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John Kerry's Sad Circle to Deceit

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

Secretary of State John Kerry speaking about the Ukraine crisis on April 24, 2014.
As a young man, John Kerry was thrust into the Vietnam War by old men who lied to the nation out of ideological delusions, political expediency or personal pride. Now, John Kerry has become that old man, either detached from reality or believing he has a right to mislead the American people just like those old men who sent him and so many other young Americans into the bloody jungles of Vietnam nearly a half century ago.

Kerry's strident April 24 speech about Russia and Ukraine was, in many ways, a replay of his bellicose speech last Aug. 30 about Syria and the mysterious chemical weapons attack of Aug. 21. In both cases, Kerry opted for a one-sided rant over a balanced presentation of the facts; in both cases, he made repeated assertions about what the U.S. government knows without actually providing evidence.

Indeed, it seems that whenever Kerry does cite supposed "evidence" that can be checked -- like the dubious anti-Semitic fliers distributed in eastern Ukraine or the photos of alleged Russian special forces soldiers who allegedly slipped into Ukraine -- the "proof" goes "poof" as Kerry once said in a different context.

For Kerry, playing fast and loose with the truth has become a pattern, so much so that he is quickly shredding the credibility he once had as a brave young naval officer who returned from Vietnam to speak out against the war and as a courageous young senator who investigated serious crimes of state by the Reagan administration, including its tolerance of cocaine trafficking by U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

There were, of course, troubling signs along the way, such as his politically motivated vote in 2002 to let President George W. Bush invade Iraq on baseless claims about hidden WMD stockpiles and Kerry's weak-kneed 2004 presidential campaign when he let his handlers convince him to hide his honorable past.

The Syrian-Sarin Ruse

But this full-blown Kerry-as-a-neocon-style-warmonger has only emerged since he became Secretary of State on Feb. 1, 2013. It was first fully unveiled in his Aug. 30 speech calling on the nation to support a bombing campaign against Syria for a sarin attack nine days earlier.

Given what we now know about the Syrian sarin attack -- that the who-done-it is a far more complex mystery than what Kerry presented as a rationalization for war -- it is worth looking back at what Kerry told the American people on Aug. 30.

Kerry pretended that the U.S. government had released a trove of detailed evidence proving that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack. He even urged Americans to read the evidence for themselves. He said:

"That's why this morning's release of our government's unclassified estimate of what took place in Syria is so important. Its findings are as clear as they are compelling. I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Read for yourself, everyone, those listening.

"All of you, read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources, evidence that is already publicly available, and read for yourselves the verdict reached by our intelligence community about the chemical weapons attack the Assad regime inflicted on the opposition and on opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods in the Damascus suburbs on the early morning of August 21st. ... We have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves."

The problem with Kerry's generous offer was that the Obama administration had declassified not a shred of evidence relating to the Syrian government's alleged guilt, nothing that could be independently checked and verified.

Its four-page white paper was simply a series of assertions that had been carefully packaged as a "Government Assessment," a sleight-of-hand trick to avoid a more formal National Intelligence Estimate which would have had to include dissents from U.S. intelligence analysts, some of whom had grave doubts about the administration's rush to judgment.

There were other problems with Kerry's case, including the lack of motive for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to launch the sarin attack outside Damascus just as United Nations inspectors were arriving to investigate an earlier chemical attack that Assad was blaming on the rebels. The Aug. 21 attack was sure to divert the inspectors (as it did) and was sure to provoke the U.S. government to claim that President Barack Obama's "red line" had been crossed, thus possibly bringing the U.S. military into the civil war on the side of the rebels (which it almost did).

Evidentiary Problems

But that was only the beginning of the problems with the U.S. government's case. Though Kerry and other U.S. officials cited a Syrian government bombardment with multiple rockets carrying sarin, the UN inspectors would ultimately recover only two suspect rockets, and one, which landed in Moadimiya, was found to have no sarin or other chemical agents. Only the one rocket landing in the Zamalka area was found to contain sarin.

And, much like former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who claimed to know where Iraq's WMD sites were located before the Iraq War, Kerry insisted that he knew where the Syrian rockets originated. He declared: "We know where the rockets were launched from and at what time. We know where they landed and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods."

As part of its white paper, the U.S. government distributed a map supposedly showing the areas controlled by the government and neighborhoods in rebel hands, where the multiple rockets supposedly landed. The problem with this claim was that rocket scientists later determined that the one sarin-laden rocket had a maximum range of only about two kilometers, meaning that it would likely have been fired from a rebel-controlled zone.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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