If any of these rhetorical tactics are ringing a bell, it's because they are reminiscent of how the neocons frightened the American people into supporting the Iraq War in 2002-03. Back then, Bush administration officials blended unsubstantiated claims about Iraq's WMDs with the prospect of them being shared with al-Qaeda.
In both cases -- Iraq then and Syria now -- the existence of those dangerous chemical weapons was in serious doubt and, even if they did exist, the two governments -- of Saddam Hussein then and Bashar al-Assad now -- were hostile to the Sunni fundamentalists in al-Qaeda and now its spinoff, ISIS.
Yet, this effort to confuse the American public -- by manipulating their lack of knowledge about the power relationships in the Middle East -- might work once more, by putting "black hats" on both Assad and ISIS and blurring the fact that they are bitter enemies.
In the weeks ahead, Assad also will surely be portrayed as obstructing the U.S. attacks on ISIS. He likely will be blamed for a lack of cooperation with the airstrikes even though it was the Obama administration that refused to coordinate with Assad's government.
ISIL or ISIS?
Among anti-neocon "realists" inside the U.S. intelligence community, the concern about how these airstrikes into Syria might lead to dangerous mission creep is so great that I'm told that some senior analysts are even suspicious of President Obama's repeated use of the acronym "ISIL" -- for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -- instead of the more common "ISIS," referring only to Iraq and Syria.
The concern is that "the Levant" suggests a larger area including all "Mediterranean lands east of Italy," that theoretically could include everything from Turkey to Palestine and Jordan to parts of Egypt. One source said inclusion of the phrase "ISIL," instead of "ISIS," in any "use of force" resolution could be significant by creating a possibility of a much wider war.
In his speech to the nation on Wednesday, Obama continued to use the acronym "ISIL" but his references to U.S. military operations were limited to Iraq and Syria.
The most controversial part of Obama's speech was his open declaration to conduct cross-border attacks into Syria in clear violation of international law. He also vowed to increase military support for rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad government.
Obama declared that "we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition," and he requested additional resources from Congress. He added: "We must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria's crisis once and for all," a further suggestion that "regime change" is again in play.
Exactly what Obama thinks he can get from the Syrian opposition is a mystery, since he himself stated in an interview just last month that the notion that arming the supposedly "moderate" rebels would have made a difference in Syria has "always been a fantasy."
He told the New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman: "This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards."
Nevertheless, Obama has now trotted out that old "fantasy" in connection with his plan to extend the war against ISIS into Syria. Obama also knows that many of the previous Syrian "moderates" who received U.S. weapons later unveiled themselves to be Islamists who repudiated the U.S.-backed opposition and allied themselves with al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Syrian Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda."]
Given that record -- and Obama's knowledge of it -- what is one to make of the deceptive formulation that he presented to the American people on Wednesday night?
One explanation could be that Obama plans a more direct -- albeit secretive -- U.S. role in removing Assad and putting a new regime into power in Damascus. Or Obama might be simply pandering to the neocons and liberal hawks who would have gone berserk if he had acknowledged the obvious, that the smart play is to work quietly with Assad to defeat ISIS and al-Nusra Front.