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Hullabaloo


Monday, May 06, 2013

 
Word to the wise: do as little as possible

by digby

Andrew Sullivan has a good post up today examining the potential quagmire in Syria in some depth. I urge you to read the whole thing --- it tracks with my understanding as well. He concludes with this:
... Syria is very much like Iraq. A dictator leaving a vacuum in a half-liberated country? Check. A sectarian war we cannot understand let alone direct? Check. A Sunni insurgency increasingly allied with Jihadist elements? Check. Nebulous accusations and counter-accusations about WMDs, without hard proof of much at all? Check. A conflict swayed by interference across the region – from the Sunni monarchies to the Shi’a powers? Check.

You can argue that this could have somehow been prevented. I doubt it. You could also argue that the United States has an interest in an outcome that is neither Assad nor the al Nusra brigades. But no one can explain to me how to get from here to there. This is their regional war, not ours’. And our only reliable ally in the region seems perfectly capable of protecting itself and its own interests, without even informing us in advance.

Please, Mr President: just say no. You were elected to end this kind of hubristic, short-sighted, if well-intentioned military intervention. We did not elect you over McCain in 2008 merely to watch you follow that unreconstructed neocon’s advice, which is always to intervene first and figure out what to do once we have.

You know better. Trust your instincts. Do as little as possible.
I'm not entirely sure what President Obama's instincts are, but I agree that he should do as little as possible, at least for now.

Sullivan mentions, more or less in passing, the fact that the UN is disputing the allegation that the Syrian government used sarin gas and instead believes that it was one of the rebel factions. Obviously, I don't know one way or the other although the UN investigator is one who prosecuted Milosevic and has a sterling reputation as a straight shooter. Anyway, Jonathan Schwarz offers up a little useful history:

And this is from March 1988, about Saddam Hussein's notorious gassing of the Iraqi city of Halabja back when Saddam was our ally:

The U.S. State Department said both Iran and Iraq had used poison gas in the fighting around Halabja and called on both nations to desist immediately.

"This incident appears to be a particularly grave violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons. There are indications that Iran may also have used chemical artillery shells in this fighting," department spokesman Charles Redman said in Washington.

He declined, however, to say what evidence the United States had to implicate the Iranians.

Seventeen years later, investigative reporter Joost Hiltermann wrote about declassified State Department cables instructing U.S. diplomats to muddy the waters by claiming that both Iraq and Iran had used chemical weapons around Halabja and "to dodge the 'What’s the evidence' question with the stock 'Sorry, but that’s classified information' response...In the final analysis, the only evidence for the convenient claim that Iran used chemical weapons during the war is that the US government said so."
You have to love this:
More recently, a senior U.S. official explained the general principle about this kind of thing: "The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass. Whereas other countries that don't cooperate, we ream them as best we can."

That was my impression too which makes me extremely skeptical when I read liberals insisting that the "chemical weapons ban" has been held to be so sacred that it requires us to act regardless of the possible outcome. My impression is that this only holds when it can be used to back up something the US has already decided to do.

Update: Also too, propaganda. I couldn't help but be reminded of this as well:

Sunday, November 20, 2005

 
The War Marketeer

by digby

A lot of people are linking to this fascinating Rolling Stone article on John Rendon, king of wartime propaganda. I've written extensively about the Office of Global Communications and the WHIG, but I didn't know that Rendon was involved. I should have. It's exactly his kind of gig.

I became aware of Rendon after Gulf War I, when it was revealed that he had had a big hand in "shaping the debate." But it shouldn't be assumed that he was the only PR firm involved in such things. Many of you will remember that none other PR giant Hill and Knowlton orchestrated one of the most amazing examples of prowar flackeryever documented:

... nothing quite compared to H&K's now infamous "baby atrocities" campaign. After convening a number of focus groups to try to figure out which buttons to press to make the public respond, H&K determined that presentations involving the mistreatment of infants, a tactic drawn straight from W.R. Hearst's playbook of the Spanish-American War, got the best reaction. So on October 10, 1990, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus held a hearing on Capitol Hill at which H&K, in coordination with California Democrat Tom Lantos and Illinois Republican John Porter, introduced a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah. (Purportedly to safeguard against Iraqi reprisals, Nayirah's full name was not disclosed.) Weeping and shaking, the girl described a horrifying scene in Kuwait City. "I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital," she testified. "While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming into the hospital with guns and going into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." Allegedly, 312 infants were removed.

The tale got wide circulation, even winding up on the floor of the United Nations Security Council. Before Congress gave the green light to go to war, seven of the main pro-war senators brought up the baby-incubator allegations as a major component of their argument for passing the resolution to unleash the bombers. Ultimately, the motion for war passed by a narrow five-vote margin.

Only later was it discovered that the testimony was untrue. H&K had failed to reveal that Nayirah was not only a member of the Kuwaiti royal family, but also that her father, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, was Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S. H&K had prepped Nayirah in her presentation, according to Harper's publisher John R. MacArthur's book Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. Of the seven other witnesses who stepped up to the podium that day, five had been prepped by H&K and had used false names. When human rights organizations investigated later, they could not find that Nayirah had any connection to the hospital. Amnesty International, among those originally duped, eventually issued an embarrassing retraction.





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