Seymour Hersh, a veteran investigative journalist and contributor to the New Yorker, has published a shocking new report in the London Review of Books. In the piece, Hersh argues that some Pentagon leaders on the Joint Chiefs of Staff undermined President Obama in Syria, where the official administration stance has been that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can and must be ousted by moderate rebels.
According to Hersh, Obama’s insistence that Assad must go was fueled by antiquated, Cold War-era thinking. Hersh’s sources – the most important of whom goes unnamed in the article – claim that Obama wanted to arm anti-Assad rebels because Russia supported Assad.
In the end, the moderate forces Obama sought didn’t seem to exist in Syria at all. Instead, Hersh writes, arms were funneled from Libya via Turkey to various extremist groups, with some level of White House knowledge, and the program of arming anti-Assad moderates “morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical program for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.”
Former Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn is quoted extensively in Hersh’s article. According to Flynn, Turkey largely co-opted the arms program and looked the other way as ISIS grew in Syria. Flynn’s reporting received pushback from the Obama Administration, giving Flynn the sense that they “didn’t want to hear the truth.”
With the Obama Administration seemingly so driven to replace Assad that they’d accept any alternative, including a fundamentalist or extremist group, Hersh writes that the Joint Chiefs of Staff engaged in non-political means of undermining White House strategy. They funneled intelligence through Germany, Israel, and Russia – each of which has its own motivations for supporting Assad – and the intelligence was used against the very same extremist groups receiving U.S. arms through Turkey, including ISIS and al-Nusra Front.
Hersh’s allegations haven’t received very widespread coverage in mainstream media, but he has earned plenty of critics. Vox, for instance, ran an article with the headline, “Seymour Hersh’s bizarre new conspiracy theory about the US and Syria, explained.”
Among writer Max Fisher’s objections to Hersh’s report is that keeping Assad in power, as Hersh alleges some of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to do, perpetuates the Syrian Civil War in which ISIS thrives. Fisher also questions Hersh’s accountability, given that Hersh’s most important source remains anonymous and he offers little direct evidence to support his extraordinary claims of senior military leadership conspiring against the Commander-in-Chief.
Yet Hersh’s source maintains that the purpose wasn’t necessarily to deliberately or specifically undermine Obama’s Syrian strategy.
“We were saying to the Germans and the others: ‘Here’s some information that’s pretty interesting and our interest is mutual.’… [If Assad remains in power] it’s because he was smart enough to use the intelligence and sound tactical advice we provided to others.”
In an appearance on Democracy Now!, Hersh defended himself from some of his critics. With President Obama becoming renowned for his war on whistleblowers, Hersh justified honoring his source’s anonymity on the basis that the U.S. government would likely prosecute him if they knew who he was. Hersh also maintains that the thoroughly edited London Review of Books, where his article first appeared, knows the identity of his source and vetted the information.
Hersh also addressed Fisher’s claims directly. In Vox, Fisher argued that Marin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly feuded with Obama because he wanted to do more to arm rebels than Obama did, seemingly a direct refutation of Hersh’s version of events. But Hersh notes that Dempsey made it a point to only arm vetted groups, whereas the Obama Administration seemed to be turning a blind eye to who received arms.
True or not, these allegations aren’t the first time in 2015 that Hersh challenged the Obama Administration’s narrative on the War on Terror. In May, Hersh made headlines by arguing that the 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden was essentially a gift from Pakistani intelligence. That article, too, came under scrutiny from the mainstream press for countering an established narrative and quoting anonymous sources.
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