The last time major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. On Aug. 30, 2013 he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “We know” the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on August 21.
Just a few days later, it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. On Aug. 30, no one knew for sure. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground in refusing to say “we know” when U.S. intelligence did not know. We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this in a Memorandum for the President on September 6. [for details, see Consortium News.com’s Obama Warned on Syrian Intel.]
Determined to avoid a repeat of the fraudulent intelligence performance on WMD before the March 2003 attack on Iraq, this time our former colleagues refused to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as the British Downing Street Minutes document put it. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director, John Brennan, was able to provide Kerry with the usual “Intelligence Assessment” he wanted. So the best he could do was to issue a “Government Assessment” bereft of verifiable evidence.
It was, from the start, twisting logic out of shape to reason that Assad would have seen merit in launching such a chemical attack a couple of days after UN inspectors arrived in Damascus precisely to investigate previous incidents of this type. Besides, the evidence quickly began to accumulate that the Syrian rebels had Sarin gas and that it was they who were responsible for what had happened near Damascus on August 21.
Why? Because they had suffered a string of setbacks earlier last summer, and because they, the Turks, and others were becoming convinced that only open US military involvement would have a good chance of staving off looming defeat. So they set out, with Kerry’s apparent support, to mousetrap President Obama into “retaliating” against Syria for crossing the “red line” Obama had set regarding the use of chemical weapons.
Kerry’s performance on August 30 was a clarion call for attacking Syria, and might have prevailed, were it not for the courage of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, who intervened and talked sense to the President. Less than 24 hours after Kerry spoke, Obama surprised virtually everyone by announcing that he had decided not to attack Syria immediately, but rather would go to Congress for authorization for such an attack.
The following day (Sept. 1), Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham angrily confirmed that Dempsey’s intervention had put the kibosh on their clearly expressed wish to attack Syria immediately. In the wake of Obama’s decision, France had to be told to decrease the alert status of the fighter-bombers it had on tarmac, and Israel had to be told it could relax the highest-alert posture of its defenses.
Kerry: Giving It the College Try
But an attack on Syria was still in play, and Kerry gave a bravura performance in his September 3 testimony to a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, whose leaders showed by their own remarks the degree to which they were lusting for an attack on Syria. Kerry’s testimony on Syria, which included a transparently dubious attempt to play down the role and effectiveness of al-Qaeda, drew unusual personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking of Kerry during a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin said: “He is lying, and he knows he is lying. It is sad.”
Kerry continued to dissemble. Still arguing for war on Syria, Kerry was asked at the end of a Sept. 9 press conference in London whether there was anything at all that Assad could do to prevent a US attack. Kerry answered (quite dismissively particularly in view of subsequent events) that Assad could give up all his chemical weapons, but “He isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.”
Later that same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart announced that Syria had agreed to allow all its chemical weapons to be removed and destroyed. Cutting out Kerry, Obama had cut a deal directly with Putin. Syria’s chemical weapons have now been removed and destroyed.
The whole thing came as a serious blow to the neocons lusting for a US attack on Syria, as I was able to witness from a front-row seat at CNN, after doing an interview for their international service on Sept. 9. I had the “privilege” of being with neocons Joe Lieberman and Paul Wolfowitz at CNN’s Washington studio that evening, just hours after the deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons was announced. They were disconsolate; the mood was funereal. I described our unusual encounter under the subhead “Morose at CNN.” [See Consortium News.com’s How The War on Syria Lost its Way.]
Kick the Tires on Kerry’s Juggernaut
So this is the backdrop against which to give credence, or not, to Kerry as he stacks up the evidence against Russia for its alleged role in the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner on Thursday over Ukraine. [For details, see Consortium News.com’s Kerry’s Latest Reckless Rush To Judgment.]
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He came to Washington over 50 years ago and worked as a CIA analyst under seven Presidents, one less than Gates. Ray now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Reprinted with permission from OpEd News.