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Goldberg on Obama’s Syria credibility ‘crisis’

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Everybody’s got something to say about Jeffrey Goldberg’s extensive article at The AtlanticThe Obama Doctrine. Since it was published last week, reviews have been more prolific than dandelions. It’s got a theme running through it; militarily, has the U.S. lost its deterrence credibility because of Barack Obama? And the article opens, closes, centers on, and drives home Obama’s failure to bomb Syria in August 2013 after Bashar al-Assad allegedly crossed Obama’s previously-stated red line.

Goldberg gnashes on this idea over and over in the interview. He’s not reporting the story, he’s driving it — for the neocons.

Are you too cautious?, I asked….

What has struck me is that, even as his secretary of state warns about a dire, Syria-fueled European apocalypse, Obama has not recategorized the country’s civil war as a top-tier security threat.

Obama’s hesitation to join the battle for Syria is held out as proof by his critics that he is too naive; his decision in 2013 not to fire missiles is proof, they argue, that he is a bluffer.

Which critics? He doesn’t name them. But “Hillary Clinton, when she was Obama’s secretary of state, argued for an early and assertive response to Assad’s violence.” So are we being prepped for Hillary coming in and bombing Syria? Is that why Goldberg is conducting this “debate” –2-1/2 years after the event– about Obama’s decision not to strike, which the reporter claims “will be interrogated mercilessly by historians.” 

Any doubt Goldberg’s primary focus is establishing Obama’s reluctance (“queasy….recoiling from the idea of an attack”) to invade Syria as leaving an indelible stain on his legacy can be dismissed by watching the video the journalist narrates that accompanies the article. He makes points in the video he doesn’t in writing, like ‘that’s when the crisis really began’. What crisis might you ask? Goldberg says it was when Obama realized it was “on him” to stop Assad from using chemical weapons “again” (no equivocation from Goldberg whether Assad had actually ever used them). However, the name of the video is “The Day Obama Broke With the Washington Playbook” (or “Obama’s ‘Red Line’ That Wasn’t”). That’s the crisis — and it entails American national-security credibility. According to Goldberg, Obama “secretly disdains” the Washington foreign-policy establishment, which makes “a fetish” of the idea of credibility.

Screenshot: "The Day Obama Broke With the Washington Playbook" narrated by Jeffrey Goldberg

Screenshot: “The Day Obama Broke With the Washington Playbook” narrated by Jeffrey Goldberg

The “playbook” phrasing is Obama’s, from the article:

“There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

I have come to believe that, in Obama’s mind, August 30, 2013, was his liberation day, the day he defied not only the foreign-policy establishment and its cruise-missile playbook, but also the demands of America’s frustrating, high-maintenance allies in the Middle East—countries, he complains privately to friends and advisers, that seek to exploit American “muscle” for their own narrow and sectarian ends.

Though Goldberg mentions Obama “resented the foreign-policy think-tank complex… doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders,” he doesn’t elaborate explicitly who that foreign policy establishment Obama defied is (see below) nor which allies are so high maintenance.  And though he references August 30 as Obama’s “liberation day,” the first sentence in his article, counters a possibly “sagacious” Obama peering into a Middle Eastern abyss and stepping back as the alternative to the more likely storyline, a “feckless” president:

Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious ….

Later Goldberg rubs it in: “History may record August 30, 2013 … as the day he let the Middle East slip from America’s grasp, into the hands of Russia, Iran, and ISIS.”

Credibility, or lack thereof, crops up repeatedly in the article. He collects statement after statement on America’s credibility, from a slew of characters — Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, Kerry, Leon Panetta, Tim Kaine, and the list goes on. Way into the article he mentions “I again raised this question of deterrent credibility” to get another quote from Obama and hammers the point home — which explains why everyone’s discussing it.

To hear Goldberg tell it, David Cameron folded (The video picks up firebrand former MP George Galloway’s speech to British parliament to explain British House’s caving in on the matter), Obama turned to Congress and fell right after. We are told that Congress had “little interest” in a strike but he doesn’t tell us why. U.S. lawmakers weren’t down with the strike — and for good reason: the American public didn’t want another war in the Middle East.

Florida’s Rep. Alan Grayson led a national charge against authorizing the attack, estimating constituents calls were “100-to-1” against the resolution and House members were “listening to their constituents“. In short, there was a huge public outcry against an attack. So no, Obama didn’t just fold. Overwhelmingly, the strike lacked backing from the American people and from congress. All that is glossed over in Goldberg’s narration. Maybe because he’s part of that Washington foreign-policy establishment that has a credibility fetish.

Goldberg mentions the American people just once in the article. We “seemed unenthusiastic” about attacking Syria. That almost sounds lukewarm but I’d characterize it a gross understatement. More like cold, frozen cold. (And you wonder why Sanders’s and Trump’s antiwar statements are part of their popularity.)

And though Goldberg states that “The arrangement won the president praise from, of all people, Benjamin Netanyahu,” that praise came 9 months later in May 2014, in Goldberg’s own interview with Israel’s prime minister after all was said and done. Netanyahu issued no statement of support when Obama called off the strike or while AIPAC was pressuring Congress.

But the days leading up to August 30 were telling. There was the Weekly Standard‘s Experts to Obama: Here is what to do in Syria signed by Elliott Abrams, Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol,  Joe Lieberman, Danielle Pletka, Dan Senor, Bernard-Henri Levy, Cliff May, Max Boot, Karl Rove — and a long long list of usual suspects, spearheaded by Kristol’s The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), neocon interventionist signees who wanted Obama to impose “meaningful consequences on the Assad regime”, iow, destroy them and train and arm “moderate elements of Syria’s armed opposition”.

All in all, this was, by far, an era of the most confusing messaging from the pro Israel community. Astoundingly, on the same day Kristol’s group wrote Obama pushing for intervention Politico published Israel lobby silent on Syria:

The Israel lobby, including the high-profile American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups, isn’t pushing for intervention.”

Weeks later Michael Oren stated that Israel wanted regime change all along even if it meant Al Qaeda was in charge, while Jodi Rudoren reported in the Times the chemical attacks in Syria were “comforting” to Israelis because they offered a “diversion” from the global focus on Israel/Palestine. Goldberg will recall as much, because he stepped right into the middle of a debate about whether that was ugly or justified.

The lobby kept its head down because it didn’t want to get blamed for pushing another war (as it did with Iraq). But the only Americans who seemed hot to strike Syria were the Israel lobby and their supporters. Did Goldberg mention them even once in the article? Nope. Maybe he forgot AIPAC pushed for the Syria strike and launched “a major lobbying campaign” at the behest of the president. Even Eli Lake reported “AIPAC in “Full Court Press on Syria”. It was a showdown and the Lobby lost. That part Goldberg completely left out. And it was a precursor (or a trial run?) –coincidentally or not — to AIPAC’s (and Netanyahu’s) spectacular failure to derail the Iran deal in 2015.

Goldberg says:

[T]he president had come to believe that he was walking into a trap—one laid both by allies and by adversaries…

But no mention, specifically, of who set the trap. We all know who these people are though. It’s the very same people Obama blamed in 2015 for pressuring him into the failed policy of training “moderate” rebels. Neoconservative Jennifer Rubin called it whining, she links to and quotes from the same FPI ‘bomb Syria and destroy Assad regime letter’.

And, like Libya in 2011, Hillary Clinton was in the forefront pushing for military intervention.

So, did Obama throw the a curve ball back in the fall of 2013?

“I’m very proud of this moment,” he told me. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”

This was the moment the president believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook.”

Goldberg did get fantastic quotes from Obama:

The president’s unwillingness to counter the baiting by American adversaries can feel emotionally unsatisfying, I said, and I told him that every so often, I’d like to see him give Vladimir Putin the finger. It’s atavistic, I said, understanding my audience.

“It is,” the president responded coolly. “This is what they’re looking for.”

Who are the “American adversaries” Goldberg understands as his audience? He doesn’t say — but Obama seems to know exactly who’s being referenced.

Everyone should read the article because it’s fabulously revealing. But it’s what Goldberg left out that shaped the Obama Doctrine, and that’s what historians will likely be mercilessly interrogating way into the future. History just may record August 30, 2013 — as the day the sagacious Barack Obama brought to a premature end the reign of the neocons on American foreign policy.

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is a mom, a human rights activist, and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area and likes to garden. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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32 Responses

  1. David Nelson on March 18, 2016, 10:56 am

    Obama is still a Sphinx, even if weathered. The Iran deal, healthcare, and not going all-in in Syria are amazing accomplishments, especially considering all the obstructionists and bullies the president has faced. He’s a man with vision. I will remember him kindly even if i would have liked to have seen more (Gitmo) and don’t agree with him on everything (drones). It’s going to be interesting to watch his post-president career.

    Great commentary and collection of the links Annie. History cannot be whitewashed if it is not forgotten. I clearly remember these Zio militants pushing for war in Syria, while not wanting to be seen as pushing for this war in Syria. Liars and ingrates, all of them.

    • Krauss on March 18, 2016, 4:54 pm

      I don’t get this meme. He’s not mysterious, he’s merely rational.

      Obama has always been a foreign policy rationalist. He cites Brent Snowcroft as a role model for foreign policy.

      Goldberg’s hysteria is merely the latest sign of the decline of the neocons.

      • David Nelson on March 18, 2016, 11:33 pm

        i didn’t say anything about mystery. Even if the full meaning of the sphinx in ancient Egyptian culture is a bit of a mystery, that does not mean the sphinx itself symbolized mystery or mysteriousness.

        The president showed political fortitude, acumen and vision to, in the first place, negotiate the Iran deal and then secondly to make it all succeed domestically. Did you not see all the resistance and name calling that was going on? The rational, cynical thing for him to do would have been to forget about it all in the first place.

        Go back to 2011 or 2012, read a few old blog posts on the, back then a war with Iran seemed inevitable. Hillary Leverett herself called Obama feckless on more than one occasion and warned repeatedly about the coming war. Without Flynt and Hillary Leverett, i believe America’s Iran war would be underway as we speak. Flynt and Hillary argued the anti-war position from a national security point of view–and won.

        With the passage of the Iran deal, the trajectories have changed. The JCPOA pushed a war with Iran back a decade at least. By then Iran will be too powerful, too integrated into the global economy, that, barring any reckless decisions on Iran’s part, a war with Iran will be impossibly foolish (as it has always been). Obama never wanted a war with Iran (he was being cornered into it) and i think he sees that by putting it off a decade or two he may have put that war off for good. His actions in Syria make all the rest of that even more so. The man has vision and through his political skill saved America from a treacherous, ruinous mistake. The man is a Sphinx.

        Passing healthcare was every bit the impossible deal and he won that too. These are serious accomplishments given a generally craven and stupid American political culture.

        So i guess i don’t really understand your comment.

      • annie on March 19, 2016, 2:52 am

        excellent points david

      • otc on March 19, 2016, 10:07 am


        For the most part I agree with your take on Obama. Nice to see a nuanced balanced opinion, something rare in the comments section. Am confused by your use of the term Sphinx. The term Sphinx-like, or calling someone a Sphinx is usually taken to mean that they are inscrutable, hard to fathom, mysterious. What do you mean by Sphinx?

      • David Nelson on March 20, 2016, 11:53 am

        Dan, thank you for your comments. I went and read several articles on the subject of the sphinx, and after doing so now see what Krauss meant by saying there was nothing “mysterious” about Obama. The sphinx has at times symbolized the keeper of secret or hidden knowledge, mysteries of the universe etc. In fact, reading up on the sphinx it is clear its meaning has been interpreted and reinterpreted over and over again throughout history and cultures. This of course is natural if one accepts that symbols by themselves have no inherent meaning and instead have meaning only insofar as they activate archetypes from deep within the subconscious mind.

        When i associated Obama with a sphinx, it was what rose to the surface as i was typing the comment. Having gone back now to read up on the various meanings of the sphinx, had i done so prior to making the comment initially, i probably would have left it out, because sphinx as symbol has meant things that i didn’t intend to attribute to the president.

        My own sense of the meaning of the sphinx was mainly formed by viewing pictures and videos of the Great Sphinx of Giza, as well as from watching History and Discovery channel type documentaries on ancient Egypt. The first layer of meaning then comes from merely seeing it, and even in pictures the statue is imposing and powerful, and senses of guardianship or protection are evoked. A second layer of meaning then comes from video commentary, which i don’t even really specifically remember, but regardless faded memories would have still informed my sense of the meaning of the symbol of the sphinx as i typed. So mainly i was seeing the sphinx as a guardian or protector.

        Going back to the Iran deal, a war with Iran would have been catastrophic for all those involved and would have fully bankrupted America in multiple ways. Considering the power and skill of the warmongers who were trying to push us into this war, it took quite a bit of political skill and knowledge for Obama to get the JCPOA accepted in the US. Given my belief this war would have been catastrophic, and given my sense of the sphinx as guardian or protector from harmful forces, and finally given that symbols never really have precise meanings, i don’t see much wrong in seeing Obama as an American sphinx.

        At any rate, here a few quotes from around the web regarding the sphinx and its meaning:

        ” In addition, the Egyptian sphinx was viewed as benevolent, but having a ferocious strength similar to the malevolent Greek version and both were thought of as guardians often flanking the entrances to temples.”

        “We must also finally look at the Great Sphinx as a guardian of the necropolis at Giza from evil. Situated at the very entrance to the sacred cemetery, the Sphinx must have been a warning to dangerous forces.”

        “The sphinx has no history of real living existence, but exists only in art and literature, representing human desire for that which is greater than themselves, both in terms of the body and the mind. Yet the sphinx also embodies paradox, beautiful and alluring, she is also dangerous even deadly; the guardian of knowledge and threat to evil, encountering a sphinx is described as confusing and destructive.”

        Now, while the neocons may not be “destroyed,” certainly their power has waned during Obama’s presidency, the JCPOA representing that as good as anything else. Obama, through his political skill and willingness to know foreign policy viewpoints that are apart from the standard playbook in Washington, guarded/protected America from harmful domestic forces and a war that would have proved to be horribly catastrophic.

      • otc on March 20, 2016, 1:04 pm


        Thanks for your response. The Sphinx as guardian/protector – interesting.

  2. pabelmont on March 18, 2016, 12:18 pm

    Fabulous article and research, Annie.

    Quote: the day he defied *** America’s frustrating, high-maintenance allies in the Middle East—countries, he complains privately to friends and advisers, that seek to exploit American “muscle” for their own narrow and sectarian ends.

    Could this mean Israel? Perish the thought. OTOH, Goldberg seems a neocon whose sole interest is advancing Zionist goals? So could be.

    But, you ask, why didn’t Obama go to war, when doing so would have pleased Goldberg so much? (Goldberg is wroth that Obama didn’t comply with Goldberg’s desires. No fun to stop being bossman.)

    Quote: We are told that Congress had “little interest” in a strike but he doesn’t tell us why. U.S. lawmakers weren’t down with the strike — and for good reason: the American public didn’t want another war in the Middle East.

    Ahh. OK. Got it.

    The great and sovereign American public and its ever-responsive Congress (to say nothing of the never-to-be-named Establishment/Oligarchy/Plutocracy, to which Congress is ordinarily ever-responsive) didn’t want him to go to war, and he acceded to their desires.

    Could it be that all or most of these folks saw no threat to USA interests in the Syrian revolutionary war (and there was no oil)? E.g., we’re tired of wars fought to aid others where the is nothing in it for us?

    So Goldberg/Israel/neocon-artists-generally wanted war and didn’t get it. Now Assad/Iran sit on Israel’s northern border, at war with ISIS today, but there’s always tomorrow.. This will be called an “existential danger” ™ to Israel but will not be called a reason to comply with international law or to make peace with the Palestinians (or Syrians).

    BTW, the “credibility fetish” of the think tanks & pundits (that is, paid pressure groups, armed partisans of The Lobby) is not so much about USA’s defensive (or offensive) power, but in their own power over administrations: they don’t like being told that their advice (“asks”) are ignorable.

    So it goes. But they’ll have better luck if Clinton is elected. And many Republicans will prefer her to Trump.

    • annie on March 18, 2016, 1:30 pm

      thanks pabelmont.

      the “credibility fetish” of the think tanks & pundits (that is, paid pressure groups, armed partisans of The Lobby) is not so much about USA’s defensive (or offensive) power, but in their own power over administrations

      right. neocons want the US to flex their military muscles frequently whereas they are not fans of diplomacy. continually suggesting a president is putting US credibility at risk if he doesn’t opt for a military solution is manipulative pressure tactic. as phil pointed out the other day:

      A weak Defense budget would “drive a knife in the heart of Israel,” Kristol said outright in a Jewish publication.The creed was plain:

      it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States… American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don’t want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel.

      – See more at:

  3. David Doppler on March 18, 2016, 12:42 pm

    Annie, is there a connection between Goldberg’s piece and the “coffee party” reference by Haim Saban in an email to Clinton about a US News & World Report “hatchet job” on Obama discussed here some weeks ago?

    Also, the word “playbook” has had some currency in recent years, as has “talking points.” Any etymologists out there who care to explore whether there is a connection between these usages and organized influence peddling efforts?

    Finally, Obama seems almost ego-less as he submits himself to this kind of critically-toned article about some of the events that mark his presidency. He’s proud of having avoided getting bogged down in Syria, and having, with Russia’s help, nonetheless gotten rid of Assad’s chemical weapons. But where is the passion – or permission – to go after those who might have either orchestrated or at least known about non-Assad actors who might have launched those attacks in an effort to make it appear Assad had done so, in order to suck(er) us into another war? The passion to persuade the public that it is he who is keeping America safe from the (named) war-mongers?

    “Not a slam dunk,” (one can picture the pause and raised eyebrows) includes, I believe, a reference to a taboo, namely, the taboo against naming the obvious potential manipulators/covert operators.

    How galling is it to watch Patrick Clawson at WINEP complain about how hard it is to start a war with Iran, to recite a long history of casi belli, many with clouds of suspicion over who was responsible or knew about it in advance but withheld information for manipulative effect, suggest that another such incident might do the trick, denying he’s suggesting it be done (I’m not saying, I’m just saying) but reminding everyone that we are engaged in covert actions against Iran, and yet see our media rake our President over the coals for being weak, for having avoided another trap.

    It seems like a simple formula: identify a scary threat, demand that leaders act strongly against some real or imagined or manufactured or deceptively-disguised action connected to that threat, then punish those who don’t follow the playbook with a weakness slander. It’s just been used too much, now, and too overtly, to be effective anymore, except for pissing everyone off.

    • Mooser on March 18, 2016, 12:54 pm

      ,” as has “talking points.”

      If I’m not mistaken (and what’re the chances of that?) the use of “talking points” in its latest political iteration goes back to, like so much else, to the Clinton-Lewinsky imbroglio at the alabaster seraglio.

    • annie on March 18, 2016, 2:15 pm

      oh wow david, i just wrote you a really long response and it got eaten. sorry. maybe i will take another stab at it later.

      • Mooser on March 18, 2016, 3:03 pm

        “and it got eaten.”

        I noticed a little instability and post-eating on Wed. or Thurs. too.
        I hope it’s not an errant underscore or something.

      • David Doppler on March 18, 2016, 4:54 pm

        Sorry to hear that, Annie. I would’ve enjoyed reading it.

    • annie on March 18, 2016, 6:28 pm

      david, so here’s my shortened version. first, great link and coffee party letter. yes, this is exactly the same MO/pressure. just reading the letter, it’s such a succinct example of the “playbook”.

      “playbook in washington” is obama’s quote, his usage of the term. i don’t know if it’s a popular word in DC or anywhere, but it works for me.

      Obama seems almost ego-less as he submits himself to this kind of critically-toned article

      i’ve often wondered why obama gives so much access to goldberg. phil mentioned once
      “Jeffrey Goldberg,….granted access by President Obama lately (because he speaks to the Israel lobby).”

      there’s a saying keep your friends close and your enemies closer. i don’t mean obama thinks goldberg is his enemy, but he’s well aware the lobby chewed up carter and spit him out (re legacy) and the DC neocon critics that always bite on his heels — he probably figured it was better to speak for himself than not because if goldberg was going to write a big article on him — take a shot at branding his legacy — it would be more valuable if he spoke for himself. but i didn’t find him egoless. in fact i thought his “proud of having avoided getting bogged down in Syria” statement (as you put it) was a pretty strong statement when you read between the lines (insinuation).

      “Not a slam dunk,” (one can picture the pause and raised eyebrows) includes, I believe, a reference to a taboo, namely, the taboo against naming the obvious potential manipulators/covert operators.

      re “not slam dunk”. clapper’s statement was in goldberg’s article albeit i thought he sort of glossed over/de-emphasized it. i cited it originally but somewhere along the lines it got cut. also cut early on was that the allegation/’evidence’ assad carried out the strike was from israeli intel — max blumenthal wrote about that here but lots of people covered it. goldberg doesn’t mention it either but everyone knew it wasn’t a secret. nato wasn’t in on the strike, merkel either, US intel nada — so there was a total lack of any credible evidence against him. i’m not sure how much it would have served obama to have mentioned that at the time pitting himself against the neocons– how much he played along vs what he suspected i don’t know. but the term “trap” is self explanatory.

  4. wondering jew on March 18, 2016, 1:07 pm

    Syria is a mess. Before the Arab spring it was indeed one of the most repressive governments in the world and you had to look awfully hard to find a worse regime in the Arab world. Assad met the nonviolent demonstrations with bullets and thus was born the civil war. Assad was/is supported by iran, a country whose influence in the Arab world has been considered destructive by most of the Arab world’s leaders for the longest time and thus those who lifted arms to oppose Assad were supported by Saudi Arabia and other outside power centers. In fact without support from Iran hezbollah and Russia Assad would have probably been gone by now. But odds are Syria will remain a mess for quite a long while. Based on the poor results of the Iraq invasion and the overthrow of qaddafi in Libya it is hard to blame Obama for the path that he took. I do not have a hard set in stone attitude regarding American projection of power around the world, but I suppose the people of the Ukraine are not all that pleased that Obama did not make a fetish out of credibility, and I bet the east Europeans like the poles and the Baltic states are happy with the prospect of a hillary presidency when this fetish promises to return to the white house.

    • Atlantaiconoclast on March 18, 2016, 1:49 pm

      Your account differs from that of Syrians who at first opposed Assad, and now support him. Not all of the initial rebellion was non violent. Soldiers and police were shot at. And the US has been working on overthrowing that regime since W. And the coup in Ukraine was illegal. Russia had the right to protect ethnic Russians in the East Ukraine who did not support that illegal coup. Russia is not the aggressor in the Ukraine and the Baltic. Nuland and her gang of neocon arm chair warriors are.

      • gamal on March 19, 2016, 12:44 am

        Five Years ago Daraa, mid-March 2011.

        “I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations … they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents” – Jesuit priest Father Frans Van der Lugt, “January 2012, Homs Syria

        “The claim that armed opposition to the government has begun only recently is a complete lie. The killings of soldiers, police and civilians, often in the most brutal circumstances, have been going on virtually since the beginning.” – Professor Jeremy Salt, October 2011, Ankara Turkey

        “The protest movement in Syria was overwhelmingly peaceful until September 2011” – Human Rights Watch, March 2012, Washington”

        “A double story began on the Syrian conflict, at the very beginning of the armed violence in 2011, in the southern border town of Daraa. The first story comes from independent witnesses in Syria, such as the late Father Frans Van der Lugt in Homs. They say that armed men infiltrated the early political reform demonstrations to shoot at both police and civilians. This violence came from sectarian Islamists. The second comes from the Islamist groups (‘rebels’) and their western backers, including the Washington-based Human Rights Watch. They claim there was ‘indiscriminate’ violence from Syrian security forces to repress political rallies and that the ‘rebels’ grew out of a secular political reform movement.

        Careful study of the independent evidence, however, shows that the Washington-backed ‘rebel’ story, while widespread, was part of a strategy to delegitimise the Syrian Government, with the aim of fomenting ‘regime change’. To understand this it is necessary to study the outbreak of the violence in Daraa,”

  5. Helena Cobban on March 18, 2016, 1:37 pm

    Annie, thanks so *much* for this great piece of research and analysis. I hadn’t seen the video. At 0:22 it stopped me in my tracks: “When Bashar Al-Asad actually *used* chemical weapons, he [Obama] realized that… ” So Jeffrey Goldberg, former Israeli prison guard, is now definitively telling us what no intel organization in the world has been able to, that he *knows who it was* who used those chemical weapons in August 2013. Gimme a break. Even in his written article, he reports (quite accurately) that the US intelligence community was saying that the claims that it had been Pres. Asad who used the weapons were “no slam dunk”. But now, in the video, Cpl. Goldberg tells us he knows. Why does anyone give this cheap pro-war propagandist any credibility? (A question that I would extend to Pres. Obama, as well… )

    • annie on March 18, 2016, 2:30 pm

      helena, exactly. goldberg does not equivocate on assad being the culprit at all. it’s barely mentioned in the article — the clapper slam dunk — no mention of a global debate on whether it was true or not. no mention of why merkel wouldn’t go along. the video — he uses galloway (of all people) to explaining cameron folding. just completely skips the reality, which is there was no confirmation assad attacked w/CM. the article was long and drawn out w/so many points one could almost get lost in what the theme was, but that video and condensed version leaves no question how neocons want this phase of history to be recorded. blatant twisting of history and huge gaps.

      PLUS, the last line of his opening paragraph:

      the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

      p.s. thank you so much helena, it’s always such an honor (and thrill) for me getting a compliment from you.

    • pabelmont on March 18, 2016, 2:33 pm

      Why has so much in history gone wrong from the ascendancy of Little corporals? Or is it just a matter of a “little corporal” (Napoleon) complex?

  6. Atlantaiconoclast on March 18, 2016, 1:41 pm

    Except he went on to allow his neocon Head of Sec. of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland, to engineer an illegal coup in Ukraine. I would like to think that Obama has learned a lesson or two about the neocons, but it really doesn’t seem he has, at least not about their overall agenda of destabilization and enmity sowing.

    And not telling the public about the huge uncertainty surrounding who actually gassed Assad’s fellow Alawites in that infamous attack, shows a lot about Obama’s bad character. Echoes a certain administration before his that insisted that there was no doubt that Iraq had WMD.

  7. David Green on March 18, 2016, 2:43 pm

    “History just may record August 30, 2013 — as the day the sagacious Barack Obama brought to a premature end the reign of the neocons on American foreign policy. ”

    President Obama is making war in 8 countries (2 more than President Bush); he is sending U.S. ‘special forces’ into 135 countries around the world; he has assassinated more than 6,000 people by drone (including US citizens and hundreds of children) – the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times; and he is provoking war with Russia (Ukraine) and China.

    Yeah, that’s really sagacious. The worship of Obama by the Lobby-obsessed realists at Mondoweiss continues to be a sight to behold.

    • annie on March 18, 2016, 3:32 pm

      green, i don’t worship obama and have many many complaints about our foreign policy during his presidency (and i have written about some of them). my reference to sagacious (which btw was goldberg’s term in his opening paragraph to reference obama ‘pulling back’ from a strike) was the suggestion that obama orchestrated the exposure of the lobby to the american people. there is no doubt that they are much more visible now than when he took office. there were several events that brought them out into the daylight – beginning (as i recall) with the nomination and ensuing congressional fight over his nominee for sec of defense chuck hagel (remember snl donkey sketch). but asking the lobby to take up the charge of convincing congress (against the will of the american public) to invade syria — while they were claiming they were not pressing for intervention (which was a lie) pitted the lobby in exact opposition to the public and exposed them greatly. that was before the iran deal.

      so, in my mind, it’s questionable whether the lobby can operate effectively out in the light as it has bloomed for decades in darkness. that remains to be seen. that is what i meant and stand by that assessment. because if they do go down, it very well may be that historians will look back credit the actions of obama administration as the beginning of the end.

      p.s. and that doesn’t mean to imply american foreign policy would magically turn all warm and cozy. if you have an issue w/the term reign wrt the neocons. use google

      Vox ✔ ‎@voxdotcom
      Twilight of the neoconservatives: is their 20-year reign over the GOP coming to an end?
      6:00 AM – 10 Mar 2016

      edit 4/27: for some reason this article by max fisher is no longer at vox but you can read it here (pdf):

    • Mooser on March 18, 2016, 4:13 pm

      “History just may record August 30, 2013…”

      If my eyes do not deceive me, it says “just may”. Not quite feh! but sorta fey. That is hardly the fervor, the after-shabbos-night fever, I associate with “the worship of Obama”

  8. Krauss on March 18, 2016, 5:24 pm

    BTW this is an awesome piece of commentary/news analysis, annie.

    • annie on March 18, 2016, 5:49 pm

      thank you so much krauss, i worked for a long time on it partly because there was such an exorbitant amount of information and source data to choose from ( i could have easily made it twice as long with 3 or 4 times as many embeds) but i needed to cull it down many times so it wasn’t some manifesto. there were whole areas i almost completely ignored or cut (ie, the overwhelming lack of evidence assad carried out the attack, how that likely played into obama’s decision, and how that definitely played into the global conversation over this time period) for brevities sake.

      also, so much of the embeds and sources i found in our archives in the days leading up to aug 30 and the following weeks because phil was really on this story and it was a huge story at the time. i found this to be one of the amazing features of goldberg’s article, how he could (in such a long article) leave out what i recall as the most unforgettable circumstances surrounding the ‘to strike or not to strike ‘ time period. because he would have to rely on the collective amnesia of the american people. i honestly can’t recall another time when so many called their congress reps — so fast — to end a military incursion. that mobilization was being slammed on social media and was being reported in the msm at the time.

      anyway, thanks again. i’m a little concerned it’s not getting much traffic, so i hope people share it.

  9. HarryLaw on March 18, 2016, 7:19 pm

    As Helena Cobban points out above, when the Syrian chemical attack occurred, Obama blamed Assad, but that assertion was not backed up by the authoritative and traditional “intelligence assessment”, rather a “government assessment” which is merely the opinion of amateurs in the White House. “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.”

    • annie on March 18, 2016, 9:42 pm

      you’re right harry, i should have made more of a point of it. but i did link to an 8/29/2013 Associated Press “slam dunk” article in the parenthesis as well as a robert parry link:

      Goldberg says it was when Obama realized it was “on him” to stop Assad from using chemical weapons “again” (no equivocation from Goldberg whether Assad had actually ever used them).

      this is in reference to the atlantic video, in his report goldberg does mention clapper’s “slam dunk”. and it was reported in the msm at the time and i think we even reported it here as i recall.

  10. geofgray on March 18, 2016, 8:29 pm

    you write of the possibility that ” the sagacious Barack Obama brought to a premature end the reign of the neocons on American foreign policy.”
    if that is so, why are all his advisers necons or liberal interventionists? from gates to victoria nuland the kaganite (and cheney adviser).
    if that is so, why does the us support the genocide in yemen in fealty to the saudis?
    if that be so, why does obama order the assassination of thousands via drones, many perhaps most innocent.
    could it be that he didn’t have the courage to act alone? is not that the most economical answer. our closest ally britain had stepped away; pope francis you may remember had all catholics in the us praying that weekend for peace. there were even special masses. rare indeed for a pope to intervene in us foreign policy.
    no, obama looks out for #1. he is a war criminal who is trying to rewrite history using goldberg as his scribe.
    he has guile, but no sagacity.

  11. Tuyzentfloot on March 23, 2016, 5:19 am

    Gareth Porter discusses Goldbergs article as well here , and he draws conclusions from it that are quite favorable towards Obama. And convincingly too, and contradicting Goldberg’s view. So I do think now that often Obama’s views on foreign policy are better than those of his advisers, and it was him who stopped the US from bombing Syria.

    • annie on March 29, 2016, 10:49 pm

      thanks for the heads up Tuyzentfloot, great article by Porter.

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