Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the village of Dourit, in Latakia countryside, August 17, 2013. (Reuters/Khattab Abdulaa)
After days of following the White House line, skeptical reporting and punditry has finally arrived in the past twenty-four hours related to the allegedly clear evidence of a recent chemical attack in Syria and the US determination to quickly strike (perhaps today) the Assad forces.
Surprisingly tough AP report today, based on intel sources, that evidence concerning the chemical attack is far from a “slam dunk”—some insiders even mocking George Tenet’s famous phrase about WMD in Iraq—with huge gaps in evidence and even: “The complicated intelligence picture raises questions about the White House’s full-steam-ahead approach to the August 21 attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb, with worries that the attack could be tied to al-Qaida-backed rebels later.”
And: “The uncertainty calls into question the statements by Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden.” You may recall non-critical media coverage of Secretary of State John Kerry’s press statement on Monday, where he said there was no doubt at all that Assad had ordered the use of chemical weapons.
The New York Times, after boosting the evidence and an attack for days, now with a kind of shocker—after much fulminating and bloviating, it now appears the big White House intel report slamming Assad today may be very limited, and suddenly the White House is trying to lower expectations. The paper notes fears of Colin Powell’s UN presentation on Iraq as a bad role model. (See my report on Powell’s very bad day in 2003 and how our media rolled over for it.) As I tweeted last night, the Brits, after protests in Parlament, have put off backing any quick strikes, which caused hawks in DC and in our media to start reaching for the Viagra this morning.
And in an editorial today, the Times says more questions need to be answered before any Obama missile attack. And the Washington Post demands that Congress be consulted (is it just me, or is their editorial page less hawkish since the Bezos purchase?).
Another key news report has the United Nations finishing its probe in Syria today and, surprise (to some), promises some sort of report Saturday. Turns out, as I warned, the pundits and official and unofficial US sources were wrong (and probably knew it) this week—evidence of an attack was not that degraded and it is not taking weeks for some kind of testing and assessment.
Peter Bergen, terror expert at CNN, with a look at the large Al Qaeda force among Syrian rebels. McClatchy with look at how military experts are now “cautious” about any US attack—and other thorny issues and risks.
As for some tough critiques, as usual, the great Amy Davidson at The New Yorker nails it. John Cassidy, another New Yorker “old reliable,” adds his warnings there. James Fallows joins in here. Robin Wright, the former great Washington Post reporter, with risks-and-consequences LA Times op-ed. Davidson:
As of Wednesday afternoon, eighty-eight members of Congress had signed a letter put together by Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican with a lot of service members in his district, asking Obama to reconvene them and get authorization for any attack. Most of those who signed on were Republicans, but not all of them. Obama could do so if he wanted to. John Boehner could also bring back the House, and Harry Reid the Senate; it would be a mistake not to.
What is the disadvantage of going to Congress? That they are loud and annoying and someone will try to introduce a resolution tying action in Syria to Obamacare? If the Administration can’t stand up to Ted Cruz, it can hardly hope to frighten Bashar al-Assad. And if going to Congress now feels time-consuming, how does it compare to the hours, days, weeks, and sanity expended on the Benghazi hearings?
See my blog Pressing Issues for frequent updates on the Syria crisis (and much more).
The case against military intervention in Syria.