Tuesday, June 26

Seymour Hersh talks about Syria, Assad, and Obama's failure to separate facts from assumptions

Seymour M. Hersh has written another book, Reporter: A Memoir, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018), which outlines Hersh’s early life, his rise in journalism, "and sketches an illustration for the state of journalism in a changing world." Daniel Falcone's interview of Hersh ranged across several topics but squeezed in some time about Syria.

My only quibble with Hersh's observations on Syria is that I think it's too early to determine whether Bashar al-Assad, who was installed by his father as a figurehead for the Syrian Baathist Party, is a great leader. Assad had no power to make significant reforms in Syria until the Russians intervened in the Syrian war at his request. He now has great power; it remains to be seen what he does with it. 

With that said, I'll turn the floor over to Falcone and Hersh:

A reporter's reporter ... 
By Daniel Falcone
June 25, 2018


I closed my discussion with Hersh by bringing up the topic of Syria. I wanted to discuss the article, “Whose sarin?” from the December 2013 edition of the London Review of Books, where he challenged the widespread perception that Bashar Al Assad had used nerve gas against his own people.

Hersh wrote the piece to explain his evidence that the United States had “omitted important intelligence and that [Obama] presented assumptions as facts.” 

Hersh emphasized that the White House pretended there was only one suspect, Assad, when they were two, the Turks and the Saudis, both believed to be possibly responsible. 

Hersh commented on how the Saudis were likely working through Lebanon, while the Turks were working through the border of the Idlib province. In effect, large quantities of precursor chemicals were smuggled into Syria and the US government had knowledge of it. The overall point was, after the gas attack, how was anyone sure?

Everyone in the US media was ready to blame the Syrians, when in fact the American government knew for two months that there was a second group that could have been responsible. Hersh indicated that, “it was a grave disservice of the Obama Whitehouse to not tell the world that we had evidence.”

Hersh has never stated that Assad is a great leader but he does find the hatred for Assad in the US to be irrational and acute. He also finds it borderline hypocritical while he alluded to Vietnam:

“I know a country that used barrel bombs. They dropped them all by helicopters. And they were considered to be very pernicious and a violation of the Geneva Accord. I know a country that used barrel bombs for seven years, (particularly in the provinces between Saigon and reaching to the west of Cambodia) in a war in which the President of the country was never in danger. If Assad loses this war to ISIS or whomever, he’s going to end up like Mussolini, executed and strung up by his neck with his wife and children next to him on a pole somewhere in downtown Damascus.”

Hersh basically asserted that the US corporate media coverage of Syria is not independent of state pressure; it overcompensates, and it’s shocking that Assad is seen as such a horrible person without a comparison to Saudi [rulers].

Hersh also explained what it was like to first interview Assad and recalled when in 2003 Assad asked him, “do you mind if I give a long answer?” 

In other words, he was shy about it, or anxious in Hersh’s estimation. 

Hersh, and others, do see a problem with Assad – “he isn’t doing enough on human rights.” But he’s somebody who will protect the Sunnis in his country. That doesn’t mean he’s a peacenik, “but it’s a war for survival,” remarked Hersh, “it’s a brutal civil war.”

“And is he a great leader? No.”

[end of discussion about Syria]


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