense of Hersh (for my generation, a very fine investigative journalist) who in the London Review of Books exploded the Obama rationale for intervention and regime change in Syria. We will look at Hersh’s article after, but context is important, primarily the informal censorship of views which contradict the US position.

Zuesse quotes liberally from Hersh, which we can safely pass over until we come to Hersh, but he points out that the attack on Ghouta, Syria, August 21, 2013, had a strong Turkish-Saudi-US footprint, as revealed October 21 of that year by a Turkish parliamentary committee report and published the same day in Turkey’s leading newspaper, Zaman, the object being, as brought out by the opposition party, a concerted effort by Prime Minister Erdogan to overthrow Assad via a false flag attack that would give Obama “a publicly believable excuse for invading Syria and doing what Erdogan wanted done.” (Zuesse) The US Joint Chiefs of Staff were in on this, until evidence showed that, through British intelligence, the sarin gas used did not come from the Syrian stockpile, at which point the Chiefs urged caution. Obama, fearing exposure, did not get to bomb Syria to smithereens. CRP, the opposition party in Turkey, charged the government misled the public, deputy Seker stating, “The purpose [of the lie] was to create the perception that ‘Assad killed his people with sarin and that requires a US military intervention in Syria,’” the official line that Russia supplied the sarin adding flame to the fire because Russia “is a country that both Erdogan and Obama want to defeat.” Secker added, as quoted in Zaman, that “all of the files and evidence from the investigation show a war crime was committed within the borders of the Turkish Republic.” In his words, “’The investigation clearly indicates that those people who smuggled the chemicals required to procure sarin faced no difficulties, proving that Turkish intelligence was aware of their activities. While these people had to be in prison for their illegal acts, not a single person is in jail. Former prime ministers and the interior minister should be held accountable for their negligence in the incident.’”

Ban Ki Moon in late August launched an inquiry into the attack, and Hersh jumped into the fray, seeing the collaboration of Turkey and Syrian rebel groups (for which the US provided aid) as “trying to provoke a US intervention in Syria in order to bring down the Assad regime.” Zuesse also summarizes an article by Christof Lehmann, to whom we turn next, for extensive coverage of the false flag operation, in which Obama, the Joint Chiefs, and the CIA are involved, “the anti-Russian forces (headed by Obama),” according to Zuesse, “[being] behind it,” joined by Prince Bandar and the Saudi Interior Ministry. Zuesee concludes, “All of the evidence indicates that U.S. President Obama and Turkey’s President Erdogan were working together to create a case for America to bomb Syria until Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad would be gone, so that Assad’s government [his secularism, mine] could then be replaced by a Sunni Islamist regime (like Erdogan wants), which would be hostile to Russia and which would thus enable in Syria the construction of pipelines so that gas from U.S.-allied Sunni Qatar and oil from U.S.-allied Sunni Saudi Arabia might take the place of Russia’s oil and gas in the world’s biggest energy market: Europe. It’s a joint operation both of the U.S. aristocracy, and the Sunni Arabic royal families, basically a U.S.-Wahhabist operation.” Some of the “extra billions” being raked in, “would then fund yet more Sunni jihadists and clerics, to spread the Wahhabist Sunni faith yet further and thus satisfy the Sunni clerics and not only the national Sunni aristocracy; but, to Obama, this would mainly be just another way TO CRIPPLE THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY (emphasis, mine), to bring it down, which America’s aristocrats want to do.” The cherry on top of the whipped cream: “Syria’s overthrow would be a fitting sequel to Obama’s February 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, who, like Bashar al-Assad, refused to cooperate with U.S. plans to force Russia’s President Vladimir Putin out of office.”

Further background for this Syrian coup d’etat can be found in Lehmann’s nsnbc publication, “Top US and Saudi Officials responsible for Chemical Weapons in Syria,” (Oct. 7, 2013), which emphasizes the US-Saudi connection as responsible for the gas attack (Turkey isn’t mentioned) employing rebel brigades under Bandar’s direction affiliated with al Qaeda, especially Liwa-al-Islam and Jabhat al-Nusrah, and the pivotal figure Zahran Alloush, who among other things is a chemical weapons expert. (As happened in Afghanistan, when the US supported the Taliban on the ground that it opposed the Soviet attempt to restore the Kabul government, America has a history of creating allies who turn around and become enemies. It is as though America needs here al Qaeda and/or ISIS affiliates to legitimize its own counterterrorism role as leading to the full-blown global counterrevolutionary posture, a humongous arms budget, and social control at home. To flirt with, actually supply money and arms to, jihadists we condemn at every turn, smacks of opportunism, hypocrisy, and a lot worse, as in capitalism’s dependence for survival on what amounts to a war economy at the expense of meeting pressing domestic needs.) The timing of the sarin attack coincides with, if not directly responds to, the Syrian army’s successful campaign to push back the insurgents, 25,000 strong, at the Jobar Entrance, the gateway both to an attack on central Damascus and the route for receiving US and Saudi arms from Jordan.

Assad was winning the Civil War, despite Obama and the MSM’s depiction of a weak yet brave opposition fighting for freedom! 25,000 ain’t hay, particularly when supplied with advanced weaponry (e.g., Konkurs anti-tank missiles) and trained by US Special Forces, occurring from the jumping off place of Al-Mafraq, the border town in Jordan. Principal action is occurring right at the time of the gas attack, August 20-21: “The [Syrian Arab Army] breakthrough resulted in a collapse of the jihadists defensive positions [near the Jobar Entrance] and to a crushing and decisive strategic defeat of the Jabhat al-Nusrah led brigades.” Jobar, as “the sole remaining logistical supply route,” was a major loss, cutting off the insurgents from al-Mafraq, where US Intelligence Services also operated, and “frustrated any hope for a successful, large-scale, CIA-US Special Forces-led military campaign against Damascus.” It interrupted the road “used for weapons and troop transports from the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan, where Israeli Intelligence and the insurgents, according to an Austrian UNDOF officer, maintain a joint operations room.”

We already see ample reason for a false flag operation; the campaign against Assad is going poorly, making American intervention–on humanitarian grounds—all the more imperative. Lehmann observes: “The collapse of the insurgent front prompted the front commanders, most of which worked in liaison to U.S. Special Forces, to deploy an elite force that should prevent the Syrian Army, at all costs, from gaining access to the Jobar Entrance, and from gaining control over the Jobar area. The majority of the insurgent crack forces came from Liwa-al-Islam with some additional troops from Jabhat al-Nusrah.” He explains further: “The commanding officer of the elite forces was a Saudi national,” Abu Abdul-Moneim, who “had established a cache of weapons, some of which had a tube-like structure, and others which looked like big gas bottles.” They were stored in a tunnel in Ghouta (scene of the attack, and an eastern district of Damascus), the tunnel and cache brought to world media attention because Abdul-Moneim’s son and “12 other fighters lost their lives there, because they mishandled improvised chemical weapons caused a leak in one of them.” (This tells us the chemical weapons were highly toxic, as in sarin—NP)

Zahran Alloush enters now as the one who delivered chemical weapons to Damascus which were “most likely from al-Qaeda’s (ISIL) chemical weapons stockpiles in Iraq.” Mohammad Javed Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, warned Washington in early September (through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran), it turns out repeatedly, that “handmade articles for chemical weapons, including Sarin gas, were being transferred to Syria. The White House failed to respond.” Here holding the Jobar Entrance “at any cost” if the military assault on Damascus was to succeed led to the decision by insurgent commanders “to launch a chemical weapons attack to halt the advance of the Syrian Arab Army.” This decision had already been in the works by “the political and military opposition and core members of the international alliance” for some time, to take effect in August-September. The use of these weapons, it was thought, “should justify renewed calls for a military intervention. Lehmann summarizes to this point: “The decision to launch the chemical weapon on 21 August was most likely based on two considerations. That the use of chemical weapons was already planned. That the Jobar Entrance should be defended at all costs. The final decision, made by Zahran Alloush, may in fact have been predetermined together with his U.S.-Saudi liaison officers.”

Let’s be frank; the evidence remains circumstantial. Yet I find it persuasive. As Lehmann notes, “Launching a chemical weapons attack would allow the USA, UK and France, to call for military strikes against Syria and to turn the tide.” Moreover, “Russian and Syrian intelligence sources described the weapons which were used to attack as rockets which were altered so as to carry chemicals, launched by Liwa-al-Islam. The projectiles were most likely fired from a flatbed.” (The account shows the image of a truck which, after firing a single rocket, was covered up, a modified truck, “designed for launching a single rocket at a painfully slow rate of fire—not for tactical purposes.” It was, “literally, the perfect vehicle for a false-flag attack” like the one on Ghouta.) More basic, “one merely has to answer the fundamental question ‘Who benefits,’ and the answer is definitely not ‘the Syrian government.’” He further points out that the BND, the Federal German Intelligence Service, intercepted phone calls between Syrian officers and the High Command, and was convinced “none of the Syrian forces have used a chemical weapon.” In commonsense terms, which should count for something, he states: “Leaving alone any moral considerations, the domestic and international repercussions were foreseeable and there would not have been any strategic benefit for the Syrian Army or the government.”

Remember, Zahran Alloush was the supreme leader of Liwa-al-Islam, commanded its chemical weapons specialists, worked since the 1980s with “then Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Turki al-Faisal in both Afghanistan and Yemen,” and in the ‘90s “was involved in the Salafist-Wahabbist terrorist networks in Syria which led to his arrest by Syrian intelligence.” He was released in 2011 under Assad’s general amnesty (big mistake—mine) and immediately began receiving funds and weapons from Saudi intelligence, “which enabled him to establish Liwa-al-Islam as a de facto Saudi Arabia sponsored mercenary brigade under the auspices of the Saudi Interior Ministry.” The Ministry also deployed other al-Qaeda brigades in Syria, including the Omar Brigade, which “specialized in high level assassinations and large scale bombings.” Liwa-al-Islam, through Saudi funding, “gained fame due to risky, high-profile attacks, as in a 2012 bombing of Syria’s National Security Council in Damascus’s Rawda Square,” and assassinations of “several high profile members of Syria’s security establishment.” If this group traces back to Prince Bandar, as it does, that suggests a close connection with Washington.

Circumstantial, yes, but Assad’s engaging in sarin attacks on the Syrian people appears more dubious by the hour. A final point: Just weeks before the attack Bandar went to Moscow to meet with Putin, his purpose, to enlist Russia’s support for the removal of Assad. He cajoled, to no effect, then threatened, hinting to Putin that, a political settlement not forthcoming, there is no choice but military intervention. For Lehmann, “The minutes of the meeting clearly suggest Bandar’s direct involvement with regards to political responsibility [for the sarin attack], and Bandar also implies political responsibility of top-U.S. Officials.” They met on August 2; “Bandar tried to bribe Putin with weapons and oil deals in order to gain the Russian President’s support for ousting the Assad government,” to be replaced “with the Saudi-backed and sponsored opposition.” If Russia supported regime change, Bandar promised to reign in Chechen terrorists and protect the Sochi Winter Olympics. Otherwise, the veiled threat. “Putin responded by saying that the Russians know that the Saudis have supported Chechen terrorist groups for a decade, and the support which Bandar just had offered was utterly incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism.” Bandar was adamant that Assad must go, while Putin “stressed that the Russian position is that the Syrian people are best to speak for themselves, rather than those liver eaters” [the reference to an al-Qaeda leader “who had cannibalized the liver of a slain Syrian soldier”].

Bandar threatened once more: should the dispute over the future of Syria continue, “there is no escape from the (U.S.-led) military option, because the political stalemate would leave the military option as the only available choice to end the stalemate”—this, three weeks before the chemical attacks. Bandar’s statement, Lehmann writes, “strongly suggests foreknowledge, and given the close relations between Bandar and the U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, John Brennan, one must imply that top-level White House executives, including President Obama[,] have been briefed and have the same foreknowledge.” In Moscow, Bandar said “his message had been coordinated with the highest authorities in the Obama administration”: “’ I have spoken with the Americans before the visit, and they pledged to commit to any understandings that we may reach, especially if we agree on the approach to the Syria issue.’” By coincidence, Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visits Jordan in mid-August “against the backdrop of major weapons deliveries to the Syrian opposition,” this when a month earlier he said to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the administration “is preparing various scenarios for a possible U.S. Military intervention in Syria, and considering whether the USA should use ‘the brute [force] of the U.S. Military, and kinetic strikes.’” On August 17, insurgents suffer a major defeat. Four days later, sarin-laden rockets hit Ghouta. The Bandar-Dempsey missions imply a full-court press, the International Criminal Court to this day unwilling to tackle the case. Circumstantial? Our man in the White House would be a prime candidate, along with Bandar and others, for investigation.

I have not forgotten Seymour Hersh—nor should David Remnick (he of impeccable anti-Russian credentials) and the New Yorker staff. His London Review of Books (we marginalize our best critics) article, “The Red Line and the Rat Line: Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdogan, and the Syrian Rebels,” (April 17, 2014), while discounting any involvement by Assad in the sarin attack (he does not even dignify the charge by discussing it), shifts the focus of responsibility for it to Erdogan and Turkey, Obama and Washington, along with Saudi Arabia and Bandar, complicit in the planning and execution, all for the purpose of affording the US justification for intervention, each of the participants having their own reasons. If one were to say that Obama had rushed to judgment about Assad the perpetrator of the sarin attack, that would be too charitable; Obama had preconceived ideas to push, knowingly lying to the American and world public by distorting the facts accordingly. We see in this account that inconceivable as it may sound the Joint Chiefs were to the Left of Obama, rejecting claims of Assad’s involvement and urging caution on the president about making charges and also planning large-scale bombing immediately afterward.

Hersh goes back to Obama’s 2011 Libyan intervention, in which he did not consult Congress, and by contrast, he changed course on Syria, alleging Assad’s role in Ghouta and stating “he was ready to launch an air strike” to punish Syria for “crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons,” yet failed to follow through. Hersh asks, Why? Two days before the air strike, Obama “announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention,” and, in contrast to Libya, postponed then called it off when Assad, under Russian brokering of a deal, agreed to dismantle the stock of chemical weapons. The reason for the change: administration people wanting the red line enforced, and “military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous,” a clash of views prompted by the report of Porton Down, Britain’s defense laboratory, which had “obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal.” That is an important finding, exonerative for Assad, damning for Obama, who maintained Assad’s culpability and wanted to bomb Syria into hell.

It does not speak well for Obama that he is to the Right of his military, which buttresses my idea of his war criminality, as can be gleaned from this mildly stated passage: “The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.” Absent the warning, he would have been back to business as usual, collateral damage his middle name and creating oppositional forces—which he is still doing, along with collateral damage—to foster regime change. The Middle East setting, in its incomprehensible network of alliances (our ally and NATO member, Erdogan was supporting the al-Nusra Front, jihadist to the core), provided both the opportunity for causing mischief and falling on our faces when the plans for intervention failed to work out. “For months,” Hersh writes, “there had been some acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbors, especially Turkey.” As one former intelligence official told him, apropos of Turkey’s intent to involve American power in the civil war, “’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.’”

Indeed, the manufacture of sarin gas seemed to define the aspirations of these insurgent (al-Qaeda) groups: “The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell.” The report itself went on, in proper jargonese: “’Previous IC focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW…. Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’” And then, drawing on multiple classified reports, it said: “’Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’” The more evidence from the horse’s mouth, the less credible Obama’s charge of Assad’s poisoning his people.

When members of al-Nusra were arrested in Turkey for possessing “two kilograms of sarin,” they were quickly released (in addition, they were “accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin”) to the consternation of some Turkish papers, which have “been rife with speculation that the Erdogan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels.” The DIA classified paper described how one al-Nusra member, working at a Turkish firm, provided “’price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors.’” In fact, the rebels mounted a series of chemical weapon attacks in March-April 2013 which was investigated by a special UN mission to Syria. It found in one village, Khan Al-Assal, that “at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities.” But the UN would not assign responsibility for the attack, stating in its report, “’Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’”

The DIA also circulated a daily classified report called SYRUP which dealt with the Syrian conflict (including intelligence on chemical weapons) that soon Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff, abruptly curtailed. Hersh notes, “The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria,” and as much internal discussion went on about Obama’s red line: “The joint chiefs asked the White House, ‘What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?’ They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.” The secretiveness is characteristic of his style, and one can assume the worst from his silence. Not unrelated to this, Hersh continues (war criminality still before us): “In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, “the White house rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently ‘painful’ to the Assad regime. The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer.’”

The itemization of death—two-thousand pound bombs, stand-by search-and-rescue teams—is altogether fitting, given Obama’s hit-list, his movement of military “assets” to the Pacific as a warning to China, his closeness to both the military and intelligence communities, so that his personal interest in destroying Assad, just as he would like, Putin and Xi, makes perfect sense. Hersh: “At this stage, Obama’s premise—that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin—was unravelling,” the Porton Down material based on chemical samples from Ghouta pulling the rug from under him (though not given wide public currency). The British message to the joint staff was, “’We’re being set up here,’” referring to the way the rebel forces claimed Assad had used sarin, and “the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, ‘It had to be Assad.’” Curiously it was Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs, who was skeptical of Assad’s guilt, and who warned Congress that summer “of the danger of American military involvement in Syria, telling Senate Armed Services “’there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’” Even Obama’s decision to go to Congress for approval of the Syrian campaign was pure Machiavellian: Like the Iraq experience, “if the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways—wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.”

The bombing campaign was scratched, but its rationale still governed Washington thinking: “Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war.” We can now move from red line to, as in the subtitle, rat line which, shades of Iran-Contra, meant a switch in tactics: “The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted its role in creating what the CIA calls ‘a rat line,’ a back channel highway into Syria.” Here weapons were funneled “from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition.” Many who received them were jihadists, “some of them affiliated with al-Qaeda.” The remainder of the article takes up the role of Turkey, even touching on Benghazi, where arms shipments from Libya began, with Erdogan using the political liaison with the rebels as a bargaining chip to get America to play a more active role in Syria. Erdogan met with Obama in Washington, insisting that Assad had crossed the red line, and like Bandar with Putin, intimating that Turkey would take its own action. Erdogan did get something: “Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country.” This was quite a source of enrichment for Erdogan’s circle.

Yet Erdogan, because the CIA was ending its weapons shipments to the Syrian rebels, was being left “exposed politically and militarily,” giving urgency, according to a briefing paper prepared for Dempsey and Chuck Hagel, to the Turkish “’need to do something that would precipitate a US military response {as the rebels fell further behind].’” American intelligence analysts, the former intelligence officer stated, believed that “’the immediate suspect [for the sarin attack] was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’” He continued, “’We now know it was covert action planned by Erdogan’s people to push Obama over the red line. They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors [investigating an earlier attack] were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey—that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’” Whatever the determination of responsibility for the sarin attack, too much points away from Assad’s involvement, while in Obama’s case, too much points toward obsessive concern over regime change which led him to support rebel forces, fictionalize them as “moderate,” sunder Syria’s connection to Russia and Iran, plant the US military, economic, and political presence solidly in the region, and give vent to the expression of personal greatness.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.