From left, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the first hearing on Syria held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 3, 2013. (AP Photo)
Maybe the cruise missiles will fly on September 11: wouldn’t that be grand?
It was eleven years ago, a year after September 11, 2001, in the runup to war in Iraq—and my, how time flies—when I published a piece about what George W. Bush was doing to Americans’ power to exercise their muscles for critical citizenship. It began by recording Richard M. Nixon’s envy at Chinese commissars who got to decide what would be in the next day’s People’s Daily. George Bush, too: “Dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier,” he’d said a few months before expressing how impressed he was when China’s President Jiang Zemin ended a joint news conference with him by walking away after the second question. I called the piece “Surrender to Trust,” and in it I tried to pound some basic points of democratic theory: “Secrecy and power are intimates: Both tend to corrupt; both, when absolute, tend to corrupt absolutely; and both can steal up like an addiction. The cover-up, even of an innocent error, can be worse than the crime. That is why any break in any check or balance in our constitutional power structure should make the front page. Every time. But they almost never do.”
Maybe we’re a little bit better now. But maybe not. “With the World Watching, Syria Amassed Nerve Gas,” Judith Miller’s old paper headlined yesterday. But they didn’t really offer any evidence. John Kerry and Barack Obama now say the evidence is indisputable that President Assad ordered a chemical attack. But listen to Congressman Alan Grayson’s devastating argument from Saturday: “The documentary record regarding an attack on Syria consists of just two papers: a four-page unclassified summary and a 12-page classified summary. The first enumerates only the evidence in favor of the attack”—and “cites intercepted telephone calls, ‘social media’ postings, and the like, but not one of these is actually quoted or attached.”
He says, “I’m not allowed to tell you what’s in the classified summary, but you can draw your conclusion.” (My conclusion, duh: Grayson’s trying to tell us that the extra eight pages add nothing important.) The House Intelligence Committee told him there was no other documentation available for him to examine prior to his vote. That committee hasn’t received access to the intelligence reports on which the conclusions are based.