Even as He Joins Tribute to George W. Bush, Obama Capitulates to WMD Fearmongers

Congratulations to Shrub, who today gets his very own (as Jim calls it) Lie Bury.

How appropriate that even as the President who lied us into war with false WMD claims was speaking, the national security establishment was hyperventilating over what some are claiming is “confirmation” that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.

The reports are based on a letter sent to John McCain and Carl Levin — in response to a request they made 24 hours ago — stating (in part) the following:

Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin. This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example, the chain of custody is not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and in what conditions. We do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime. Thus far, we believe that the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons, and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people.

[snip]

Given the stakes involved, and what we have learned from our own recent experience, intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient — only credible and corroborated facts that provide us with some degree of certainty will guide our decision-making, and strengthen our leadership in the international community.

This letter comes a week after, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had suggested whether Syria had used chemical weapons was a policy question, not an intelligence one, and DIA Director Mike Flynn had said (in response to a question about North Korea intelligence) that DIA’s standard for confidence was lower than that of other Intelligence Community Agencies.

The government is saying the following:

  • Some IC members are very confident Assad has used sarin; others are not as confident
  • That judgment is based on physiological evidence (presumably taken from victims), but not “corroborated” by evidence about chain of control
  • That judgment assumes that any chemical weapons used in Syria would come from Assad

And based on that information, McCain and far too many members of the press are saying this “confirms” that Assad used chemical weapons.

Well, if and when we go to war based on WMD this time, Obama will be able to say that Congress was the entity making the most out of carefully caveated intelligence claims, not the President (though John Kerry appears to speaking without nuance).

Update: I’ve changed the headline to try to clarify the relationship between the Bush library ceremony and this release. I’m still not certain I’m happy with it, though, so please let me know if you’ve got suggestions.

Update: Arms Control Wonk’s Jeffrey Lewis commented on this, talking about the implicit shortcomings in the claims above (though with more credibility). In addition, he notes that because we’ve made this a “red line,” it increases the likelihood those who want us to intervene will cross it themselves.

Having set a red line for US involvement to deter Assad, we’ve also created an incentive for certain groups to tell stories that might result in more US assistance.  As I have noted before, these groups don’t appear particularly scrupulous when it comes to the truth.  So, I’d be very, very careful about leaping to conclusions.

And he also observes that even while the evidence might support a claim that someone in Assad’s regime used Sarin, it doesn’t appear to amount to an attack.

Suddenly the constant references to the “small scale” use becomes more clear — we don’t have multiple victims in a single use, as might be expected if the Syrians gassed a military unit or a local community.  At most, we have two events in which only one person was exposed.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. lefty665 says:

    Obama Capitulates to WMD Fearmongers and Duhbya, but I repeat myself.
    Obama Capitulates to WMD fearmongers and their leader.
    Obama Tribitulates to Duhbya and other WMD Fearmongers.

  2. Michael Murry says:

    I understand the utter tastelessness of this suggestion, but here goes anyway:

    “Obama performs a Monica Lewinsky on Deputy Dubya, getting WMD stains all over his pretty blue suit.”

  3. VC says:

    Perhaps the difficulty that you’re having with the title is that it’s not true. From USA Today article, “Analysts: Chemical weapon use hard to prove”:

    “The flawed intelligence that helped launch the Iraq War has made the Obama administration more wary of placing too much faith in intelligence. In letters to Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the White House said “intelligence assessments alone are not sufficient.”

    This might not so neatly fit into the narrative of President Obama as a power mad warmonger. This is an excellent blog because you always look for inconvenient facts. Don’t start sleepwalking.

  4. What Constitution? says:

    @prostratedragon: Ahhh, perspective. Gracias. And I believe it was Buckaroo Banzai who said “Wherever you go, there you are.” Yes, Obama went to Texas to intentionally be in that dude’s presence.

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    there are long term political, economic, and geographic interests in preserrving a pre-world-war-ii, or, certainly, a post WWII balance 0f power on Israel’s margins, and Assad is a pawn in that part of the geopolitics. John Kerry is facing the array of newly formed governments in the region, including even the new Роєсия.

  6. Jeff Kaye says:

    Of ourselves, the massive use of defoliants by the US in Vietnam is properly understood as a form of chemical warfare.

    The U.S. has no credibility in this instance.

  7. mlnw says:

    They’re too dense or too disingenuous to consider that Al Nusra brought canisters of sarin from Libya where there are stocks of the gas, which of course Al Nusra controls or has access to. (Oh, I forgot, Rogers was a Bureau agent.)

  8. Catherine Fitzpatrick says:

    One of the key reasons we never got a very strong or visible peace movement going in these last 10 years is that you leftists stayed obsessed with the “gotcha” that you gleefully obtained from catching Bush out in lies (or “misunderstandings”).

    It would have been great to continue trying to work with the UN instead of invade Iraq. I was all for that.

    However, I was also willing to hypothesize that Saddam had Russian help in gettings his WMDs out to Syria. Or someplace. Or we can’t really check. Or we’ll never really know.

    But the point is, the lack of WMDS, and the lack of a reason for war, is something you kept obsessing insanely about for years and years and years, even as every other day, 50 people would be blasted to death by terrorists, not American troops. And you never had a way to address that other than to whine that the US “drew them to this theater,” although they were there before (it was Saddam who filled up mass graves with them) and remain after (they keep killing people every other week).

    The US was drawn into a losing and ill-advised and unjust war. But what was your plan for terrorists, Iran, Al Qaeda? You always write — astoundingly — as if you believe that all the US has to do is be good, and not go to war to stop any of these bad people, and they will realize they shouldn’t be bad and stop.

  9. Bill Michtom says:

    Catherine Fitzpatrick,

    This comment from Michael Murry on another thread seems the best response to your troll-like statement:

    From Wikipedia:
    Sisyphus — In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever.

    From Bernard Fall, Street Without Joy (1961), summarizing the failed French — and doomed to fail — American attempts at militarily defeating a nationalist revolution in Southeast Asia:

    “… guerrilla warfare is nothing but a tactical appendage of a far vaster political contest and that, no matter how expertly it is fought by competent and dedicated professionals, it cannot possibly make up for the absence of a political rationale. A dead Special Forces sergeant is not spontaneously replaced by his own social environment. A dead revolutionary usually is.”

    Yes, indeed. The U.S. corporate military government does Sisyphus-style counter-insurgency/terrorism/militancy again and again and again — as just punishment for chronic deceitfulness. The gods have willed it so.

Comments are closed.