Time to Reveal U.S. Intel on Syria

Were White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough not pushing for yet another war based on what look to be false pretenses, one might feel sorry for him after his multiple TV appearances on Sunday arguing for a military strike on Syria. This unenviable job fell to McDonough as pinch-hitter for the two more natural choices to push the Obama administration’s case for a “limited” war on Syria.

An obvious choice would have been National Security Adviser Susan Rice, but her reputation for truthfulness got seriously tarnished after she made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, 2012, and stuck to inaccurate talking points about the attack on the U.S. “mission” in Benghazi, Libya.

A second likely candidate would have been Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, but he has admitted to telling “clearly erroneous” things in sworn testimony to Congress regarding the collection of phone data on American citizens.

Clapper also might have been asked embarrassing questions about why the four-page “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013,” was released by the White House rather than by the DNI’s office, thus suggesting that the white paper did not have the endorsement of the full U.S. intelligence community.

Citing the curious provenance of the “Government Assessment,” Gareth Porter reported that the document appeared to be a political product of the White House rather than a professional assessment from the intelligence agencies. Yet, by implying that the document had the imprimatur of the U.S. intelligence community, the White House has used the white paper to preempt congressional questions about who was actually responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical incident in a Damascus suburb.

“Leading members of Congress to believe that the document was an intelligence community assessment and thus represents a credible picture of the intelligence on the alleged chemical attack of Aug. 21 has been a central element in the Obama administration’s case for war in Syria,” Porter wrote.

If you were in the White House, you wouldn’t want Clapper to be asked how many U.S. intelligence analysts had doubts about whether the Syrian government launched an intentional chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 and whether President Bashar al-Assad was responsible, would you?

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Should We Fall Again for ‘Trust Me’?

In a dazzling display of chutzpah, the White House is demanding that Congress demonstrate blind trust in a U.S. intelligence establishment headed by James Clapper, a self-confessed perjurer.

That’s a lot to ask in seeking approval for a military attack on Syria, a country posing no credible threat to the United States. But with the help of the same corporate media that cheer-led us into war with Iraq, the administration has already largely succeeded in turning public discussion into one that assumes the accuracy of both the intelligence on the apparent Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria and President Barack Obama’s far-fetched claim that Syria is somehow a threat to the United States.

Here we go again with the old political gamesmanship over ”facts” as a prelude to war, a replay of intelligence trickery from Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin to Iraq’s nonexistent WMD. Once more, White House officials are mounting a full-court press in Congress, hoping there will be enough ball turnovers to enable the administration to pull out a victory, with the corporate media acting as hometown referees.

And in the weekend talk shows, Secretary of State John Kerry, team co-captain in this transparent effort to tilt the playing field, certainly had his game face on. Kerry left little doubt that he KNOWS that the Syrian government is guilty of launching a chemical weapons attack on suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. How do we know he knows? Simple: It’s “Trust me” once again.

Did you not watch Kerry’s bravura performance before the TV cameras on Friday when he hawked the dubious evidence against the Syrian government? Someone should tell Kerry that using the word “know” 35 times does not suffice to dispel well-founded doubts and continuing ambiguities about the “intelligence,” such as it is. The administration’s white paper, issued to support Kerry’s “knowledge,” didn’t provide a single verifiable fact that established Syrian government guilt. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War.”]

But with his bravado, Kerry’s ploy was obvious – to sweep aside serious questions about the evidence and move the discussion simply to one of how much punishment should be inflicted on Syria. “So now that we know what we know, the question … is: What will we do?” Kerry said Friday.

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An Appeal to Gen. Dempsey on Syria

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has spoken soberly about the dangers from any military strike on Syria, but press reports indicate President Obama is still set on launching cruise missiles in the coming days, an action that former U.S. intelligence professionals say should prompt Dempsey’s resignation.

MEMORANDUM FOR: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
SUBJECT: Syria and Our Oath to Defend the Constitution

Dear Gen. Dempsey:

Summary: We refer to your acknowledgment, in your letter of July 19 to Sen. Carl Levin on Syria, that a “decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war.” It appears that the President may order such an act of war without proper Congressional authorization.

As seasoned intelligence and military professionals solemnly sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we have long been aware that – from private to general – it is one’s duty not to obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing would be to resign, rather than be complicit.

In responding to questions on military options voiced at your re-nomination hearing on July 18, your letter to the chair of the Committee on Armed Services reflects that you acknowledge Congress’s Constitutional role with respect to U.S. “acts of war.” Equally important, you addressed these words to Sen. Levin: “You deserve my best military advice on how military force could be used in order to decide whether it should be used.” (emphasis in your letter).

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Brandon Toy’s Act of Conscience

From the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence:

Courage, like cowardice, often comes in individual, incremental pieces building toward something great and honorable, or small and dishonorable. The resignation of Brandon Toy from General Dynamics fits into the former category and is so honored by an organization of former intelligence officials.

We, the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII), salute Brandon Toy, who chose to walk away from his job with a U.S. defense contractor to protest the U.S. government’s violation of human and civil rights. Mr. Toy properly followed the dictates of his conscience. His very public renunciation (see below) of misdeeds by the U.S. military-industrial-surveillance complex is an act of protest that, we hope, will inspire others to hold their own governments to account.

Secrecy is a tool states use most commonly in order to mask unethical, unconstitutional, criminal and foolish behavior. Brandon Toy’s informed rejection of a system that is violating the basic rights of its own citizens depends on whistleblowers, who in turn rely on courageous, professional journalists to inform the public.

As committed truth-tellers and whistleblowers from several countries, members of SAAII placed our careers, livelihoods, and, in some cases, our personal freedom on the line so that people like Mr. Toy would have the needed information to weigh career against moral duty.

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Candidates Punt on Iraq-Israel

Ray’s Stray Thoughts

Candidates Speak: Un-Reality About Iraq (Updated)

You say you expected more rhetoric than reality from Senators Obama and McCain yesterday in their speeches on Iraq and Afghanistan?  Well, that’s certainly what you got.

What I find nonetheless amazing is how they, and the pundits, have taken such little notice of the dramatic change in the political landscape occasioned by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s bombshell on July 7—his insistence on a “timetable” for withdrawal of US troops before any accord is reached on their staying past the turn of the year.

Responding to a question at his press conference yesterday, President George W. Bush showed that he was vaguely aware that the timetable is, as Robert Dreyfuss says (in Truthout, July 7), a “big deal.”  Bush even alluded haltingly to the possibility of extending the UN mandate still further.

But it is far from clear that Maliki, who is under great domestic pressure, would be able to sell that to the various factions upon which he depends for support, much less to those which he must keep at bay.  As Dreyfuss points out, Maliki and his Shiite allies are also under considerable pressure from Iran, which remains the chief ally of the ruling alliance of Shiites.  Most important, Maliki is by no means in control of what happens next.

Israel

Here’s where it gets sticky.  No one who knows about third rails in US politics would expect the candidates or the fawning corporate media (FCM) to address how those now running Israel are likely to be looking at the implications of a large US troop withdrawal from Iraq next year.

I am remembering how I was pilloried on June 16, 2005, immediately after Congressman John Conyers’ rump-Judiciary Committee hearing in the bowels of the Capitol, for a candid answer to a question from one of his colleagues; i. e., if the invasion of Iraq was not about WMD, and not about non-existent ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, then why did we attack?

In answer, I used the acronym OIL.  O for oil; I for Israel; and L for Logistics, meaning the military bases deemed by neoconservatives as necessary to protect both.  Neither the House members present nor the media people seemed to have any problem with oil and military bases as factors—in itself an interesting commentary.

However, the suggestion that one main motive was an attempt to make that part of the Middle East safer for Israel (yes, folks, the neocons really thought that attacking Iraq would do that)—well, that was anathema.

As it is anathema today to suggest that this is still one of the main reasons, besides oil, that Elliott Abrams, other neocons—not to mention Vice President Dick Cheney and his team—insist we must stay, Maliki and his associates be damned.  (See the cartoon in the Washington Times today showing Maliki and words telling him “We are NOT leaving.”)

Here in Washington we can sit back and quibble over the implications of such remarks by Maliki and other Iraqi leaders.  The Israelis have to take such statements seriously.  No agreement on US forces staying into 2009 without a timetable for withdrawal?  For Tel Aviv, this is getting very serious.

My guess is the Israeli leaders are apoplectic.  The fiasco in Iraq clearly has made the region much more dangerous for Israel.  There are actually real “terrorists” and “extremists” now in Iraq, and the prospect of US troops leaving has got to be a cause of acute concern in Tel Aviv.

Keeping the US Entangled: Iran

This dramatic change—or even just the specter of it—greatly increases Israel’s incentive to ensure the kind of US involvement in the area that would have to endure for several years.  The Israelis need to create “facts on the ground”—something to guarantee that Washington will stand by what U.S. candidates, including Sen. Obama, call “our ally.”  (Never mind that there is no mutual US-Israel defense treaty.)  Israel is all too painfully aware that it has only six more months of Bush and Cheney.

The legislation drafted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) being so zealously promoted in Congress calls for the equivalent of a blockade of Iran.  That would be one way to entangle; there are many others.

The point is that the growing danger that the Israelis perceive will probably prompt them to find a way to get the US involved in hostilities with Iran.  Cheney and Bush have pretty much given them that license, with the president regularly pledging to defend “our ally” if Israel is attacked.

All Israel has to do is to arrange to be attacked.  Not a problem.

There are endless possibilities among which Israel can choose to catalyze such a confrontation—with or without a wink and a nod from Cheney and Abrams.  The so-called “amber light” said to have been given to the Israelis is, I believe, already seen as quite sufficient; they are not likely to feel a need to wait until it turns green.

So far, the resistance of U.S. senior military has been the only real obstacle to the madness of hostilities with Iran.  (And one need only read Scott Ritter’s article on Truthdig this week to get a sense for why they would be chary.)

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, has been described as warning the Israelis that a “Third Front” in the Middle East would be a disaster.  I think, rather, he was trying to warn anyone who might listen in Washington, including until now tone-deaf lawmakers.

Even if the pundits are correct in suggesting that Mullen is joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in trying to resist the neocons and Cheney, Mullen’s tone at his press conference two weeks ago suggested he is fighting a rear guard action—against the “crazies” in the White House, as well as those in Tel Aviv.  And when is the last time the crazies lost a political battle with such implications for Israel?

Mullen had just returned from Tel Aviv.  He appreciates better than most the fecklessness of endless speculation over whether Israel or the U.S. might strike Iran first.  Even if the Israeli leaders have no explicit assurances from the White House, they almost certainly calculate that, once a casus belli is established, their friends in Washington—and the troops they command—are likely to be committed to the fray big time.

Seatbelts Please…

Viewed from Tel Aviv it appears an increasingly threatening situation, with more urgent need to “embed” (so to speak) the United States even more deeply in the region—in a confrontation involving both countries with Iran.

A perfect storm is brewing:

— Petraeus ex Machina, with a record of doing Vice President Dick Cheney’s bidding, takes command of CENTCOM in September;

— Sen. McCain’s numbers are likely to be in the toilet at that point (because of the economy as much as anything else);

— McCain will be seen by the White House as the only candidate with something to gain by a wider war (just as by another “terrorist incident”);

— The Bush/Cheney months will be down to three;

— And Maliki will not be able to cave in to Washington on the timeline requirement he has publicly set.

In sum, Israel is likely to be preparing a September/October surprise designed to keep the US bogged down in Iraq and in the wider region by provoking hostilities with Iran.  And don’t be surprised if it starts as early as August.  Israel’s leaders may well plead for understanding on the part of those U.S. officials not tipped off in advance, claiming that they could not distinguish amber from green with their night-vision goggles on.

Would they hesitate?  Please tell me who…just who is likely to turn on the siren, pull them over, and even think of giving them a summons—once the patrol car computer confirms their privileged licenses?