Two mainstream magazine editors and one former NSC member express skepticism about reports of the Assad regime preparing to use chemical weapons against insurgents.

On August 10, we shared a brief video clip with our readers of the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO General Wesley Clark speaking to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on October 3, 2007. In the speech, Gen. Clark spoke of a “policy coup” that occurred after 9/11. In the weeks after the terrorist attack, Clark recounts running into an officer within the Pentagon who had a copy of a secret memo circulating around the Defense Department. In it, according to Clark, were supposed plans for US military involvement and regime change in seven countries over five years: Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Syria.

Fast forward to 2012. Of the seven countries targeted in the memo, two have undergone regime change via intervention by the US military (Iraq and Libya), while one is being subjected to economic sanctions and covert ops in preparation for perhaps just such an intervention (Iran). Two others have weak central governments allied to the US that receive massive military aid to counter Islamist political movements within their borders (Lebanon and Somalia), while a civil war has enabled the US-backed secession of another country’s (Sudan) most economically viable region.  All in all, not a bad record  from the point of view of the putative memo’s authors. And now, of course, Syria is in play.

Instigated by brutal repression of democracy activists in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the bloodshed in Syria has turned into a gruesome civil war between a secularist tyranny and an uneasy coalition of domestic revolutionaries and foreign jihadists. Pulling strings behind the scenes are adversarial alliances of foreign powers (Russia and Iran v. the US and its Gulf clients). The uprising is now presenting the Pentagon with a chance to add Syria to its hit list. But what justifications for military intervention have been offered to an American public wary of foreign entanglements that may trigger another Middle East war?

Most recently, anonymous US officials have leaked reports of “movement within [chemical weapons] sites” as possible “indications of preparations” to use such weapons against the Syrian opposition. The government of Bashar al-Assad denies any such preparation, stating that it is unfathomable they would use such weapons against their own people.

What to make of these anonymous assertions that Assad is about to use his chemical arsenal to put down the uprising? As our own Russ Baker has explained, the Syrian conflict offers prime opportunities for psy-ops to prod the American public into supporting overt military action. In the discussion below hosted on al-Jazeera’s Inside Story: Americas, Hillary Mann Leverett—former National Security Council staffer and Iran specialist—seems to agree. Her colleagues, although more tepid, appear to follow suit in dismissing the allegations.

U.S. officials have been on a leaking bonanza as of late, most recently citing intelligence reports of the Syrian military firing Scud missiles at rebel strongholds, without further details. Such anonymous leaks coincidentally dovetail with the earlier ones about Syrian WMD preparation, since Scud missiles can carry chemical or biological payloads.

The guests on the al-Jazeera video include Time magazine’s Tony Karon and The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons, along with Ms. Leverett, of George W. Bush’s NSC. Despite their ties to the intelligence community, which is likely orchestrating such leaks, or to the media outlets that are usually happy to uncritically reprint them, the guests seem quite skeptical of administration claims about Syria’s chemical weapons preparations. Perhaps the experience of the Iraq debacle has reinforced their incredulity, but to me their insights seem fairly on point. Take a look and let us know your thoughts below.



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