There’s been a noticeable trend in the past few days among mainstream US media for offering reasonably prominent reports questioning the credibility of the White House’s accounts of what is taking place in Syria.
Notable was a long report in the NYT, based on an old video of rebels executing Syrian soldiers, suggesting that the Syrian opposition may not be quite as cuddly as US Secretary of State John Kerry and others would like us to suppose. This information has been around for a while, so it raises the question: why is the NYT so interested right now in posing doubts about the US “allies” in Syria?
We also have Associated Press offering a frank report raising doubts about the official narrative that Bashar Assad was responsible for the Ghouta chemical weapons attack and about the number of dead.
There is, of course, still lots of uncritical journalism going on in these outlets as well as other US media. But nonetheless this makes quite a change from the media’s behaviour in other recent “humanitarian interventions”.
Is this a sign that the US media has learnt the lessons of its wholesale failure to question Washington’s lies in the build-up to the attack on Iraq? I think not.
The AP report hints at more likely reasons for this oasis of more critical mainstream journalism:
In the U.S., the case for military action has evoked comparisons to false data used by the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Multiple U.S. officials have told AP that the intelligence tying Assad himself to the Aug. 21 attack was “not a slam dunk” – a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction – intelligence that turned out to be wrong. They cite the lack of a direct link between Assad and the chemical assault – a question the administration discounts by arguing Assad’s responsibility as Syria’s commander in chief. A second issue is that U.S. intelligence has lost track of some chemical weaponry, leaving a slim possibility that rebels acquired some of the deadly substances.
Reading between the lines, I would say AP is telling us that at least a significant section of the US intelligence and military establishment is opposed to a US attack. These officials are not subject to the political pressures, including those levied by the Israel lobby, that can be brought to bear on the White House. My guess is that they are briefing against Obama to affect both his and Congress’ decision over the next few days.
It would be a mistake to think our media are suddenly gaining a backbone. They simply have a licence from parts of the establishment to run some critical reporting on Syria at this decisive moment. Normal service will be resumed soon.