Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books detailing the strong evidence indicating that the Turkish government worked with Syrian rebels in a “false flag” operation of the worst sort: staging a chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August 2013. The intent was to throw blame for the attack on the Assad regime, thereby drawing the United States directly into the conflict; the use of chemical weapons against the rebels was a “red line” repeatedly laid down by Barack Obama as the trigger for an American intervention.
As we know, the gambit very nearly worked. In addition to the deep background behind the sarin attack, Hersh’s story also reveals the extent of the military operation planned by Obama. Although at the time, administration officials were speaking of “surgical strikes” and a limited response, the White House was in fact planning a massive attack involving the armed forces of three Western powers (the U.S., Britain and France) that would devastate the entire country and topple the regime. As Hersh writes:
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 former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
Yet even while the war plans kept racheting up to new levels of violence — including the targeting of civilian infrastructure, a blatant war crime which the United States now routinely commits, even celebrates, in all of its major military operations — the “intelligence” behind the loudly trumpeted charges of the Assad regime’s guilt in the attack was rapidly unraveling. Hersh details this process at length, and I won’t repeat it here. But no super-duper gazillion-dollar “intelligence” operation was needed to question the propaganda being catapulted about the attack at the time. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the situation knew that it made no sense for Assad to launch a small, strategically and tactically ineffective chemical weapons attack when he knew this was the one thing that would bring the full weight of the American military machine down on his head. Especially as his forces had clearly gained the upper hand in the civil war at that time. Indeed, his position of strength was the very thing that led the plotters to instigate a false flag attack; the only way to turn the losing tide, they reasoned, was to force an American military response.
In the end, at the last moment, when all signs were pointing to war with Syria, Obama called off the attack. It is not clear why, but several factors doubtless played a part. As Hersh describes, there was strong resistance to the attack from some segments of the military itself, which knew the ostensible casus belli was almost certainly false and feared the much larger, longer, debilitating conflagration that was certain to follow a massive American attack. More publicly, there was the remarkable vote in the UK parliament against military action against Syria — even as the ever-slavish British government was already sending its planes to join their American masters in the attack. This was undoubtedly significant, but one wonders now if it was the actual tipping point against war that it seemed at the time. After all, the Americans didn’t need their little dogsbody’s handful of planes nor its ever-diminishing diplomatic muscle to go through with the strike. (And in any case they retained the far more substantial support of France.) If Washington had wanted to act unilaterally, it would have done so. (And had a wider war ensued, Britain would certainly have entered on the American side.) There was also considerable domestic unease at the idea of war with Syria, which was also important. Although, again, once “our boys” were “in the field,” fighting for freedom against the new Hitler, no doubt there would have been a good deal of rallying around the flag.
But in the end, we can’t say for sure what caused the reversal. There may have been other factors we have no inkling of. And that’s another valuable aspect of the Hersh story: it shows, once again, how the world is really run — in almost total secrecy, behind thin facades of hype, hypocrisy and auto-hypnosis that have little or no connection to the reality of power’s operations. Almost nothing we are told is true; yet billions of words are poured out every year in earnest disquisitions on the meaning and import of the dumb shows and distractions our betters put on for us while they pick our pockets and set our world on fire.
There is much more in the Hersh piece, including more details on how the administration of the Peace Prize laureate has assiduously pushed policies that it knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would result in deadly weapons getting into the hands of some of the most virulent religious extremists on earth. It’s odd, isn’t it? In order to overthrow a repressive regime in Syria, the Peace Laureate allies himself in clandestine gun-running and the fomenting of sectarian violence with a regime, the Saudis, whose repression makes Assad’s Syria look like Haight-Ashbury in the Sixties. And while telling us that al Qaeda is such a deadly foe to all human values that our fight against it requires us to give up our own freedoms, violate our constitution, institute death squads, set up all-pervasive surveillance, and wage overt and covert wars all over the earth — the same Laureate is ensuring that groups openly allied with al Qaeda are being crammed full of weapons so they can spread sectarian violence across the Middle East and Africa.
Here, as everywhere in the Berserker Imperium, the dichotomy between rhetoric and reality is immeasurably vast, and widening all the time.
Also worth reading, as always, is the latest Anti-Empire Report from Bill Blum. He takes up the astonishing lies and historical misrepresentations Obama made in his recent European trip to re-ignite the Cold War. It was a jaw-dropping performance, as the Peace Laureate heartily defended the Hitlerian war of aggression against Iraq, and the war crimes in Serbia of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton. It was Clinton, you remember, who, before launching that splendid little war, rejected a Serbian peace offer that would have given him everything he demanded to “protect” Kosovo — save for a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. Clinton then proceeded to pulverize Serbia’s civilian infrastructure in a vicious bombing campaign that ended with an agreement which… gave Clinton everything he asked for except, er, a free pass for a complete military occupation of Serbia. In other words, Clinton took the original offer — but only after killing hundreds of innocent people, just to show everybody’s who’s boss.
Here again we see the reality of the “progressive,” “liberal,” “centrist,” “moderate” (or whatever) side of the American imperium: behind their noble words, their evocations of the “common good,” of justice, freedom, and human rights, there is the same murderous, pointless quest for dominance.