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Nor did intelligence analysts line up and accept something as true just because lots of people thought it was true -- even if that opinion was endorsed by "a former Iranian president." McDonough's reference to a disputed quote attributed to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani may have been the first time a U.S. official has cited the alleged statement of an Iranian ex-president as an authoritative source for anything.
But these days, a U.S. government bent on going to war will grab at any straw to advance its arguments no matter how fragile and flimsy.
As McDonough is aware, the administration's formidable task in the next days is to convince members of Congress that they must accept this conjured-up "conventional wisdom" or risk being called out of step with what "the entire world believes." But that this sort of persuasion by endorsement is, for once, not going well has become quite clear, even to those watching the Sunday talk shows.
The carnival of congressional briefings held since Aug. 31 when President Barack Obama asked Congress to authorize a military strike on Syria not only has failed to rally a solid majority of members but seems to have been counterproductive.
House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, a strong supporter of military action against Syria, said he thought it "very clear" that the President lost support in the last week as members of Congress began drifting back to the nation's capital often after getting an earful from their constituents -- across the political spectrum -- who are opposed to yet another war.
Meanwhile, the case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seemingly coming apart at the seams, as is seen in a comment by the chairman the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, R-California, no peace-monger he: "They haven't linked it [the evidence on the use of chemical agent] directly to Assad, in my estimation."
And Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, added: "The evidence is not as strong as the public statements that the President and the administration have been making. There are some things that are being embellished in the public statements. " The briefings have actually made me more skeptical about the situation."
An Incredulous Look
Even some Democrats who initially opted for blind devotion to the President -- to avoid lashes from the whip of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her surrogates -- may be having second thoughts.
In a discussion I had with a "progressive" congressman from Northern Virginia on Saturday evening, it was clear that he had made an early decision to drink the White House Kool-Aid. Stares of incredulity met my assertion that the "intelligence" was once again being "fixed around the policy."
Yet, according to the Associated Press, multiple U.S. officials have said that the intelligence tying Assad himself to the Aug. 21 attack was "not a slam dunk" -- a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet's insistence in 2002 that U.S. "intelligence" could be shaped to present a convincing public case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Skeptics of the Obama administration's case cite not only the lack of evidence of a direct link between Assad and the Aug. 21 incident, but still-unresolved questions about the alleged chemical weapons attack itself.
Confronted in London on Monday with a question regarding Assad's personal responsibility if indeed government forces launched the attack, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to concede implicitly the flimsiness of the evidence on Assad's role. "The Assad regime is the Assad regime," he protested, adding that he (Kerry) knows that information on the results of the chemical event went "directly to Assad."
But again there is the gap in Kerry's logic. Just because officials informed Assad about the incident after it occurred doesn't mean that Assad or even elements of his military conducted the attack. If the incident were the result of an accidental release of chemical agents or if it were an intentional provocation by Saudi-supplied rebels, Syrian officials would still inform Assad about what happened.
Another embarrassing issue cited by AP is the revelation that U.S. intelligence has lost track of some chemical weaponry in Syria, leaving a possibility that rebels acquired some of the deadly substances from government stockpiles.
A Way Out for Obama