President Obama's question this week was "to arm or not to arm?" the Syrian rebels. And yesterday, he said yes. That response came after — very soon after — White House officials asserted Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons that killed about 150 people. But the administration's story is pocked with holes at the very least. So as long as they are no longer asking "to arm or not to arm?" how about we ask — Obama, are you lying?
The overall shunning of post-presidency George W. Bush is an indicator of how ashamed we still feel for inciting the Iraq War. Those were years when we blinded ourselves. Hot with 9/11 frustration and looking for a punching bag, we chose Iraq. And with no evidence but for the word of war-hungry politicians and faulty UN weapons inspectors to go on, America rolled into Baghdad with the now infamous "shock and awe."
In the case of Syria, we are working with much less evidence. In the (hyperlinked) official White House statement, Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, admitted their weapons claim is not even based on UN inspection results — as Assad has refused to allow inspectors into the country.
He does acknowledge though that our Syrian intelligence is based on sources both nameless and unreliable. Rhodes wrote:
"The United States has also been working urgently with our partners and allies as well as individuals inside Syria, including the Syrian opposition, to procure, share, and evaluate information associated with reports of chemical weapons use so that we can establish the facts and determine what took place."
"Partners and allies?" What does that mean? Chemical weapons accusations should not be treated in as vague a manner as this administration has chosen. Saddam Hussein had not even been accused of using the WMDs we attacked him for. Assad, on the other hand, is said to have murdered about 150 citizens with chemical weapons, including sarin. So why are we being nonchalant with our supposed "evidence" against him? What incentive is there to keep these sources secret, if full transparency makes the Adminstration's case believable.
Another leg of skepticism focuses on questions about trusting intelligence from the Syrian opposition. After naming chemical weapons as the "red line" that would force a U.S. intervention, how can the Obama administration expect to receive reliable chemical weapons intelligence from the group he has vowed to help? Is it not in the best interest of the opposition to report the use of sarin falsely or even use sarin themselves and blame Assad? What is Assad's incentive, knowing that if one drop of state-sanctioned sarin hits the ground, America will drop artillery right into the hands of his opposition?
These are merely questions. And they do not mean that Assad is innocent. But as far as the American media circuit is concerned, Assad is already guilty. Instead of punching holes in the White House claims — and there are a lot of holes — Anderson "Keeping it Honest" Cooper, asked his Facebook following this question:
How can we ask about guns before we ask about truth? Media negligence in the early 2000s, is the reason false WMD stories floated around for as long as they did. And they are the reason we all fell for the story. We live in a country where newspapers and reporting are taken as fact, especially when big names are behind the news. But even the most respected make mistakes when they don't question enough. In 2004, the New York Times apologized for its coverage of the Iraq War that was — in its own opinion — "not as rigorous as it should have been."
Here's a condensed timeline to consider:
Past 2 weeks: Assad gains ground and an upper hand on the rebels.
Monday: Obama administration begins to deliberate whether or not to arm the rebels.
Thursday: Syria crosses the "red line." White House reports that Assad has deployed chemical weapons, including sarin.
Friday: U.S. vows to send weapons to the opposition, citing the chemical weapons as the reason for urgent intervention.
So what is next on the timeline? Well that depends on U.S. citizens and the media alike. If there is no rebuttal from us to Obama's claims, then we all know what's next. Welcome to war everyone. And in a few years, welcome to regret.