Did America's Top General Save Nation From Open-Ended War in Syria?


President Obama was ready to launch the United States into a new Middle East war in Syria over the Labor Day weekend until the nation's top general persuaded him that he would be blamed for serious unintended consequences that could arise, according to usually well-informed sources speaking in confidence.

Martin DempseyThat general is Martin E. Dempsey, left, a career Army officer who became chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2011. He persuaded the president that military implications could escalate beyond the limited boundaries White House civilian advisers had claimed in convincing the president as of late Friday night to move forward with bombing campaign.

That bombing would have been without congressional, NATO, or other significant international military support aside from enthusiasm from France, Syria's former colonial ruler. The war could potentially escalate to a vastly wider war.

The evidence was in the first proposals offered by Obama for congressional authorization after he backed off his go-it-nearly-alone plan. Yet the administration tipped its hand by making its initial request for authority open-ended, creating the possibility of a vastly wider war if Syria or any of its allies retaliated in any way. 

The military risks, not the political ones, loomed largest for the president as he reversed course, according to my sources. Nonetheless, Obama sought political and constitutional cover by seeking to share responsibility with congress. Notably, he wants to start a war based on thin evidence and without being able to line-up support even from most of the nations funding rebels in Syria.

The account I received from sources, while impossible to verify in every particular with total certainty, is congruent with what we know of the players and event time line. 

Dempsey testified to congress and otherwise warned of risks associated with the military options available to the United States in helping rebels overthrow Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has governed the nation for more than four decades.

Dempsey did not forcefully argue his own view previously before the Labor Day weekend, as far as is known. He preferred to provide cost-benefit options in a more neutral fashion. But the increasing belligerence by Secretary of State John Kerry and more junior civilian members of the White House inner-circle, such as former UN Ambassador Susan Rice and her successor, Samantha Power, apparently persuaded Dempsey to speak more bluntly early in the weekend.

Rice and Power are advocates of the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine by which the United States can claim a right and obligation to attack another country by arguing that the United States is protecting civilians. The United Nations adopted language in 2005 defining the concept. Critics -- who include both those in the military and peace advocates, and both conservatives and liberals -- argue that the doctrine is dangerously subjective and can entangle the United States in far-flung wars without authorization by congress required by the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, some critics have suggested that rebels, many of them non-Syrians desperate for United States intervention on their behalf, may have launched the fatal gas attacks, not Syria's government.

Beyond those dramatic events, readers here should realize other vital factors rarely mentioned in mainstream news accounts, especially in the United States. I'll summarize these points into three bullet points. Background for the material is an appendix below and in my book, Presidential Puppetry, whose hardcover edition is published this week.

Bashar and Asma AssadMost important, our top government officials (including the president) and most famous media pundits who shape our discourse have fewer real-world power than the public might imagine.

True, the officials command authority over the military and voting power in congress. And they occasionally act in unpredictable fashion and against long-term career interest. The pundits look important when they pontificate. But they usually know quite well their careers can end quickly. Dynastic power on Wall Street, not Main Street, controls the country, as President Wilson wrote a century ago in his book, The New Freedom. I use the umbrella term "puppet masters" whereas others focus on major parts, such as Wall Street, the Military Industrial Complex -- or its more current and powerful successor, the Intelligence Industrial Complex.

Whatever the name, these masters of the universe and the government officials they place in office have targeted the Assad family at least since 1984, according to high-level CIA correspondence declassified this summer. That long-term interest -- and not the street protests of two years ago, democracy building, or even the massive deaths on Aug. 21 from gas -- brought about the current war resolution targeting Assad. He is UK-educated Alawite.

He and his wife, Asma, are shown at right in a photo via Creative Commons. She is a UK-born onetime banker of Sunni descent. They have rallied much of the central part of the country against rebels with a series of recent military victories. The victories endanger well over a billion dollars in foreign spending to overthrow their heavily armed dictatorship, which is ratified by occasional elections and which has attacked no outsiders justifying its overthrow under traditional international law.

Two other points to consider:

  • Puppet masters like to work in private to advance their wealth-building and other interests, including dynastic succession and religious advancement. They often work through secret societies. Therefore, the media that they heavily influence rarely mention the keen interest that the Gulf monarchies have in building a natural gas pipeline through Syria to provide natural gas more cheaply to Europe, thus undercutting Russian supply chains. Neither do Russia's rivals want to focus attention on the willingness of radical Muslims to keep the Arab world largely destabilized, except in those fundamentalist monarchies protected by the United States and cooperating with lucrative deals for all concerned. The monarchies are protecting Israel behind the scenes. The system provides oil and arms deals for well-connected insiders in NATO countries, and poses an ongoing threat to Russia and China by stirring up dissent among minorities within Russia's borders especially and in such nearby countries as Chechnia, located between Syria and Russia.
  • The inherent contradictions and internal rivalries among the puppet master group are providing a rare opportunity in the next 10 days or so for its goals and methods to be exposed in Congress and elsewhere to the American people. Congress is, of course, gerrymandered into set camps and dominated in both parties by the big money interests that sustain the leadership and the major media upon which they rely for voter approval. But the country is so fed up with Mideast wars and economic austerity at home that newer members could take the kind of remedial action exhibited last week in Britain's Parliament -- which shocked Obama and the rest of the West's neo-conservative and neo-liberal leadership cabal by voting against a military strike against Syria.

John KerryKerry, left, a Yale Skull and Bones member who ascended to prominence as a Vietnam War veteran and critic, pulled out all rhetorical stops over the past week to advocate for war. Conservative scholar Paul Craig Roberts has been among his blunt critics, as in a column Sept. 2, Washington Is Addicted To Lies.

Assad also challenged Kerry and other critics to produce evidence. Assad's comments came in an interview published Sept. 2. "The Middle East is a powder keg, and today the fuse is getting shorter," he said in an exclusive interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro.

As the French government published declassified documents purporting to show the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, the Syrian president vehemently denied the accusations.  "Whoever is doing the accusing must come up with proof. We have challenged the United States and France to provide a single piece of proof. Messrs Obama and Holland haven't been able to do so, even to their own people," Assad said.

He said there was no logic to claims his forces used lethal sarin nerve gas in an attack on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August. "Supposing our army wanted to use weapons of massive destruction; would it do so in a zone where it is located and where soldiers have been injured by these weapons, as the United Nations inspectors noted when they visited the hospital where they were being treated. Where is the logic?" Assad said.

To be clear, I hold out the possibility that Assad or those in his forces unleashed the chemicals. But like other critics, I would require public and persuasive evidence given the obvious incentive for non-Syrian rebel fighters to unleash the kind of "false flag" attack suspected by Pat Buchanan, as described below.

Over the weekend, Kerry even invoked Israel's security as an additional reason for a military strike against Assad. This was a dangerous step because any Israeli interest in an Assad downfall (a divisive issue even in Israel) could strengthen Assad's popularity in Syria,where he is already gaining back minority support from Christians, Kurds, and other minorities fearful of a bloodbath if hardline fundamentalists of the Saudi/Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood viewpoint take power.

The U.S. congressional vote poses a particular difficulty also right now for Western leaders because the real story behind Benghazi could blow apart the public's faith in the bipartisan leadership that has made Benghazi a household word without disclosing the main secrets. That story is outlined in my book, Puppetry, and is too detailed for this column without the supporting context.

But stay tuned this week for the first revelations. They will be excerpted on this site and elsewhere -- and in ample time for congressional decision-making.


Barack Obama and National Security Staff 8-31-13At right, President Barack Obama is shown meeting in the Situation Room with his national security advisers to discuss strategy in Syria on  Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013.

A previous day's photo, below left, shows that the seating arrangement remains fairly constant, with neo-lib Rice, the national security adviser, showcased as apparently the most engaged participant and seated as usual on the president's left.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on her left with more junior personnel, for the most part, to the immediate left. Vice President Biden, who argued as a senator (as did Obama) that presidentially ordered war-making was unconstitutional without consultation with Congress, is at the president's right. Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder are to Biden's right. Uniformed personnel far in the background,as befits a country with a tradition of civilian military leadership.

Yet war advocates often value skills of political narratives over those of military experience. Partly for those reasons, Hagel, an award-winning combat veteran of Vietnam, had difficulty winning Senate confirmation earlier this year. (Official White House Photos of the Day by Pete Souza)

As more general background: "Dempsey, a multi-tour command veteran of the Iraq war, has never openly opposed a strike on Syria, something that would risk undermining civilian control of the military," Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian reported Aug. 27. "But when asked for his views, in press conferences and testimony, Dempsey has tended to focus on the risks and costs of intervention. In April, Dempsey said that the US military could force down Syria's warplanes and disrupt its air defenses, but not without significant peril to US pilots, all for a negligible impact on dictator Bashar al-Assad."

Somewhat similarly John Cassidy of the New Yorker headlined an Aug. 31 column, Has Obama Forgotten General Dempsey’s Warnings? The column was published before it became clear the president was halting his apparent decision to launch bombs to fulfill his vow to punish Assad's regime for more than 1,000 deaths that the United States alleges he ordered.

barack obama with staff 8-30-13Rice and Power are leading advocates of so-called "Responsibility to Protect," a policy theory whereby the White House no longer has an obligation to disclose anything more than it desires in order to launch military action for humanitarian goals. Last week, we published columns describing the Obama administration's advocacy and the danger that such a vague notion can serve powerful vested interests with scant constitutional or other checks and balances.

During the holiday weekend, strong criticisms of U.S. arguments surfaced from right, left, and center. Conservative Pat Buchanan told an NBC Meet the Press audience that the chemical attack ‘Reeks of False Flag Operation by rebels to bring the United States firepower into the war on their side. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said he feared a bloodbath of Christians if the Western-educated Assad is overthrown by radical jihadists, many from outside of Syrian, who comprise a key part of the rebel fighting force.

Russia President Vladimir Putin repeated his opposition to allied attacks and his doubt that the Assad government was responsible for the deaths. Meanwhile, a number of normally staunch NATO allies of the United States, such as conservative governments in Britain and Canada, failed succumb to Obama's requests to join the military strike. Even the Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar reported to have spent billions of dollars for arms and mercenaries to overthrow Assad, declined to support a U.S. military strike, albeit on the grounds that it shaped up as too limited.

The lack of international support or a report by United Nations inspectors did not appear to deter Kerry and the neo-liberal White House hawks seeking a military strike. They are regarded as allied with former White House adviser John Brennan, right, the former CIA bureau chief in Saudi Arabia and now director of the entire agency.

The Wayne Madsen Report, a subscription newsletter by a former Navy intelligence officer, broke this story Sept. 1, Obama caved under last-minute pressure from Dempsey. Dempsey moved to prevent he regarded as a significant danger for the country and the president. "If you do this, the plan will fail and you'll get in deeper," Madsen wrote. "And without congressional approval, you'll be screwed," Dempsey told Obama.

The White House is leaking information to favored reporters at the Washington Post that the president decided Friday night to delay an attack, thus removing Dempsey from the narrative. It would be highly inconvenient for the pro-war faction that dominates official discourse in Washington if Congress explored a gap in judgment between the nation's top military officer and the younger president, a non-veteran.

Dempsey serves as the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "In this capacity, he serves as the principal military adviser to the President, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council," according to his biography. "By law, he is the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. Prior to becoming Chairman, the general served as the Army’s 37th Chief of Staff. Past assignments have taken him and his family across the globe during both peace and war from Platoon Leader to Combatant Commander. He is a 1974 graduate of the United States Military Academy and a career armor officer."

Dempsey has extensive experience in the Mideast. From September 2001 to June 2003, Dempsey served in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia training and advising the Saudi Arabian National Guard. In June of 2003, Dempsey took command of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, Iraq. After 14 months in Iraq, Dempsey redeployed the division to Germany and completed his command tour in July of 2005. He then returned to Iraq for two years in August of 2005 to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces. From August 2007 through October 2008, Dempsey served as the Deputy Commander and then Acting Commander of U.S. Central Command. Before becoming Chief of Staff of the Army, he commanded US Army Training and Doctrine Command from December 2008-March 2011.

After the president's decision to seek congressional approach Kerry stated Sarin gas used in Syria attack, as reported by the Washington Post and elsewhere. He said the gas on Aug. 21 killed more than 1,400 people, the first time that U.S. officials have described the chemical weapon at issue. Officials emphasized that they still want to take military action action against Syria, pending Congress’s approval.

Congress is in recess until Sept. 9. So far, more than 210 House members have signed a letter to Obama warning him not to attack Syria without congressional authorization. In addition, a head count showed that some Democrats would join Republicans in voting for impeachment if a bill were introduced.

Jack Goldsmith is a Harvard Law School professor and former Bush administration legal analyst who helped devise legal strategies supporting Bush administration approaches to war following the 2011 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against terrorists. He wrote this weekend an analysis of the AUMF by the Obama administration. Such congressional authorization would parallel the 1964 Congressional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that led to millions of deaths in Indochina wars for a decade.about how the Obama administration tipped its hand by drafting a proposal for congress to award Obama and his team open-ended authority. 

Goldsmith asked, for example, "Does the proposed AUMF authorize the President to use force against Iran or Hezbollah, in Iran or Lebanon?" 

"Again, yes, as long as the President determines that Iran or Hezbollah has a (mere) a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and the use of force against Iran or Hezbollah would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the U.S. or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons.  Again, very easy to imagine."

As the history of the 9/11 AUMF shows, and as prior AUMFs show (think about the Gulf of Tonkin), a President will interpret an AUMF for all it is worth, and then some.

The proposed Syrian AUMF is worth a lot, for it would (in sum) permit the President to use military force against any target anywhere in the world (including Iran or Lebanon) as long as the President, in his discretion, determines that the the target has a connection to WMD in the Syrian civil war and the use of force has the purpose of preventing or deterring (broad concepts) the use or proliferation of WMDs in, to, or from Syria, or of protecting the U.S. and its allies from the mere threat (again, a broad concept) of use or proliferation of WMDs connected to the Syrian conflict.

Congress needs to be careful about what it authorizes.

In my book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, I argue that Obama seeks to serve his masters on core issues, despite his branding to the public as being to the left of his fellow puppets who lead the Republican Party. Yet the next two weeks leading to a showdown vote in congress has the potential to disclosure many secrets on hot-button issues.

Do not expect General Dempsey to provide much more help, unless he is pinned down under unusually aggressive questioning. Whatever he told President Obama over the weekend will disappear from view under the mid-20th century constitutional abomination devised to keep secrets, "Executive Privilege."

Yet Dempsey has already done his part, largely in secret, and in the tradition of selfless warriors and patriots.

The rest is up to us. There will be those brutalized by the police as portrayed in a Philadelphia video Aug. 31:

%20" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Female Veteran Arrested and Brutalized After 'No War With Syria Rally.'  Others will risk reputations, jobs, and family financial security if they ask questions or assert pressure in more modest ways.

But this next two weeks may be one of the last great chances for the American public to obtain answers from the two parties that ostensibly serve the public. Even many within elite ranks now realize that the war making and other lawlessness is getting out of control. This is a rare opportunity to build coalitions across party and class lines to reassert congressional authority in keeping with the Constitution and thereby make a start toward a more representative government.

Yet without accountability on this kind of issue specifically assigned for congressional authority by the Founders, the members will likely revert as soon as possible to their secrets and their service to the needs of the puppet masters.

The public misses this opportunity at our peril.There will be many questions and obfuscations about Syria. Better to set the stage with an easy one, still obscured from the public by the pro-war leadership of both parties:

What happened at Benghazi and why? This is not the time for cover-up reports. It's the time for answers. Stay tuned on this space.   



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Updated Materials

Seymour HershLondon Review of Books, The Red Line and the Rat Line, Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels, April 4, 2014. In 2010, Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress.

Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia.

Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

London Review of Books, Whose Sarin? Seymour M. Hersh, Dec. 8, 2013. Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts.

Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

Democracy Now! via OpEdNews, Seymour Hersh: Obama "Cherry-Picked" Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike, Amy Goodman, Dec. 10, 2013. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (below right) joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration's claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year.

AMY GOODMAN:  Lay out your case for what it is that the Obama administration did or didn't tell us.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Actually, Amy, it's really not my case; it's the case of people in the administration who believe when they -- when they take the oath, they take the oath of office to the Constitution and not to their immediate general or admiral or not to the -- or not to the president even. It's about truth....There's -- it's a real rebel war there, civil war. And the point was that at no time did the United States ever consider al-Nusra to be a potential target of investigation. They were simply excluded from the conversation. And the narrative was Bashar did it. And it was bought by the mainstream press, as we all know, and by most people in the world. And this is why, you know, creepy troublemakers like me stay in business.

FireDoglake, Seymour Hersh: Obama Administration Cherry-Picked Syria Intelligence, Avoided Al-Qaeda Connection, DS Wright, Dec. 9, 2013. In a piece that was rejected by both the New Yorker and Washington Post, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, right, writes that the Obama Administration cherry-picked Syria intelligence and that President Barack Obama misled the American public on the case that the Assad regime were the ones guilty of using sarin gas.

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

Related News Coverage

U.S. Congress

Reuters, Congress 'Evenly Divided' On Obama's Next Move In Syria, Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle, Sept. 1, 2013. President Obama and his top aides launched a full-scale political offensive on Sunday to persuade a skeptical Congress to approve a military strike against Syria, but faced an uphill struggle to win over many lawmakers and a war-weary American public. Obama made a series of calls to members of the House of Representatives and Senate, with more scheduled for Monday, underscoring the task confronting the administration before it can go ahead with using force in response to a deadly chemical attack blamed on the Syrian government.

Dozens of lawmakers, some in tennis shirts or shirtsleeves, cut short their vacations and streamed into the corridors of the Capitol building for a Sunday afternoon intelligence briefing on Syria with Obama's national security team. When they emerged nearly three hours later, there was no immediate sign that the many skeptics in Congress had changed their minds. "I am very concerned about taking America into another war against a country that hasn't attacked us," said Representative Janice Hahn, a California Democrat. On the way out of the briefing, she said the participants appeared "evenly divided" on whether to give Obama approval.

Seeking to lay the groundwork for what is expected to be a heated congressional debate, Kerry tipped his hand on one tactic the administration will use - linking the congressional vote to safeguarding U.S. ally Israel from the Syrian chemical weapons threat. "I don't think they will want to vote, ultimately, to put Israel at risk," Kerry said. Lawmakers of both major political parties recognize how important it is to be seen as defenders of Israel, especially at election time, when they compete to show voters who is a better friend of the Jewish state.

FireDogLake, Preliminary Whip List – War With Syria, Jane Hamsher, Sept. 2, 2013. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of two Senate Democrats that openly oppose military intervention in Syria. Thanks to everyone for their help over the weekend in putting together a preliminary whip list.

Below is a chart of the results. It is by no means definitive. We are still searching for public statements. The Senate is basically a lost cause — the only Democrats I could find who openly oppose action in Syria are Mark Begich (D-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), and there is more than enough Republican support to get to 60 votes. The battle is going to be in the House. In deciding whether to assign someone to a “committed vote” or “leaning,” I looked for firm statements of opposition before calling someone “committed.” If they left any wiggle room I assigned them to “leaning.”

 AP/The Huffington Post, John McCain: Congressional Vote Against Military Action In Syria Would Be 'Catastrophic,' Sept. 2, 2013. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned that a Congressional vote against military action in Syria would be "catastrophic." McCain sounded the warning after he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) met with President Barack Obama on Monday. McCain made similar claims on Sunday, before his meeting with the president. Graham, left, said he feels there is a "solid plan" from the Obama administration to "upgrade the opposition" in Syria. McCain agreed but still cited "concerns."

After Obama announced he was in favor of action "limited in duration and scope" in Syria, McCain and Graham said that would "send the wrong signal." "[W]e cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," the senators said in a statement on Saturday.

washington post logoWashington Post, Bezos aims for new ‘golden era’ at Post, Paul Farhi, Sept. 2, 2013. In his first extensive interview since his $250 million purchase of The Post, Bezos says his major contribution to the paper will be in offering his point of view about how the publication should evolve.

washington post logoWashington Post, Use of force in Syria will be a ‘very tough sell,’ Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe, Sept. 1, 2013. From the Democratic dean of the Senate to tea party Republicans, lawmakers say that Obama’s resolution will need to be rewritten and narrowed in its scope to gain support in a skeptical Congress.

washington post logoWashington Post, After classified briefing, lawmakers skeptical on Syria attack, Ed O'Keefe and Paul Kane, Sept. 1, 2013. The administration’s request for U.S. military intervention in Syria would not pass the Congress as written because it is too broad, a senior senator said Sunday after a classified briefing on the situation. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the dean of the Senate, told reporters after the meeting that the resolution seeking military force is “too open ended” as written. “I know it will be amended in the Senate,” he said.

Huffington Post, Rand Paul: Assad 'Protected Christians' in Syria, Rebels 'Attacking Christians,' Christina Wilkie, Sept. 1, 2013. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday portrayed the current conflict in Syria as one between the government of President Bashar Al Assad, who Paul said "has protected Christians for a number of decades," and "Islamic rebels," who Paul said "have been attacking Christians" and are aligned with Al Qaeda. "I think the Islamic rebels winning is a bad idea for the Christians, and all of a sudden we'll have another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted," Paul said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Obama Administration

Barack Obama Stephen Harper_8_27_.jpgBarack Obama and Angela Merkel phone call

Above on Aug. 27, Obama is shown unsuccessfully urging  the conservative leader of Canada, Steven Harper, to commit to joining a broad coalition of support for an attack on Syria. At right, President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in the Oval Office, Aug. 29, 2013, in an unsuccessful effort to persuade Germany to support an attack. (Official White House Photos by Pete Souza)

washington post logoWashington Post, Kerry: Sarin gas used in Syria attack, Craig Whitlock and Ernesto Londoño, Sept. 1, 2013. Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that fresh laboratory tests show that Sarin nerve gas was used in an Aug. 21 attack in Syria that killed more than 1,400 people, the first time that U.S. officials have pinpointed what kind of chemical weapon was used.

Military and CIA

Lawfare, The Administration’s Proposed Syria AUMF Is Very Broad, Jack Goldsmith, Sept. 1, 2013. The administration’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for Syria provides:

(a) Authorization. — The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to – (1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or (2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons....

Reuters, Exclusive: USS Nimitz carrier group rerouted for possible help with Syria, Andrea Shalal-Esa, Sept. 2, 2013. The USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier which is currently supplemented by biofuel, sails about 150 miles north of the island of Oahu during the RIMPAC Naval exercises off Hawaii July 18, 2012. The Nimitz carrier group had been in the Indian Ocean supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan but was due to sail east around Asia to return to its home port in Everett, Washington, after being relieved in recent days by another aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman. Given the situation in Syria, U.S. military officials decided to reroute the Nimitz and send it west toward the Red Sea, and possibly the Mediterranean, officials said.

Infowars, Military Revolt Against Obama’s Attack on Syria, Both top brass and regular service members express opposition to US involvement, Paul Joseph Watson, Sept. 2, 2013.  The military revolt against the Obama administration’s plan to launch a potentially disastrous attack on Syria is gathering pace, with both top brass and regular service members expressing their vehement opposition to the United States becoming entangled in the conflict.

The backlash began to spread on social media yesterday with numerous members of the military posting photos of themselves holding up signs stating that they would refuse to fight on the same side as Al-Qaeda in Syria. The photos went viral, with one post alone generating over 16,000 shares on Facebook.

New Yorker, Has Obama Forgotten General Dempsey’s Warnings? John Cassidy, Aug. 31, 2013. Summoning up all the enthusiasm of a middle-aged man approaching his annual prostate examination, President Obama has signalled that he is preparing to order the Pentagon to bomb Syria. If the President is indeed as wary of the upcoming military operation as he looks, it would hardly be surprising. His top military adviser, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also harbors serious doubts about the wisdom of engaging U.S. forces in Syria.

Guardian, General Dempsey's warnings could go unheeded if Obama opts to strike, Spencer Ackerman, Aug. 29, 2013. A multi-tour command veteran of the Iraq war, Dempsey has repeatedly highlighted the risks of US involvement in Syria. There is already a casualty of Barack Obama's anticipated strike against Syria: repeated warnings about the dangers of intervention voiced by his most senior military adviser.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and former top army officer, has highlighted the risks of US involvement in Syria's bloody civil war for over two years. Dempsey, a multi-tour command veteran of the Iraq war, has never openly opposed a strike on Syria, something that would risk undermining civilian control of the military. But when asked for his views, in press conferences and testimony, Dempsey has tended to focus on the risks and costs of intervention. In April, Dempsey said that the US military could force down Syria's warplanes and disrupt its air defenses, but not without significant peril to US pilots, all for a negligible impact on dictator Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. Department of Defense, Biography of Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, current as of July 2013. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey serves as the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this capacity, he serves as the principal military adviser to the President, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council. By law, he is the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. Prior to becoming Chairman, the general served as the Army’s 37th Chief of Staff. Past assignments have taken him and his family across the globe during both peace and war from Platoon Leader to Combatant Commander. He is a 1974 graduate of the United States Military Academy and a career armor officer.

Truthout/Buzzflash, John Brennan Was Number Two at the Bush/Cheney CIA During Renditions, Enhanced Interrogations, and the Iraq War, Mark Karlin, Feb. 21, 2013. Given that we are coming up on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, it is worth noting that President Obama's CIA chief nominee, John Brennan, was a Bush/Cheney man at the top level of the intelligence agency during the post 9/11 period.

UK, France, Canada, other NATO Allies

AP, via Huffington Post, NATO Allies Will Not Take Part In Syria Strike, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Says, Jan M. Olsen, Aug. 30, 2013. NATO's chief said for the first time Friday that the alliance has no plans for military action in Syria because of the alleged use of chemical weapons against its civilians.

Asked about the alleged deadly attack in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pointed the finger at Syrian forces. "It demands cynicism beyond what is reasonable to believe that the opposition is behind a chemical attack in an area it already largely controls," he said. On Wednesday, Fogh Rasmussen said, "Any use of such weapons is unacceptable and cannot go unanswered. Those responsible must be held accountable."

ny times logoNew York Times, French Release Intelligence Tying Assad Government to Chemical Weapons, Scott Sayare, Sept. 2, 2013. The French government sought to bolster the case for military action against Syria on Monday, releasing a declassified summary of French intelligence that ties President Bashar al-Assad’s government to the apparent use of chemical weapons outside Damascus last month.

Financial Times, François Hollande wrongfooted by US move on Syria, Hugh Carnegy, Aug. 31, 2013. France has been forced on to the defensive by President Barack Obama’s decision to delay a military strike on Syria, admitting it cannot act on its own without the US and resisting growing pressure to hold its own parliamentary vote on an attack. President François Hollande had signalled on Friday that action in retaliation for the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons was imminent, despite Britain’s surprise decision not to participate. “France is ready,” he said. Mr Hollande was understood to favor an early and rapid operation, but he now faces an awkward period while the US Congress prepares to debate the issue, with an increasing number of voices in France questioning his commitment to join an assault.

Reuters, France's Hollande facing pressure for deputies to vote on Syria, Staff report, Aug. 31, 2013.  French President Francois Hollande reaffirmed to U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday his will to punish Syria for a suspected chemicals weapons attack but was under increasing pressure to put the intervention to parliament. Obama and Hollande spoke by telephone before Obama's statement that he would seek authorization from Congress before any strike. "The president reaffirmed to him his determination to act to sanction the regime," a source close to Hollande said. "Each country's pace of action must above all be respected. It's important for the Americans to have the green light from Congress."

David Cameronny times logoNew York Times, After British Vote, Unusual Isolation for U.S. on Syria, David E. Sanger, Aug. 30, 2013. With a few exceptions in the past half-century, there has been a simple rule of thumb when it comes to international conflict: America does not use force without Britain at its side. So when Prime Minister David Cameron, right, was unable to muster the votes in Parliament for support for a strike in Syria — even one limited to stopping the future use of chemical weapons — shock could be heard in the voices of senior White House officials who never saw the British rejection coming. Now Mr. Obama is left to cope with miscalculations on both sides of the Atlantic.

If he goes ahead with the strike — which seems all but inevitable, based on the statements of senior administration officials who say the president is determined to restore “international norms” against the use of chemical weapons — he will look more isolated than any president in recent memory entering a conflict.


in his hard-hitting style widely shared in the UK and US afterward.

Rebellion Financiers Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan

Zero Hedge, Meet Saudi Arabia's Bandar bin Sultan: The Puppetmaster Behind The Syrian War, Tyler Durden, Aug. 27, 2013. Yesterday the Telegraph's Evans-Pritchard dug up a note that we had posted almost a month ago, relating to the "secret" meeting between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Saudi's influential intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan met with Putin and regaled him with gifts, including a multi-billion arms deal and a promise that Saudi is "ready to help Moscow play a bigger role in the Middle East at a time when the United States is disengaging from the region," if only Putin would agree to give up his alliance with Syria's al-Assad. What was not emphasized by the Telegraph is that Putin laughed at the proposal and brushed aside the Saudi desperation by simply saying "nyet." However, what neither the Telegraph, nor we three weeks ago, picked up on, is what happened after Putin put Syria in its place. We now know, and it's a doozy.

Telegraph, Saudis offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Aug. 26, 2013. Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russia’s gas contracts, if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria. The revelations come amid high tension in the Middle East, with US, British, and French warship poised for missile strikes in Syria. Iran has threatened to retaliate. The strategic jitters pushed Brent crude prices to a five-month high of $112 a barrel. “We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think,” said Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review. Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.

Wall Street Journal, A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works To Build Support to Topple Assad, Adam Entous, Nour Malas and Margaret Coker, Aug. 26, 2013. Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud maneuvers behind the scenes to defeat the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies. Officials inside the Central Intelligence Agency knew that Saudi Arabia was serious about toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud to lead the effort.

They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn't: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout. Prince Bandar—for two decades one of the most influential deal makers in Washington as Saudi ambassador but who had largely disappeared from public view—is now reprising his role as a geopolitical operator. This time it is to advance the Saudi kingdom's top foreign-policy goal, defeating Syrian President Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Agence France-Presse via Global Post, Moscow rejects Saudi offer to drop Assad for arms deal, Aug. 8, 2013. Moscow has rejected a Saudi proposal to abandon Syria's president in return for a huge arms deal and a pledge to boost Russian influence in the Arab world. Moscow has rejected a Saudi proposal to abandon Syria's president in return for a huge arms deal and a pledge to boost Russian influence in the Arab world, diplomats told AFP.

On July 31, President Vladimir Putin, a strong backer of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, met Saudi Arabia's influential intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, left in a photo via Wikipedia, after which both Moscow and Riyadh kept a lid on the substance of the talks. Bandar proposed that Saudi Arabia buy $15 billion (11 billion euros) of weapons from Russia and invest "considerably in the country," the source said. The Saudi prince also reassured Putin that "whatever regime comes after" Assad, it will be "completely" in the Saudis' hands and will not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports, the diplomat said. In 2009, Assad refused to sign an agreement with Qatar for an overland pipeline running from the Gulf to Europe via Syria to protect the interests of its Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplied of natural gas.

An Arab diplomat with contacts in Moscow said: "President Putin listened politely to his interlocutor and let him know that his country would not change its strategy." "Bandar bin Sultan then let the Russians know that the only option left in Syria was military and that they should forget about Geneva because the opposition would not attend."

washington post logoWashington Post, Foreign extremists increasingly dominate Syria fight, Liz Sly, Oct. 1, 2013. Syrian resentment at the role of the jihadi volunteers is growing. Conservative estimates put the number of foreign fighters who have entered Syria in the past two years at 6,000 to 10,000, a range that exceeds the number who volunteered to fight U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

CBS News, Jordan: No attacks on Syria from our soil, Wires and staff report, Aug. 28, 2013. Jordan will not be used as a launching pad for attacks on Syria and the kingdom favors a diplomatic solution to the crisis, a Jordanian government spokesman said Wednesday.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Foreign Fighters Flood Syria, Fears of a New Extremist Haven, Anne Barnard and Eric Schmitt, Aug. 8, 2013. As foreign fighters pour into Syria at an increasing clip, extremist groups are carving out pockets of territory that are becoming havens for Islamist militants, posing what United States and Western intelligence officials say may be developing into one of the biggest terrorist threats in the world today.

Known as fierce fighters willing to employ suicide car bombs, the jihadist groups now include more than 6,000 foreigners, counter-terrorism officials say, adding that such fighters are streaming into Syria in greater numbers than went into Iraq at the height of the insurgency there against the American occupation. Many of the militants are part of the Nusra Front, an extremist group whose fighters have gained a reputation over the past several months as some of the most effective in the opposition.

Financial Times, How Qatar seized control of the Syrian revolution, Roula Khalaf and Abigail Fielding-Smith, May 17, 2013. As the Arab world’s bloodiest conflict grinds on, Qatar has emerged as a driving force: pouring in tens of millions of dollars to arm the rebels. Yet it also stands accused of dividing them -- and of positioning itself for even greater influence in the post-Assad era.

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