Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Waiting for Godot...Or This Year’s Big Lie

Further Parsing the North Korean Nuclear Weapons in Syria Allegations

Judging from a couple of items by Syria Comment, China Matters is entitled to a little preening.

Concerning the target of the September 6 Israeli raid on Syria, I wrote yesterday:

If I was going to come up with a plausible contrarian scenario for this whole enigma, I would say:

There are North Koreans in Syria and possibly a bunch of them got killed when Israel bombed a facility where they were working.

The facility could have been some Syrian nuclear facility or a hidey-hole for undeclared North Korean nuclear equipment (unlikely); a factory assembling illegally imported North Korean SCUDs (maybe); or a facility where the Norks were providing unsavory but possibly legal assistance to the Syrians in upgrading their home-made SCUDs (more likely).

Per Syria Comment, Raw Story reports:

Israel did not strike a nuclear weapons facility in Syria on Sept. 6, instead striking a cache of North Korean missiles, current and former intelligence officials say.

American intelligence sources familiar with key events leading up to the Israeli air raid tell RAW STORY that what the Syrians actually had were North Korean No-Dong missiles, possibly located at a site in either the city of Musalmiya in the northern part of Syria or further south around the city of Hama.

While reports have alleged the US provided intelligence to Israel or that Israel shared their intelligence with the US, sources interviewed for this article believe that neither is accurate.

By most accounts of intelligence officials, both former and current, Israel and the US both were well aware of the activities of North Korea and Syria and their attempts to chemically weaponize the No-Dong missile. It therefore remains unclear why an intricate story involving evidence of a Syrian nuclear weapons program and/or enriched uranium was put out to press organizations.

Concerning the absence of official confirmation of the raid’s details and the intensifying campaign of leaks, I wrote:

It’s not credible that the U.S. government would sit on a genuine case of North Korean nuclear trafficking with Syria and let the story dribble out through anonymous sources just to keep the Six Party talks lurching along and give Chris Hill something to do.

Maybe there’s a hardliner plan to leak their story in so much detail that Washington and Tel Aviv’s credibility are put on the line, and the Bush administration will see no alternative except to succumb to the temptation to give this story some official legs—spurious or otherwise.

Syria Comment passes on the text of a John Bolton editorial in the Wall Street Journal, demanding that President Bush get behind the North Korean nukes in Syria story...or else!:

President Bush stands at a dispositive point regarding his personal legacy on North Korea. Until now, one could say with a straight face, if not entirely accurately, that implementing the Feb. 13 agreement was the State Department's responsibility. No longer. The Israeli strike and the possible Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation associated with it have presidential consequences. Further concessions to the North can now be laid only at the White House door, just as only the president can bring a tougher, more realistic attitude to the issue. That would be a real legacy.


From China Matters:

Maybe the remarkable official silence on the attack reflects a struggle in Washington as to whether to move on—or exploit the circumstances and ambiguity surrounding the raid in the most inflammatory way possible.

From Raw Story:

Some believe that the Office of the Vice President is continuing to battle any attempts at diplomacy made by the US State Department in an effort to ensure no alternative but a military solution to destabilize and strike Iran, using Syria's alleged nuclear weapons program and close relations with Iran as a possible pretext.

So Well Done! China Matters! Prizes for everyone!

But seriously, a few more observations:

First, the cautious disclaimer: As Freud observed, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes apparently futile, suicidal cooperation in nuclear weaponry between cadet and full-fledged members of the Axis of Evil is just that.

Second, there seems to be a credible basis for the no nukes story, as the Raw Story report indicates. Some knowledgeable people are pushing back against the nuclear story.

As for the report that the North Korean missiles were “possibly located at a site in either the city of Musalmiya in the northern part of Syria or further south around the city of Hama”, that either means that the blabbers are intelligence officials no longer serving (and therefore lacking access to the satellite imagery that would indicate pretty conclusively which Syrian city is proud possessor of a brand new, smoking hole in the ground courtesy of the Israeli air force) or this geographic vagueness is an attempt to disguise the fact that serving officials are dishing to the media.

Third, Raw Story is a bona fide news organization, but it’s nowhere near top drawer (sorry). Maybe talking to Raw Story is a shot across the bow to the hardliners, a warning that the no-nukes story will get fed to the Washington Post and New York Times if the nuclear nonsense continues.

Fourth, if the nuclear story is untrue then somebody is (gulp) lying. The nuclear story, with its tale of Israeli commandoes, seized nuclear material, and anxious conferences between Washington and Tel Aviv is too categorical and detailed to be treated as the result of incomplete information and inference. If the nuke story is nothing more than The Big Lie, it’s a pretty bold move.

So far John Bolton doesn’t seem to be sure of independent corroboration for the nuke story.

But the important point here is that the truth is unimportant.

The only question is, will the Bush administration run with the story or not.

John Bolton wants an official endorsement of the story, regardless of whether it's true or false, by the Bush administration, so that the credibility and prestige of the United States are irrevocably invested in the nuke story, standards of evidence evaporate, and the only question is, are you with us or against us.

So what we’re really holding our breath for here is that Waiting for Godot moment.

Will President Bush follow Vice President Cheney’s lead and decide to push the Bolton line, in which case the principled moderates in the State Department will simply roll over again, suck it up, and grimly push the nuclear story even if it’s false?

Or will the President decide to let the nuclear story peter out unconfirmed?

And ratchet down tension in the Middle East just as he’s trying to foment an Iran-centered crisis?

And expose himself and his support from his remaining knuckledragger base to an escalating barrage of leaks and accusations--orchestrated by hardliners outside of his administration and beyond his control--that he wussed out on a North Korean nuclear provocation in the Middle East?

Hmmm. Don’t like the direction this thought experiment is heading.

My original post is here.


Unknown said...

Bolton knows FA, and admits as such here!

blowback said...

Maybe Bolton is hoping that once the North Koreans have dismantled their nuclear program, Bush will abrogate the treaty (nothing new there) claiming that the North Koreans broke the treaty by exporting the technology to Syria and return to his previous posture of North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" that must be destroyed. There were comments in the US Press recently that the Americans inspecting the North Korean facilities should render them useless on the spot. I can't see the Chinese being very happy if the Bush do this.

China Hand said...

Apropos of David’s comment that “John Bolton knows FA” as to whether nukes were the real target of the raid, I may be unfairly calumniating Mr. Bolton, but I don’t think the truth of the matter is important to him.

If Mr. Bolton was confident of Administration backing, he would not hesitate to propagate whatever story, true or not, that suited his agenda.

On the other hand, he might not want to risk his credibility with a full-throated accusation if he doubted that his cry would be echoed by the White House.

So, to me Mr. Bolton’s circumspection is not a matter of tender regard for the facts. It’s an indication that President Bush hasn’t decided to harvest the fruits of the nuclear allegations that the hardliners have obligingly if anonymously seeded in the press.

If the Bush administration provides suitable rhetorical straw, Mr. Bolton won’t hesitate to make accusatory bricks.

Unknown said...

This Newsnight video from March 2007 is a joy to watch, as Jeremy Paxman tears into Bolton (who turns red) re Iraq

Paxman shows nothing but contempt for Bolton:)

Unknown said...

BDA is now back with Stanley Au

China Hand said...

Thanks for your tip on BDA. The influence of BDA on the China Matters hive mind is frightening. Yesterday for no good reason I e-mailed Treasury about the status of Stanley Au's petition and got the message back that the petition had been reviewed and the rule still stands. Blogged it and the Macau news in the next entry.