The news: President Barack Obama and his administration may have left out key details when making the case for a military strike against Syria earlier this year. That’s what Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist behind the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, alleges in his report in the London Review of Books.
“Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack,” Hersh’s report opens. According to Hersh, Obama “failed to acknowledge” the “evidence that the al-Nusra front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.”
The backstory: After a chemical attack in Syria left hundreds dead at the end of August, the Obama administration worked quickly to establish evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was behind the attack. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was "undeniable" that the Syrian government was responsible. Obama remained adamant that the rebels could not have executed the sarin attack.
Of course, Obama never actually ordered a strike on Syria. But there were moments when a U.S. intervention seemed like a foregone conclusion. Obama seemed confident that a strike against Assad’s regime was the proper course of action, and that confidence was grounded in the fact that the rebels could not have been behind the attack. Hersh’s report undermines that confidence.
Why this matters: Hersh’s claims that Obama actively attempted to mislead the nation into a conflict with Syria would be quite the bombshell if the U.S. did, in fact, intervene. Because the U.S. diverted to international diplomacy, these allegations have slightly less impact. But if true, they still present an administration willingly withholding information in order to deceive the American public.
Hersh draws the damming comparison between Obama’s actions on Syria and former President George W. Bush’s promise of Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMDs when preparing for the Iraq War: “[Obama’s] cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq War.”
One other interesting thing to note: apparently both the Washington Post and the New Yorker passed on Hersh’s report, which is why it ended up in the LRB. Yet another report on the U.S. government’s potential deception of the American people is relegated to a foreign publication. Not exactly an endorsement for the American press.