Protesters, holding up their red-painted hands, stand behind Secretary of State John Kerry on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 4, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Obama held a press conference in St. Petersburg this morning—see my full account here—which turned into another dismal, at times half-hearted, performance in spinning the need for an attack on Syria. Richard Wolffe of MSNBC quickly labeled it “embarrassing.” The problem for the president remains: he and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have relied on half-truths and, let’s say it, lies, in promoting the war—and as one reporter pointed out at the presser, they actually lose the backing of the public and the Congress the more they say.
That’s because, with the belated help of some in the media, it is all too easy to see through the spin.
Let us count just some of the (un)truths and lies. We won’t even get into Kerry’s repeated claim that he opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the truth is completely the opposite (he came to oppose it later).
1) Yesterday I unpacked the claims of precisely 1,429 killed in the chemical attack, noting that all other sources put it much lower—in some cases at only one-fourth that number. I won’t repeat what I wrote but note that the White House still has given no source for this. At the presser today, Obama mentioned 1,400 “gassed”—not “killed.” I presume just a slip but wish a reporter had followed up.
2) Kerry and backers in Congress—notably Senator John McCain—have claimed for the past week that the rebels in Syria are actually, in the main, “moderate” (not jihadists) and their ranks are growing daily. Yesterday The New York Times carried a front-piece disputing this along with a photo of an execution in progress carried out by those “moderate” rebels. They also had a video of it picked up widely by cable news.
Bad enough but then today we learn that a prime source for the “moderate” claim cited by Kerry and McCain—a recent Wall Street Journal piece—was written by a woman who has been paid by…the Syrian rebels. Reuters has also produced a key piece disputing the “moderate” claim.
3) Obama and Kerry have both declared over and over that his would be a very limited strike. Multiple reports at top news outlets now reveal that the target list is actually expanding and jets as well as missiles will be used. Obama call this “inaccurate” at the presser today but he has been under pressure from hawks to step up the destruction to aid the rebels in the fight.
Also at the presser, Obama denied reports that skeptical Congress members are coming out of intel briefings more, not less, skeptical about an attack. Reporters immediately disputed this.
4) Finally (for now) there’s this: Obama, Kerry and their supporters in Congress and on TV have argued that Assad has “killed 100,000” (maybe more) of his own people. This is rarely corrected by the media or in interviews. The truth is bad enough, surely, but it’s not 100,000. But that figure, so many others others, is being used as spin to induce people to back the war against Syria.
The facts, from more than one group but this leading one here, is that at least 40,000 of that total is Assad forces or militias supporting him. Militia fighting him—and non-combatants (killed by both sides)—make up the rest. In fact, not a single report or count, even by the Assad opponents and groups friendly to him, endorse the Assad-killed-100,000 figure.
But don’t let the facts get in the way of the first airstrike. Assad is bad enough, but the propaganda—from Kerry to certain MSNBC folks—just shows the weakness in their case.
Greg Mitchell chronicled Bush and media lies re: Iraq in his book "So Wrong for So Long."