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.