President Obama had a lot of things to cover when he spoke to Charlie Rose this week. He had to address NSA surveillance programs leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, create a distinction between his foreign and domestic national security policies and those of Dick Cheney (he’s still working on that one), argue that Syria is not Iraq, and finally, justify the arming of rebels inside Syria. To account for the latter, the president cited that U.S. intelligence, British intelligence, and even French intelligence (sure) have “high confidence” that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons, thus passing his (Obama’s) red-line.
But many are skeptical that the evidence actually exists, or if it legitimately points to actions taken by the Syrian regime — it’s totally unclear how the data was obtained or analyzed. A former U.S. senior official expressed those concerns to the Washington Post:
“There are so many people who would like us to believe that the regime used chemical weapons. You have to question whether any of those advocates were involved in collecting the evidence.”
Justifiably so, the UN will only make a final judgement on the evidence collected by UN inspectors, not individual states (you can thank Cheney for solidifying that rule forever), and while the UN plans to send their chief weapons inspector to the region to interview refugees in neighbor countries, Assad will undoubtedly block his/her access to Syria.
The U.S., Britain, and I guess France, assessed blood, tissue, and soil samples, smuggled out of the war torn state by rebels and/or intelligence agents. Some of the weapons experts that have expressed skepticism have pointed out that while some of the evidence obtained was from non-Syrian sources (so, intelligence operatives), the evidence that was could have very well been tampered with, since President Obama’s well known and advertised “red-line” was the only thing keeping the rebels from getting their hands on big American guns. In other words, the opposition had an incentive to tamper evidence — and one could go so far as to posit that the 150 people killed were collateral damage for the opposition forces in order to get the U.S. engaged.
David Kay, a former U.N. weapons inspector who led the U.S. search for WMD’s in Iraq after the invasion took place in 2003, told the post that, “You can try your best to control the analysis, but analysis at a distance is always uncertain. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t approach this thing with a bit of caution.”
Amen. To that end, let’s revisit the president’s claim that Syria is not Iraq, courtesy of the Dish:
Let’s do a quick check-list against Iraq? Hateful dictator? Check. Sectarian civil divisions now in full-out civil war? Check. Middle Eastern Muslim country? Check. Saudis and Jordanians on board? Check. Massive emotional and moral appeal for getting rid of a dictator? Check. No idea who the opposition really is? Check.
None of this suggests — although later it might — that the United States, Britain and France are knowingly misleading the rest of the world in claiming Assad used chemical weapons, thus justifying military intervention. But it’s happened before. And it’s happened really recently. At the very least, there needs to be full transparency. Until there is, 2013 is looking a lot like 2003.
(Photo by flickr user Beshr O)