By Rob Sachs
The U.S. accusation that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is preparing to use chemical weapons to suppress his country’s 20-month conflict has drawn comparison to U.S. claims of weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said publicly that the use of these weapons would be “crossing a red line,” but Russia says these weapons charges are a farce, adding that it’s a pretext for military action.
Host Rob Sachs spoke with Michael O’Brien, a former member of the President George W. Bush administration and author of “America’s Failure in Iraq: Intervention to Withdrawal 1991 -2010,” to discuss how intelligence is gathered in these situations.
It is really as simple as that – you cannot be sure. It is like a reporter who attributes something to an unknown source and you are supposed to take their word for it. You mentioned in your introduction Russia’s charge of how this is similar to the claims that were made before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And they are very similar to those same claims which were proven to be totally false. We all know the story. And the point is – look at what resulted from those false claims leading up to the invasion in 2003. And the thing about it is that it is the US Government again, and we would hope that they would not do the same thing again. But how do you trust? Our Government has proven that it can’t be trusted before and how can we trust it again. How do we know? It is really tough when you fool me once – shame on me, fool me twice – shame on you type of thing. So, it is very similar to the claims made before the Iraq invasion and elsewhere.
We are hearing claims that the Syrian military has loaded the precursor chemicals for sarin, a deadly nerve gas, into aerial bombs. They could be dropped onto the Syrian people from dozens of fighter-bombers and that the military is awaiting final orders from Assad to use these weapons. That was a relate to NBC news. It sounds like if the US or NATO, or whomever does not act immediately – we could be in for a humanitarian disaster. How do you know, I mean what kind of evidence would you like to see? They said that there solid imageries showing trucks. Is there a balance between showing evidence and also making sure that what you have, your surveillance, is still kept secret?
Well, you know, it is like two kids fighting in the yard and whoever throws the first plunge is guilty. Our legal system in America, you know, I can’t go to the police and say – hey, you need to arrest that guy because he is going to do something. The police are going to say – what has he done? Well, there hasn’t been anything yet but he is going to and will go. And we can’t do anything.
You know, you have to draw the similar parallels, when Sudan gassed its own people, the Kurds and all that in the 1990’es – we really didn’t do anything, I mean we really didn’t do that much, we just sat back. And all we did was we applied sanctions. And the only people that we hurt were the Iraqi people, it didn’t hurt Sudan at all. But he was actually doing something, we had evidence that he was doing things and we were relatively speaking to stop him. And then in 2003 he hadn’t done anything and then it turned out to be the fiasco, to use the tile of Thom Ricks book. A perfect title, if I may add.
In my opinion you have to wait until he does something but you have to be ready on a hear of trigger. But you kind of should wait until he does something because if we do something before he does anything, then who looks bad? He will turn right around and say – hey, look at what the US did to me, I wasn’t doing anything. And you could say – you were going to do something. And you know – what do you mean, I wasn’t going to do anything. That’s what he’ll do.
Given that, do you think that the move to send Patriot missiles to Turkey is the right move to be prepared in case he does something or those were said to be defensive use only?
Yes, and they would be defensive. I would say – do everything you can short of taking the first shot. Do everything you can to deter him from doing anything. And the more we do to deter him from doing something, he might not do anything and we don’t have to do anything. In my book, I cite – what would it if heard that the US is maybe to park a fleet in the Persian Gulf? What would it if heard it entered in Sudan? What would it if heard to say- we are just going to do some fly-bys? And we will fly over and don’t shoot our planes down because we don’t want you to do anything. That might have been a little bit provocative. But a fleet in the Persian Gulf, in the international waters – what would you have done? And these missiles in Turkey, hopefully they will deter Assad from doing anything. But if he does do something, they are there at use.