Did Obama know Syria rebels also may have chemical weapon capability?

photo by Steve Rhodes

The Obama administration based much of their hurried march to war in Syria on the conclusion that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack, and indeed was the only faction with the capability to carry it out. However, a new report based on classified defense intelligence documents directly contradicts those conclusions, in turn questioning the entire rationale for the forestalled military intervention:

The Hersh article is based in part on a four-page secret cable given to a top official at the Defense Intelligence Agency on June 20, one of a group of intelligence community documents allegedly stating that jihadi rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra has the ability to make sarin gas. Sarin is the chemical believed to have been used in the Aug 21 chemical attack in Ghouta that crossed Obama’s “red line” and prompted the administration to push for a strike on Assad’s regime. The story is sourced mainly to intelligence and military officers and consultants.

“When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad,” Hersh writes.

If that sounds ironically familiar to you, you’re not alone. The Bush administration was widely condemned for “cherry-picked intelligence” about the Hussein regime and its apparently mythical weapons program, which led to the Iraq War. If true, this new report about Syria will be one more straw on the growing pile of evidence that President Obama, who campaigned as exactly the opposite, is really no different from any other elitist war-monger.

The report doesn’t claim that Syrian rebels or terrorists were responsible for the chemical attacks, but it would be deadly to the credibility of the Obama administration if those groups were (or still are?) in possession of the same chemicals or could produce them when they were so forceful in their conclusion that only the Assad government was so capable.

Even more troubling would be if these groups are capable of producing sarin or other chemical weapons while Assad’s regime allegedly dismantles their stockpiles and ability to produce them. That would potentially leave a terrorist organization operating in the region with an asymmetrical advantage, another problem for the United States to have to solve.

The administration is, of course, denying the report:

“We were clear with the Washington Post and Mr. Hersh that the intelligence gathered about the 21 August chemical weapons attack indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible,” said Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence. “Any suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence about a nonexistent alternative explanation is simply false.”

Seymour Hersh, the award-winning American journalist who previously broke earthshattering stories about Abu Ghraib and the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, had his report published in the London Review of Books, of all places, though BuzzFeed reports that it may have been intended to run in the Washington Post or New Yorker, where Hersh regularly contributes. It is unclear why it was not. If the story turns out to be true, and the Post and New Yorker both declined to run it, that could be hugely damaging to their journalistic credentials.

However, if the report is verified or at least corroborated, attention won’t be focused for very long on the newspaper and weekly magazine who declined to run the story, but on the administration that has hoodwinked the American public into trusting them in the wake of a war they so adamantly opposed, but whose playbook they may have been doing their best to follow step by step.

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