In the summer of 2013, the international media was aflame with reports that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad had murdered 1,400 civilians in the town of Ghouta: using deadly sarin gas, children, women, and men had been horribly slaughtered, and Syria’s Islamist opposition, in concert with the Washington foreign policy Establishment, was agitating for US intervention. It was the culmination of a years-long propaganda campaign, which then President Barack Obama had stubbornly resisted – and now, finally, he was about to give in and give the order for US missiles to fly. Yet, at the back of his mind, he still had unsettling doubts, and these were confirmed shortly before the day of the planned strikes when the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, interrupted his daily presidential briefing, as Jeffrey Goldberg reported in The Atlantic:
“Obama was also unsettled by a surprise visit early in the week from James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, who interrupted the President’s Daily Brief, the threat report Obama receives each morning from Clapper’s analysts, to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a ‘slam dunk.’ He chose the term carefully. Clapper, the chief of an intelligence community traumatized by its failures in the run-up to the Iraq War, was not going to overpromise, in the manner of the onetime CIA director George Tenet, who famously guaranteed George W. Bush a ‘slam dunk’ in Iraq.
“While the Pentagon and the White House’s national-security apparatuses were still moving toward war (John Kerry told me he was expecting a strike the day after his speech), the president had come to believe that he was walking into a trap – one laid both by allies and by adversaries, and by conventional expectations of what an American president is supposed to do.”
Indeed, the “intelligence” assigning to Assad the responsibility for the sarin gas attack at Ghouta was very far from a slam-dunk: it was, in fact, a lie, a hoax, a false flag operation undertaken by the Islamist rebels and their Turkish allies who were desperate to draw the US into the Syrian civil war. Yes, sarin gas had been released at Ghouta, but, contrary to the “intelligence” provided to the President, it wasn’t the Syrian government that was responsible. As Seymour Hersh showed in a piece published in the London Review of Books, this was proved by “intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack.” As one intelligence official told Hersh:
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