What a difference 40 years makes: Anti-war protestor John Kerry has moved into the State Department and transformed into a hawk.
On April 22, 1971, Kerry asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
This week, beginning with an appearance Tuesday before the same Senate committee, the test was whether Kerry could explain to the American people why an American should be willing to be the first man to die for what many presume will be colossal mistake.
On Wednesday, Kerry, joined once again by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to explain why the Obama administration wants congressional authorization to launch what it has described as a limited military attack on Syria.
Subtly, Kerry tried to shift the focus from Syria to Iran, insisting the U.S. must use a military attack on Syria to send a message to the Islamic regime. Here Kerry testified:
Iran in particular is watching very carefully to see if the United States is willing to stand up for its vital interests in the region and the interests of our allies. They are essential player in the Syrian civil war, providing weapons, money, advice and manpower to the Assad regime and supporting the intervention of their terrorist proxy Hezbollah. And according to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), they are moving full speed ahead with efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
Echoing Obama, who said earlier Wednesday in a press conference in Sweden that the “red line” was not one he created, Kerry elaborated on the theme:
Now, some have tried to suggest that the debate that we’re having today is about this president’s red line, that this is about President Obama’s red line.
Let me make it as clear as I can to all of you: That is just not true. This is about the world’s red line. It’s about humanity’s red line, a line that anyone with a conscience should draw and a line that was drawn nearly a hundred years ago in 1925 when the Chemical Weapons Convention was agreed on.
This debate, I might add to you, is also about Congress’ red line. You agreed to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Not all of you were here to vote for it, but the Congress agreed to that.
The Congress passed the Syria Accountability Act, which Congressman Engel has referred to and authored. And that act says clearly, and I quote, ‘Syria’s chemical weapons threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States.’
In 1971, Kerry insisted “there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America.”
In that testimony more than 40 years ago, he opposed the U.S. entering what he characterized as a civil war in Vietnam.
“We found,” Kerry said in 1971, “that not only was [Vietnam] a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.”
How then is it that today the regime of Bashar al-Assad, in the middle of a Syrian civil war, is in the vital national interest of the U.S.?
Kerry explained to the House committee that today, even though the conflict in Syria is a civil war, U.S. credibility was still on the line.
“We are talking about the credibility of America as a global power,” Kerry said. “We’re talking about sending a clear message to the dictators in Tehran and Pyongyang that there will be serious consequences for flouting the will of the international community and that the U.S. backs its words with action.”
Kerry continues to insist there is indisputable proof the Assad regime has authorized and engaged in chemical weapons attacks, though the Obama administration has yet to make the evidence available to the American public or to the international community for examination.
To the House on Wednesday, Kerry explained the available evidence to the House committee, as follows:
Our intelligence agencies have assessed with high confidence that these innocent civilians were killed by Sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the U.N. Security Council and outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. They have also concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the Assad regime is responsible for the use of these horrific weapons.
I strongly agree with President Obama that the United States must respond to this flagrant violation of international law with a limited military strike to deter the further use of chemical weapons and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use them again.
In the hearing, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., posed a loaded question to Kerry, asking whether or not there was a political motivation.
“With the president’s red line, why was there no call for military response in April?” Wilson asked. “Was it delayed to divert attention today from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals; the failure of “Obamacare” enforcement; the tragedy of the White House-drafted sequestration or the upcoming debt limit vote?”
The administration raised the chemical-weapons issue as early as March, when Obama visited Israel.
In the exchange with Wilson, Kerry denied the Obama administration was trying to “wag the dog,” a reference to a movie in which a fictional U.S. administration goes to war to divert attention from a domestic scandal.
Wilson: Again, why was there no call for military response four months ago when the president’s red line was crossed?
Kerry: Well, the reason is very simple. The president made a decision to change his policy, but he didn’t believe that the evidence was so overwhelming. It was significant, it was clear it had happened, but on a scale that he felt merited the increase of assistance and the announcements that he made with respect to the type of aid that he would provide the opposition. So he did respond.
This is so egregious and now builds on the conclusions of our intel community as to the numbers of times, but such a clear case so compelling and urgent with respect to the flagrancy of the abuse that the president thinks that as a matter of conscience and as a matter of policy, the best route to proceed is through the military action now.
Rep. Wilson: But in April, it was very clear. Chemical weapons are chemical weapons –
Sec. Kerry: Yeah, but the president –
Rep. Wilson: Syria was identified, Mr. Secretary. Action should have been taken then. Thank you.
In response to a question by Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., Hagel said that in the absence of a U.S. military strike, the likelihood the Assad government would use chemical weapons as a routine weapon to turn the tide of the civil war was “very high.”
Kerry responded, upping the stakes, insisting he might even put the probability at 100 percent.
No one asked Kerry or Hagel the probability that the Obama administration would request an escalation of attacks on the Assad regime if government-sponsored chemical weapons attacks continued or intensified after an initial, limited military attack, as Obama proposes.
‘Arabs will finance’
Under questioning from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Kerry said Arab nations had offered to finance a U.S. military attack on Syria, though he declined to name the states.
“With respect to Arab countries offering to bear cost and to assist, the answer is profoundly yes, they have,” Kerry testified. “That offer is on the table.”
Asked by Ros-Lehtinen to specify how much the Arab states were willing to pay, Kerry again declined to answer.
“Well, we don’t know what action we’re engaged in right now, but they’ve been quite significant. I mean, very significant,” Kerry answered.” In fact – (chuckles) – some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we’ve done it previously in other places, they’ll carry that cost.
That’s how dedicated they are to this.”
Putin: ‘Where’s the proof?’
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Wednesday that the U.S. Congress has no right to approve military action against Syria without a decision of the U.N. Security Council, Reuters reported.
In an interview with the Associated Press and Russian government-controlled Channel 1 television, Putin expressed doubt about the evidence produced by Kerry, insisting more “convincing” results from United Nations inspectors were needed before considering the use of force.
Putin said he would not exclude Russian participation, but he quickly warned the U.S. not to take military action without U.N. Security Council authorization.
“I want to draw your attention to one absolutely fundamental fact,” Putin said, according to the New York Times.
“In accordance with applicable international law, the authorization of the use of force against a sovereign state can only be given by the Security Council of the United Nations. Any other reasons, or methods, to justify the use of force against an independent and sovereign state are unacceptable and cannot be qualified as anything other than aggression.”
In response to questioning by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., Hagel explained to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he could not agree to release to the American public transcripts incriminating the Assad regime, because the radio intercepts from Syria are still classified.
New York Times: Rebels are al-Qaida
In an article published Wednesday in the New York Times, Ben Hubbard, the paper’s Middle East correspondent, reported that the so-called “rebel” forces in Syria are aligned with al-Qaida and consider themselves to be fighting an Islamic religious war.
Hubbard’s piece seemed at odds with commentary by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times on Wednesday arguing that instead of launching a limited military attack on Syria, the Obama administration should aid the “moderate forces” among the Syrian opposition.
Hubbard, in his analysis of the Syrian rebels, found no “moderates” among them.
Hubbard pointed out that among the so-called Syrian rebels is the notorious Al Nusra Front, a group declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The group has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and remains the association of choice for foreign jihadis pouring into Syria.
Another prominent group, Ahrar al-Sham, Hubbard noted, “shares much of Nusra’s extremist ideology, though it is composed mostly of Syrians.”
“Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists,” Hubbard wrote. “Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government.”
“Yes we can!” Syria says
On Tuesday, Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, quoted back to President Obama his 2008 campaign slogan “Yes we can” in an appearance on CNN, insisting that Syria is a “peaceful” nation.
Jaafari asserted allegations of Syria using chemical weapons are “false and unfounded.” He attempted to turn the tables, charging the media itself is a weapon of mass destruction.
CNN host Christine Amanpour asked Jaafari: “I guess I want to know in a final minute or so, how do you sleep at night, Mr. Jaafari, defending a regime government that has caused so much bloodshed and has really crossed the line from any kind of civil war into weapons of mass destruction, into one of the highest crimes of international law.”
He retorted: “Those who perpetuate such a horrible crime, whether they are Israelis or others, should be held accountable to the internationally established mechanisms, not to the bully of the world, the bully of the world, the policemen of the world represented by the American intelligence reports or false allegations coming from France or Britain or Saudi Arabia or Israel.”