Cross-posted from Consortium News
It was inconceivable to virtually every person who "mattered" in Washington that there was any other interpretation of the events on Aug. 21, 2013. Washington Post national security columnist David Ignatius even explained the "big picture" reason why President Barack Obama needed to launch punitive bomb strikes against Assad's government for crossing Obama's "red line" against using chemical weapons.
"What does the world look like when people begin to doubt the credibility of U.S. power?" Ignatius wrote a week after the Sarin incident...
"Unfortunately, we're finding that out in Syria and other nations where leaders have concluded they can defy a war-weary United States without paying a price."Using military power to maintain a nation's credibility may sound like an antiquated idea, but it's all too relevant in the real world we inhabit. It has become obvious in recent weeks that President Obama ... needs to demonstrate that there are consequences for crossing a U.S. 'red line.' Otherwise, the coherence of the global system begins to dissolve."
At the time, there were only a few of us raising questions about Official Washington's Sarin-attack "group think," partly because it made no sense for Assad to have invited United Nations inspectors into Syria to examine chemical weapons attacks that he was blaming on the opposition and then to launch a major Sarin attack just miles from where the inspectors were unpacking at their hotel.
I also was hearing from inside U.S. intelligence that some CIA analysts shared those doubts, suspecting that the supposedly high number of Sarin-laden rockets (which represented the strongest evidence against Assad's forces) was wildly overstated and that public panic might have exaggerated the scope of the attack.
But perhaps the strongest reason to doubt Official Washington's hasty conclusion blaming Assad was what had been occurring inside the Syrian rebel movement over the prior two years, i.e., its radicalization into a hyper-violent Sunni jihadist force that was prepared to inflict any brutality on civilians to achieve its goal of ousting the secular Assad and establishing an Islamist state in Damascus.
Blinded by Propaganda
Most Washington's pols and pundits had not noticed this change because of a geopolitical blindness inflicted by neoconservative propaganda, which insisted that the only acceptable way to view the Syrian civil war was to see Assad as the "bad guy" and the rebels as the "good guys."
After all, "regime change" in Syria had long been near the top of the neocon agenda as it was for Israel, which wanted Assad out because he was allied with Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Early in the civil war, Assad's harsh response to what he termed rebel "terrorism" had also rallied the Obama administration's "liberal interventionists" to the side of "regime change."
Thus, the notion that some vicious Syrian rebel group might willfully kill innocent civilians as a provocation to get the U.S. military to attack Assad's defenses -- and thus pave the way for a rebel victory -- was outside Official Washington's accepted frame of reference. In August 2013, the rebels were wearing the white hats, as far as U.S. mainstream opinion was concerned.
Over the past year, however, reality has reasserted itself, at least somewhat. The Sarin case against Assad has largely crumbled with a UN report finding Sarin on only one rocket and independent scientists concluding that the one Sarin-laden rocket had a maximum range of only about two kilometers, meaning it could not have come from the suspected Syrian base about nine kilometers away.
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh also learned from his well-placed sources that inside the U.S. intelligence community suspicion had shifted toward rebel extremists working with hardliners in Turkish intelligence. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?"]
But most "important people" in U.S. officialdom, including New York Times and Washington Post editors, still insisted that Assad must have done the Sarin attack. They even report it as flat fact. They are, after all, not the sort of folks who easily admit error.
A Shift in the Paradigm
However, over the past year, the paradigm for understanding the Syrian conflict has begun shifting. In September 2013, many Syrian rebel forces repudiated the political opposition that the Obama administration had organized and instead embraced al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front, an aggressive jihadist force which had emerged as the most effective fighters against Assad.