Monday, December 09, 2013

Everyone has their blinkers on

Seymour Hersh has an extensive article in the London Review of Books alleging that Barack Obama lied to set up a war that he never wanted in the first place. It all makes sense to Seymour Hersh and his numerous unnamed sources. Just one example of the contentious style of argument in the article. There's a discussion of how the USA has secret sensors all over Syria near chemical weapons sites and --

The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August, the former official said. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded.

On the other hand, regarding the casualty counts --

The strikingly precise US total was later reported by the Wall Street Journal to have been based not on an actual body count, but on an extrapolation by CIA analysts, who scanned more than a hundred YouTube videos from Eastern Ghouta into a computer system and looked for images of the dead. In other words, it was little more than a guess.)  

Note the logic: when his unnamed source tells him that super-duper technology didn't detect preparations for an attack, that's taken as part of his case that there was no government attack. But when photo/video analysis technology is applied to the actual images of the attack and comes up with an awkward number, that's dismissed as a "guess." Consider also the levels of insinuation in this method: Assad didn't do it, and if he did, it didn't kill that many people. Hersh's fans no doubt see heroic debunking, but that style of argument is the plain old multi-step denial program.

In terms of who Hersh and his sources think did it, he's weirdly obsessed with the Al Nusra front, which is just one of numerous Islamist groups, albeit one of the most effective against the Assad forces. The cui bono question should apply to everybody running around with unnamed sources and leaks, shouldn't it?

UPDATE: One of Hersh's insinuations relies on an apparent non-update of a New York Times story about the range of the rockets used in the attack. The story has since been updated. It doesn't change the expert assessment that the attack was most likely carried out by Assad forces.