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Belmont Club

You Got My Brother But You Didn’t Get Me

December 9th, 2013 - 5:19 am

Seymour Hersh’s expose in the London Review of Books, which the Washington Post allegedly refused to publish accuses Barack Obama of lying about the Syrian chemical weapons attack which nearly triggered a US attack on Assad.  Hersh makes two key assertions:

First, Obama retroactively cooked up the narrative that the Assad regime was responsible for the infamous sarin attack on civilians in Eastern Ghouta. Second, that the rebel al-Nusra Front, a jihadi faction of the rebel alliance, might plausibly have been the real culprits.

Obama altered the sequence of what he knew and when he knew it, making it appear as if he was following an unfolding atrocity instead of reconstructing it from hindsight, in order to add to the drama. More importantly, he minimized the possibility of that al-Nusra and the other Jihadi factions might have been the actual perpetrators in this case because, Hersh strongly suggests, he was eager to frame Assad.

A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’

Hersh might of course be entirely off-base, his sources misinformed; or perhaps the veteran journalist is making up his expose out of whole cloth. But that is what the news cycle of the next few days will focus on: the question of whether the president lied to the world — to the point of using military force on false pretenses — in order to advance a political agenda.

If the past is any guide, Hersh’s accusations will be overtaken by whatever new scandal is waiting in the wings. The president seems to have an endless supply of them. It will join the long list of unsolved mysteries, including but not limited to the puzzle of Benghazi, the IRS crackdown on conservative political organizations, the wiretapping of an entire AP press bureau; the inexplicable billion dollar Obamacare website that still doesn’t work; the question of whether his deal with Iran is just a setup and much, much more.

But while it lasts the Hersh expose is interesting. The most striking thing is what it says about the presidential decision making process.  Obama apparently begins with a narrative for which facts are found a posteriori. The narrative then turns into a runaway freight train that drags all along with it.

On 30 August it invited a select group of Washington journalists (at least one often critical reporter, Jonathan Landay, the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, was not invited), and handed them a document carefully labelled as a ‘government assessment’, rather than as an assessment by the intelligence community. The document laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration’s case against the Assad government.

In the case of Syria insiders began to worry about where this was going. One overt worrier was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “There is evidence that during the summer some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were troubled by the prospect of a ground invasion of Syria as well as by Obama’s professed desire to give rebel factions non-lethal support. In July, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, provided a gloomy assessment, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in public testimony that ‘thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces’ would be needed to seize Syria’s widely dispersed chemical warfare arsenal, along with ‘hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers’.”

Those worries only slowed but did not stop the train. The refusal of the British parliament provided another speed bump but the juggernaut had still not stopped.  Then something happened, whose character puzzles Hersh so much that it is the key riff in his piece; something that changed Obama’s calculus over the entire Syrian sarin incident. Hersh writes that after being so eager to attack Obama then changed direction so swiftly the evolution seemed to come almost from nowhere:

The administration’s distortion of the facts surrounding the sarin attack raises an unavoidable question: do we have the whole story of Obama’s willingness to walk away from his ‘red line’ threat to bomb Syria? He had claimed to have an iron-clad case but suddenly agreed to take the issue to Congress, and later to accept Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical weapons. It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans

Was Obama deflected from his attack on Assad by the refusal of the UK to go along? Or was there something else?

We now know that Obama, even as he beat the drum of war against Assad, was secretly negotiating with the Iranians on a deal to roll back the sanctions. He was talking to Assad’s patrons even as he was presenting his war talking points to journalists against the Syrians. “Israel found out about the existence of secret talks between the United States and Iran months before they were officially informed of the negotiations by the U.S. government, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz.”

The back door contact was set up even before Iran’s June presidential election, the two reports said. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns led the talks on the American side and the first meeting was held in March, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still president, according to the Associated Press.

How could he do both at once?

Two possible explanations suggest themselves. Either the hue and cry over the sarin attack was part of some deep strategy to affect his negotiations with Iran or it represented another track that the president was pursuing in parallel  without being aware of the conflict.

That is not entirely impossible. Recently the crown Prince of Bahrain complained that the administration was “schizophrenic”. “In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, warned that Barack Obama’s administration would lose influence in the region if it persisted with what a ‘transient and reactive’ foreign policy.”

Certainly some elements in Iran regard Obama as so toxic they don’t even want Rouhani in the same room with him. “The funeral service of Nelson Mandela could be a “trap” for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani because he could run into US President Barack Obama, a hardline Iranian daily warned Sunday.”

Hardline newspaper Kayhan warned in an editorial that if Rouhani attends it could bring him face to face with Obama, “head of the Great Satan government”.

“Some domestic and foreign media outlets are using the funeral ceremony as a pretext to push Rouhani towards a meeting with the head of the Great Satan government,” Kayhan said.

If so, the surprising about face that so puzzles Seymour Hersh may simply another Obama screwup. In that scenario, he drew a Red Line in a moment of absentmindedness, got carried away into thinking he might gain politically by attacking Assad, nearly got started on it but remembered he was negotiating with Iran, and when shocked back into wakefulness by the revolt of the British parliament decided to become best buddies with Rouhani.

All in a day’s work for the president who designed Obamacare.  And now he’s got a “deal” with Iran and getting ready to destroy some chemical weapons.

The supreme irony in all this however, is that in recompense for his deal with Iran he gets destroy or at least announce the destruction of Assad’s chemical arsenal when it may turn out that al-Nusra was guilty all along. “But what difference, at this point, does it make?”


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Top Rated Comments   
Seymour Hersh is a bad guy and represents the very worst of the MSM. Hersh's assertion that Islamic fascists fighting against the Assad regime were responsible for the sarin attack repeats what the Russians were saying shortly after the incident occurred. Possible conclusions:

1) Hersh and the Russians are both correct.
2) Hersh is repeating Russian agitprop but whether the agitprop is correct is unknown.
3) Hersh and the Russians are both liars. The sarin attack came from Assad.

My suspicion is that 2) is correct. This is what I believe is true:

There are no good guys in Syria.
Islamic fascists are capable of any evil imaginable.
Obama is incompetent and completely out of his depth.
Seymour Hersh is a scumbag.
Russian leadership is skilled at using agitprop.
Russian leadership is cynical about using Islamic fascists to advance their own political interests.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Then of course, one wonders what information on Obama the Russians have in their possession and how that might be used to "influence" his thinking. Hersh is correct to highlight the curious behavior. Whatever the root cause, it's not a happy thing for the U.S.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (34)
All Comments   (34)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
"Obama then changed direction so swiftly the evolution seemed to come almost from nowhere:"
People are nothing to him, mere abstracts to be manipulated.


Occam's Razor. The simple explanation is Treason.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
My model of the organization chart has the teleprompter reader reporting to the daughter of Iran. In this view, most of the endeavors are merely newsworthy distractions from the underlying agenda. That they are not all consistent with each other or apparently run competently should be no surprise. Moat of them are never intended to work out in the first place.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Whether Hersh is correct or not, Obama stumbled into an offer from Putin that he couldn't refuse. The US henceforth is hands-off the Russian client state of Syria (a la Castro's Cuba), Russia increases its prestige in the world for out-maneuvering America, Iran owes us a big favor (or at least what will appear to be one) for letting them retain their control of the Syrian situation and their ally in Assad, and Obama gets to take control of the Syrian CW stockpile for its destruction, along with the destruction of any evidence of the 'non-existent' Iraqi CW stockpile.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

Obama made the case for attacking Assad while secretly striking a deal with Iran to remove the sanctions, all the while knowing the sarin attack on Syrian civilians was done by the rebels and not by Assad. Meanwhile, the Iran deal comes apart as the Mullahs say they will continue running the centrifuges. The dance continues.

To the tune of Casey Would Waltz With A Strawberry Blonde

Barack would waltz with the Mullahed Iran
And the band played on
He waltzed cross the floor and he’d beg and implore
While the band played on
He’d beg and he’d plead till the Mullahs agreed
To stop and to not make a bomb
He tarried the while all the Mullahs would smile
And the band played on
The centrifuge spun as the Anointed One
Watched the band play on
He cried that the deal was forever and real
And the band played on
The test bomb exploded, the missiles were loaded
And Israel shook with alarm
With nary a glance O continued to dance
And the band played on

50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama did tell Medvedev that he would have more flexibility after the election. Now we have the Stretch Armstrong presidency, stretched to fantastical limits, only to snap back to normal size before the next episode, which comes all-too-soon.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Putin probably has the files of the old NKVD/GRU/KGB guy who recruited Grandpa Dunham when he was "bumming" on the West Coast in the '30s. He knows who Barry's daddy was.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
We can't ever forget that Obama isn't immoral, he's amoral. Right and wrong as we understand it are foreign concepts to him. To him; right is what he wants, and wrong is what he doesn't want. Period. He's as cold blooded and ruthless as a reptile. That's why he lies so easily and naturally. Is he mentally unbalanced? Of course he is.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're confusing being "mentally unbalanced" with being a "sociopath". A psychopath like Ted Bundy could be very intelligent, rational and coldly calculating. Some of history's most effective politicians and generals were sociopaths. How could William T. Sherman or Curtis LeMay be effective as generals and not be sociopaths? The sociopathic trait offers survival value which is why it's part of the human DNA. The moral dilemma is that sociopathic behavior of different degrees that could lead to a Joseph Stalin also results in a Winston Churchill.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I should add that the science fiction novel "Ender's Game" danced around the dilemma that a good general needs to be a sociopath. Orson Scott Card was the author of "Ender's Game". Card's solution to this dilemma was to use children as generals who were the product of a eugenics program. These children were trained from birth to be tacticians and then put in situations where they thought they were playing innocent computer games. In actuality the computer games were live combat. The kids playing these games were slaughtering millions and destroying worlds but did not know it.

"Ender's Game" is an excellent novel and has been adapted into a good quality movie. The forces for left-wing political correctness have successfully launched a smear campaign against Orson Scott Card and the movie because Card is a Mormon and politically conservative. I believe Mormonism is a bogus religion but also believe the movie "Ender's Game" was unfairly reviewed.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree with you that "Ender's Game" was excellent and its sequal, Speaker for the Dead, " even better.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ender's Game was on the Commandant's reading list for enlisted Marines in '99.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here's the USMC Commandant's reading list for enlisted Marines:

http://lgdata.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/docs/2215/631423/Commandants-Professional-Reading-List-Enlisted.pdf

The Commandant has good taste in books. I've read the following and agree that they are excellent:

"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane
"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
"Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae" by Steven Pressfield (an excellent author)
"The Face of Battle" by John Keegan (his book on WW-II is a must-read)
"The Mask of Command" by John Keegan

There are many books listed in the above link that look interesting. As soon as I finish this comment, I'm buying "Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army" by Donald W. Engels
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
MSimon,

Your link is interesting. Concerning boat people: A million years ago, I had a conversation with a ship's engineer who served on board a supertanker. The supertanker was going through the South China Sea just as the boat people genocide went into full swing. Supposedly the ocean's surface was covered with little boats in all directions to the horizon (thousands of people). The captain of the supertanker was moral and took on board as many refugees as he could until the entire deck of his ship was filled with people. He then sailed to Hong Kong to off-load the refugees. The engineer mentioned that as they traveled to Hong Kong, the small boats of the people not saved were being capsized by the supertanker's wake. The moral captain had to kill dozens of people to save the hundreds that were on the deck of his ship. The communists who took over South Vietnam were clever in how they disposed of their unwanted populated (liquidating fascists). Unlike the Nazis who had to go through the fuss and bother of cremating corpses, the Vietnamese communists let the ocean do all of their dirty work for them.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Seymour Hersh is a bad guy and represents the very worst of the MSM. Hersh's assertion that Islamic fascists fighting against the Assad regime were responsible for the sarin attack repeats what the Russians were saying shortly after the incident occurred. Possible conclusions:

1) Hersh and the Russians are both correct.
2) Hersh is repeating Russian agitprop but whether the agitprop is correct is unknown.
3) Hersh and the Russians are both liars. The sarin attack came from Assad.

My suspicion is that 2) is correct. This is what I believe is true:

There are no good guys in Syria.
Islamic fascists are capable of any evil imaginable.
Obama is incompetent and completely out of his depth.
Seymour Hersh is a scumbag.
Russian leadership is skilled at using agitprop.
Russian leadership is cynical about using Islamic fascists to advance their own political interests.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
At this point, what difference does it make? It's old news, Syria is old news.

It's the deal with Iran we have to be worried about.

Three more years. Of deals we have to worry about, then this long nightmare will be over.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Syrian thing is being played out through Iranian, Saudi and Russian proxies. Obama through stupidity or wisdom has opted out. The Syrian thing will impact on how the Iranians play out the nuclear weapons thing. Right now, Assad, the Iranians and the Russians are sitting pretty. There is no reason for the Iranians not to pursue their nuclear weapons ambitions. This situation exists partially due to failure within the American political system, e.g. the MSM, the rise of Obama, etc.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
A congenital liar like Obama who breathes while lying is successful among people who are basically honest. So he gets away with it - so far - in America.

By contrast the Middle East is basically your "Lying Olympics". I think Obama discovered he only has amateur liar status there and discovered he was about to be outrageously out-lied by the professionals. So he withdrew from Olympic competitive lying and came back to the comfort of home where many people still believe what he says.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Arabs do not value the truth for it own sake as do Anglo-Saxons. To tell an "unpleasant truth" is considered rude in Arab culture. This is a cultural thing. A similar example is the Japanese regard of saying "no" as being rude. Frame the question such that it isn't "unpleasant" and then maybe you'll get the truth, e.g. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if the world was at peace with itself under the noble religion of Islam?
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
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