It started with Secretary of State John Kerry. On Monday, he made the Obama Administration's preliminary case for a US attack on Syria. He promised an administration response, after watching the YouTube videos of people suffering from some sort of attack in Syria had convinced him that the Syrian government had carried out an attack on innocent civilians. Anyone who questions this, he said, "needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass." That's it. With an intelligence budget of at least $100 billion plus, the Secretary of State is getting his information on what is happening in Syria through videos made by the US-allied opposition and uploaded to YouTube for propaganda value.
At best these videos only show the half-truth that their makers are seeking to convey. It is a very shaky foundation upon which to base a US war on a foreign country. His moral outrage that anyone might be skeptical about these videos is undermined by the incontrovertible fact that the Syrian opposition has a long history of falsifying evidence -- including fake videos -- of the Syrian government's war crimes.
All sides use propaganda in a war situation and have done so since the beginning of man's war on man.
Kerry further explained in his Monday statement, that "our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscience and guided by common sense."
The facts, it turned out, seem thus far to be very sketchy intelligence "helpfully" provided to the US administration by a highly interested party, Israeli intelligence. The Israelis claim to have listened in to a phone call where Syrian governmental officials discussed the chemical attack after the fact. A phone call, knowing Israeli intelligence capabilities.
And Kerry's "common sense"? Here is his logic: We know that the Syrian government has chemical weapons, we know they have the capacity to deliver the weapons, we know they wanted to clear the insurgents from the area, therefore we know it was the Syrian government who launched the attack.
And what of the fact that the opposition has launched several chemical attacks against Syrian government forces -- even UN official Carla Del Ponte has discovered as much? What of the opposition stockpile of chemical weapons discovered by Syrian government forces?
What of the evidence that it may well have been the opposition that used some sort of chemicals to attack on August 21st? What of the Turkish government's discovery of stores of chemical weapons being held by the insurgents inside Turkey?
All this counter-evidence would be illogical according to the administration, because it does not fit into the logic of the administration. To the US administration, the Syrian government must have carried out the attack because they had the capacity and the will. Any evidence that others might have also had both of these must be discounted. It spoils the narrative.
White House flack Jay Carney explained it in exactly that way: "There is also very little doubt, and should be no doubt for anyone who approaches this logically, that the Syrian regime is responsible for the use of chemical weapons on August 21st outside of Damascus."
The problem is that even Obama's willing accomplices in the UK and France started seeing through this flimsy logic. First in the UK, parliament threatened a showdown over Cameron's rush to war. A mass exodus of support, first from Labour and then from his own party, took the wind out of Cameron's sails, forcing him to delay his plan for an immediate missile attack on Syria.
In France, the particularly bloodthirsty President François Hollande two days ago vowed that France was "ready to punish" Syria for the alleged chemical attack. Two days later, France now believes that Syria needs a "political solution" instead of immediate bombs.
Even the White House finds itself backing down from its bellicosity of earlier this week (one wonders how many of the warmongering taking points were penned by Susan Rice and Samantha Power), dampening down expectations over its "irrefutable evidence" of Syrian government responsibility for the attack. The intelligence backing up the Administration's claims is "no slam dunk" now says unnamed senior intelligence officials, suggesting that what it has is even weaker than then-CIA director's George Tenet's "slam dunk" intelligence on Iraq that itself turned out to be bogus.
In the recent history of US war disasters, this is a loaded term -- do they really mean that the intelligence they possess to back up Obama and Kerry's claims is even weaker than the lies that took Bush to Iraq?
Finally, Obama himself has had to back down from the war cries of his own administration. First step beck, he promised that the US attack would not be in pursuit of the "regime change" objective. The US attack would not be a game changer. Then yesterday he suggested that he would only send a "shot across the bow" in Syria -- "not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about." Of course, the people who pushed us into Iraq at the time were promising us a "cake walk," so this is not very reassuring.
All of this begs the question: if the US/UK/French/Turk attack is not going to be anything significant, if, as House Speaker Boehner wrote to President Obama yesterday, an attack is a "means, not a policy", then what is the point? What is the policy?
Perhaps this is what President Obama is contemplating right now, like the self-reflective effect of a bad hangover after a night of revelry with the humanitarian interventionists and neocons and their lurid tales of remaking the world, perhaps he is reconsidering his drinking partners. We can only hope. However, sadly, the safe money remains on bombs. It usually is.
Flickr/The Prime Minister's Office