The reader need not depend on The Financial Times for a defense of America’s Wars of Empire. The New York Times has published Sen. Tom Cotton’s essay on the subject, that repeats the highfalutin shibboleths of ‘Wilsonian Idealism’, with far greater fidelity than these editorial writers could possibly muster.
After President Bashar al-Assad of Syria once again attacked his own citizens with poison gas, the civilized world recoiled in horror at images of children writhing in pain and suffocating to death. President Trump voiced this justified outrage at a news conference on Wednesday, and the next day he took swift, decisive action against the outlaw Assad regime. But these strikes did more than simply punish Mr. Assad and deter future attacks; they have gone a long way to restoring our badly damaged credibility in the world.
It’s hard to overstate just how low the standing of the United States had fallen because of President Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his own “red line” against Mr. Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013. I was one of the few Republican members of Congress who supported strikes against Syria then. Because of that, I’ve heard from dozens of world leaders expressing their doubts about the security commitments of the United States.
Although, I have only posted the first two paragraphs of his essay, I’ve provided a link to the whole essay. Call this a stirring defense of Pax American, by the protege of both arch-reactionary Harvey Mansfield, and Porcine Spartan William Kristol.
What lessons might the reader learn form Seymour Hersh’s 2013 essay on the ‘chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August.’ ?
But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’
The complaints focus on what Washington did not have: any advance warning from the assumed source of the attack. The military intelligence community has for years produced a highly classified early morning intelligence summary, known as the Morning Report, for the secretary of defence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a copy also goes to the national security adviser and the director of national intelligence. The Morning Report includes no political or economic information, but provides a summary of important military events around the world, with all available intelligence about them. A senior intelligence consultant told me that some time after the attack he reviewed the reports for 20 August through 23 August. For two days – 20 and 21 August – there was no mention of Syria. On 22 August the lead item in the Morning Report dealt with Egypt; a subsequent item discussed an internal change in the command structure of one of the rebel groups in Syria. Nothing was noted about the use of nerve gas in Damascus that day. It was not until 23 August that the use of sarin became a dominant issue, although hundreds of photographs and videos of the massacre had gone viral within hours on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. At this point, the administration knew no more than the public.
Or this from Mr. Hersh’s reporting on Samantha Power role in the 2013 Obama policy:
One legislator with more than two decades of experience in military affairs told me that he came away from one such briefing persuaded that ‘only the Assad government had sarin and the rebels did not.’ Similarly, following the release of the UN report on 16 September confirming that sarin was used on 21 August, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told a press conference: ‘It’s very important to note that only the [Assad] regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin.’
It is not known whether the highly classified reporting on al-Nusra was made available to Power’s office, but her comment was a reflection of the attitude that swept through the administration. ‘The immediate assumption was that Assad had done it,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘The new director of the CIA, [John] Brennan, jumped to that conclusion … drives to the White House and says: “Look at what I’ve got!” It was all verbal; they just waved the bloody shirt. There was a lot of political pressure to bring Obama to the table to help the rebels, and there was wishful thinking that this [tying Assad to the sarin attack] would force Obama’s hand: “This is the Zimmermann telegram of the Syrian rebellion and now Obama can react.” Wishful thinking by the Samantha Power wing within the administration. Unfortunately, some members of the Joint Chiefs who were alerted that he was going to attack weren’t so sure it was a good thing.’
Mr. Hersh’s reporting on Obama’s abandonment of his ‘Red Line’:
The administration’s distortion of the facts surrounding the sarin attack raises an unavoidable question: do we have the whole story of Obama’s willingness to walk away from his ‘red line’ threat to bomb Syria? He had claimed to have an iron-clad case but suddenly agreed to take the issue to Congress, and later to accept Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical weapons. It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans.
Nor can the reader of Mr. Hersh’s essay ignore the political/ideological/religious factionalism that defines the ‘Rebels’. We have been in this territory before, yet Trump’s unslakable bellicosity, allied to his advisers, drawn from the most jingoistic factions of the military, make conflict inevitable. The stark lessons of 2013, as reported upon by Hersh, will be ignored in favor of a de-evolutionary Pax Americana, in a 21st Century dominated by Trumpism, that can only lead to catastrophe.