Publisher's Note — September 12, 2013, 11:02 am

Hitler and Other Syria-debate Low Points

When the facts won’t convince the public to march into battle, politicians ramp up the rhetoric

This column originally ran in the Providence Journal on September 12, 2013.

However Congress eventually votes on Obama’s plans for Syria — and whatever gratuitous violence might ensue — the proponents of war should be remembered for setting new lows in debating and lobbying tactics.

But before examining their overheated rhetoric, consider the strong possibility that the administration spokesmen do not possess definitive proof that the Assad regime ordered chemical attacks on civilians on August 21. If they do, why haven’t they presented the evidence in plain sight? Classified briefings to members of Congress only heighten the suspicion that the hawks don’t have the goods to make their case honestly and above board.

My skepticism about the Obama–Kerry propaganda campaign is supported by more than twenty years of investigating, and exposing, manufactured atrocities and fantasy Armageddons — doomsday scenarios assembled in the conference rooms of public relations firms in Washington and New York and the black-ops department at the Central Intelligence Agency. When you can’t convince the public to march into battle, you’ve got to come up with more exciting “facts.”

In 1990, it was alleged that Iraqi soldiers were killing babies in Kuwait City hospitals; in 1999, it was claimed that the Serbs were conducting a campaign of genocide against Albanians in Kosovo; in 2002–2003, Saddam Hussein supposedly had an atomic-bomb-and-chemical-weapons-building program as well as an alliance with al-Qaida.

Not one of these stories was true, but the lessons learned from the propagandists inform the next generation of politicians and cabinet members. Thus does Secretary of State John Kerry trumpet the “intercepts” of Syrian commanders discussing what he claims are their planned chemical attacks, without letting us hear the recordings. Thus do deskbound reporters in Beirut and Washington recycle second-hand accounts from “intelligence sources” and other interested parties eager for the United States to take sides in the Syrian civil war.

This sort of thing goes on in the run-up to every military conflict. However, it’s no reason to be cynical and shrug, and you don’t have to be an investigative reporter to doubt.

When Kerry makes the preposterous claim that we are experiencing a “Munich moment,” he needs to be challenged, if not ridiculed.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.) rightly called Kerry’s declaration a “stupid historical metaphor.” My only qualification is about Grayson’s use of the word “stupid,” since comparing dictators to Adolf Hitler is a time-tested winner in public-relations battles. Bush the father used it in 1990 to characterize Saddam Hussein, as did his son in 2003, although George W. and Bill Clinton (regarding Slobodan Milosevic) also invoked Joseph Stalin when the Hitler analogy seemed to lose steam. All three presidents succeeded in dragging America’s reluctant citizens and their hesitant political representatives into military actions.

So why shouldn’t Kerry utter wild exaggerations? Bashar al-Assad is apparently willing to do just about anything to retain power, so why not go even further than Kerry and state explicitly that Assad, rather than fighting for survival, is really trying to swallow up Jordan and the West Bank, like Hitler conned Neville Chamberlain into conceding the Sudetenland? Why not plant stories that Assad is building death camps and mobile gas chambers to exterminate Syria’s Sunni Muslims?

Does this sound absurd? Well, if you think John Kerry has crossed the “red line” between rational, historically accurate argument and appalling hyperbole, consider the interview granted last week by super-hawk senator John McCain to MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

I do not think McCain is a stupid man, but he does sound idiotic when he talks about the supposed virtues of the so-called Free Syrian Army: “[The FSA] are doing the bulk of the fighting. They are in areas not controlled by al-Nusra and al-Qaida, who by the way, are spending their time trying to impose Sharia law rather than doing the fighting. . . . There’s no doubt in my mind, and there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind, that the Free Syrian Army is not an extremist group.”

I guess McCain doesn’t read the newspapers, but nearly everything I’ve read in recent months points to exactly the opposite conclusion — that Islamist extremists are the most effective, and merciless, fighters against Assad’s forces.

If you don’t believe the front-page photograph in the September 5 New York Times — in which rebel militiamen are depicted standing over captured Syrian soldiers prior to executing them — there are other sources of information to validate the view that the United States should let the Syrians sort out their own mess.

The most reliable, I have found, is the BBC’s Paul Wood, who has chronicled the rising influence of “foreign jihadis” and the resulting persecution of minority Christians by previously moderate Syrian Sunnis. McCain should have no fear of ideological poisoning from Wood, since he can follow him in the conservative Spectator of London. He might learn some facts he could pass on to John Kerry and Barack Obama.

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