By Ray McGovern, Sept. 6, 2020
On September 6, 2013, with President Obama under considerable pressure to launch an open attack on Syria (in ostensible “response” to what turned out to be a false-flag chemical attack), an honest report from Jerusalem slipped by the NYT censors and crept onto the front page.
The headline of the feature article was “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria.” (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/world/middleeast/israel-backs-limited-strike-against-syria.html?pagewanted=all ) provoked little more than a yawn. But those readers who read down the lead column, and were familiar with NYT coverage of Israel, were in for a shock.
That the Times would print a candid account of Israel’s motivation and objectives in Syria was a never-before-and-never-since shocker. (My guess is that the report would never have seen the light of day, had not the NYT muckety-mucks been lingering in Hamptons recovering from Labor Day martinis.)
Preferred: “No Outcome”
With still more dogs of prolonged war about to let slip out of the kennel, Jodi Rudoren, the NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief — to her credit — sought informed views on Israel’s objectives for Syria. Rudoren got unusually candid responses from senior Israeli officials, when she asked them about Israel’s preferred outcome in Syria. Rudoren minced few words in reporting Israel’s view that the best outcome for Syria’s civil war was “no outcome”.
“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.
“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”
Obama Proud of Resisting “Playbook” Response
Three years later Obama told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg how proud he was at having faced down strong pressure from virtually all his advisors to launch cruise missiles on Syria in Sept. 2013. Obama waxed eloquent that he had for once not adhered to what he derisively called the “Washington Playbook” (in this context, read “U.S.-Israeli Playbook”). Instead, he chose to take advantage of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to get the Syrians to surrender their chemical weapons for destruction, verified by the U.N., aboard a U.S. ship configured for such destruction.
And so it came to pass that the neocons did not get their wider war on Syria. Actually, I had a brief up-front seat observing their outrage on the evening of Sept. 9, 2013. ( See: “How War on Syria Lost Its Way, https://consortiumnews.com/2013/09/14/how-war-on-syria-lost-its-way/ ); for my encounter with Paul Wolfowitz and Joe Lieberman, scroll down to subhead: “Morose at CNN”.
The neocons became even more unsettled when the NY Times ran an op-ed by President Putin on Sept. 11, 2013, which Putin ended on a positive note regarding bilateral cooperation. “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust”, he wrote. ( See: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html )
It took the neocons only six months to get even with Putin for pulling Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire on the issue of Syrian chemical weapons. The neocons orchestrated a coup in Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014, the fallout from which destroyed any prospect for improvement in U.S.- Russian relations and set them on the decline to the nadir at which they now sit.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he led the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, and prepared the President’s Daily Brief for presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).