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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint news conference with Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh (not seen) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Amman July 17, 2013.
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The last time major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. On Aug. 30, 2013 he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, "We know" the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on August 21.
Just a few days later, it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. On Aug. 30, no one knew for sure. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground in refusing to say "we know" when U.S. intelligence did not know. We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this in a Memorandum for the President on September 6. [for details, see Consortium News.com's Obama Warned on Syrian Intel.]
Determined to avoid a repeat of the fraudulent intelligence performance on WMD before the March 2003 attack on Iraq, this time our former colleagues refused to "fix the intelligence around the policy," as the British Downing Street Minutes document put it. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director, John Brennan, was able to provide Kerry with the usual "Intelligence Assessment" he wanted. So the best he could do was to issue a "Government Assessment" bereft of verifiable evidence.
It was, from the start, twisting logic out of shape to reason that Assad would have seen merit in launching such a chemical attack a couple of days after UN inspectors arrived in Damascus precisely to investigate previous incidents of this type. Besides, the evidence quickly began to accumulate that the Syrian rebels had Sarin gas and that it was they who were responsible for what had happened near Damascus on August 21.
Why? Because they had suffered a string of setbacks earlier last summer, and because they, the Turks, and others were becoming convinced that only open U.S. military involvement would have a good chance of staving off looming defeat. So they set out, with Kerry's apparent support, to mousetrap President Obama into "retaliating" against Syria for crossing the "red line" Obama had set regarding the use of chemical weapons.
Kerry's performance on August 30 was a clarion call for attacking Syria, and might have prevailed, were it not for the courage of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, who intervened and talked sense to the President. Less than 24 hours after Kerry spoke, Obama surprised virtually everyone by announcing that he had decided not to attack Syria immediately, but rather would go to Congress for authorization for such an attack.
The following day (Sept. 1), Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham angrily confirmed that Dempsey's intervention had put the kibosh on their clearly expressed wish to attack Syria immediately. In the wake of Obama's decision, France had to be told to decrease the alert status of the fighter-bombers it had on tarmac, and Israel had to be told it could relax the highest-alert posture of its defenses.
Kerry: Giving It the College Try
But an attack on Syria was still in play, and Kerry gave a bravura performance in his September 3 testimony to a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, whose leaders showed by their own remarks the degree to which they were lusting for an attack on Syria. Kerry's testimony on Syria, which included a transparently dubious attempt to play down the role and effectiveness of al-Qaeda, drew unusual personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin.