CNN, Sunday, emphasis mine:
U.N. inspectors prepared to examine the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria on Monday, a strike a U.S. official said was all but certain was carried out by the embattled Syrian government.
Rebel forces and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government have been blaming each other for Wednesday's reported attack in a suburb of Damascus, which opposition members say killed hundreds. Gruesome video of the aftermath showed numerous bodies, including women and children.
The U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the evidence pointing to government forces goes beyond images and open-source reporting from doctors and others.
"There is nothing credible to indicate that the rebels, either the Syrian National Council or even al-Nusra Front, have used chemical weapons," the official said. "Only the Assad regime is responsible for chemical weapons use."
The official says the evidence was "collected by multiple international sources" and was being analyzed in secure locations. The official would not say how the samples were collected or specify where the analysis was taking place.
An anonymous official, citing slam-dunk evidence of WMDs that unfortunately has to remain secret. There is no indication that the "official" understands how very familiar this all sounds, and no attempt to explain why we should believe it this time around. From the other side:
Russia's Foreign Ministry said unilateral force that bypassed the United Nations would "undermine international efforts to find a political and diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict, lead to its further escalation and have an extremely destructive effect on what already is an explosive situation in the Middle East."
"All this is reminiscent of events of 10 years ago in which, using false information that the Iraqis possessed weapons of mass destruction as a pretext and bypassing the United Nations, the United States launched a reckless enterprise with consequences that everyone is well aware of," Foreign Ministry spokesman A.K. Lukashevich said in a written statement.
It's kind of sad. The officials of a thuggish pseudo-dictatorship can remember and discuss obvious facts from the recent past, and are willing to go on the record, and make official ministry statements. In the world's leading democracy we have to rely on leakers (or "leakers") who seem to have amnesia to get our first notice of what our government is planning to do.
By Monday, once the "leaker" had prepped the media, Kerry and Carney were willing to go on the record, although they provided no further evidence that Assad had used WMDs:
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday that Obama was evaluating "a response to the clear use on a mass scale with repugnant results of chemical weapons," adding that "there is very little doubt that the Syrian regime ... used those weapons."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the attack "inexcusable" and "undeniable," and said there was "a clear reason that the world has banned entirely chemical weapons."
He said that evidence "strongly indicates" chemical weapons were used in Syria and that "we know the Syrian regime maintains custody" of such weapons and has the rockets to use them.
How about instead of telling us how strong the evidence is, you just tell what the evidence is, and if it's strong it will speak for itself.
In any case, the Independent (UK) is claiming the decision has already been made:
Western countries, including Britain, are planning to take unilateral military action against the Assad regime within two weeks in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria.
David Cameron discussed launching missile strikes against key regime targets during a 40-minute telephone call with Barack Obama on Saturday night and also with the French President François Hollande on Sunday. While Downing Street said western powers had not ruled out seeking UN endorsement for military action they added that they were also prepared to unilaterally.
Mr Cameron may hope that the limited nature of the planned response may help him avoid having to hold a pre-emptive vote on military action in Parliament, where he could face strong opposition not just from Labour but also his own backbenches who are concerned about the UK being increasing dragged into yet another Middle Eastern conflict.
Note the timing. On Saturday, they're already talking attack in private. On Sunday, an anonymous "official" trots out the line that there's secret slam-dunk evidence (SSDE). On Monday, US officials with actual names come out to say that the SSDE is compelling them to consider an attack.
And of course, there just had to be UN inspectors involved. The inspectors are in, but even before they went in it was declared to be too late:
Syria will allow weapons inspectors to visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians, the United Nations said Sunday, but the Obama administration said the offer of access is too little too late.
Issue ultimatums demanding that inspectors be allowed in, and then when the demand is met, immediately turn around and act like the idea of inspectors is some kind of delay tactic and we can't wait for them to finish. Sound familiar?
Are we just completely lacking in imagination? Can't our administration come up with a better story than the exact same one their predecessors used 10 years ago? It's a shot-for-shot remake of the previous film: the WMD claims, the media campaign to retroactively justify a decision already made, demands for inspectors who are then immediately declared irrelevant.
All this to promote an action that risks handing over a whole country to a coalition of Al-Qaeda, cannibals, con-men, and a few increasingly marginalized democrats.
UPDATE (Tuesday): Brendan points out that a report is due to be released today:
On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the first step toward a military response in Syria would be the public release of a U.S. intelligence report on the August 21 event near Damascus that reportedly killed and wounded thousands.
That was planned to happen on Tuesday, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak on the record.
Citing Kerry's strong statement Monday that essentially blamed the Syrian government for what the secretary called an "undeniable" chemical weapons attack and the expected release of the intelligence report, the official said the administration was "laying out the case for any action if and when President Obama decides."
Another official said the intelligence report would include forensic evidence and intercepted communications among Syrian military commanders.
Maybe it's a good idea to lay out what I think the standard of evidence ought to be, before it comes out. First, the forensic evidence would merely show that chemical weapons were used, not who used them. Even if analysis can trace it to Syrian army stockpiles, that doesn't prove anything since there have been numerous defections and bases overrun by rebels. Second, the intercepted communications would at least have to be direct interceptions by our own, or allied, intelligence agencies. A second hand report that some rebels claim to have intercepted communications counts for zero, less than zero, really.
But even if such evidence was presented, there is still the unfortunate problem that our officials cannot be trusted. They could simply be lying, or repeating lies they received after letting their subordinates know what was wanted. Recall Colin Powell's memorable speech about the biological weapons trailer. You could argue that Kerry is not Powell, I would respond that Powell prior to his speech had a career of dignified public service while Kerry is a career politician with a history of warmongering before the fact and repenting after it's too late.
So you put them under oath, but then there is the even more unfortunate problem that our officials have a history of perjury and/or tolerating perjurors. So even if Obama, Kerry, and the whole crew put themselves under oath in front of Congress and swear that they have a recording of Assad asking his commanders to find a concentration of women and orphans and gas them, I'm going to be skeptical.
What would it take for me to believe them? How about this: the Prez starts by acknowledging that there is no reason for us to believe him and he understands that his credibility is gone, and he wants to get it back. He presents the intelligence in the form he received it from the agencies, without any spin doctoring or editing by the political branches. He announces that perjury is no longer tolerated, and to demonstrate this, Clapper has not only been fired, but has been arrested and charged with a felony, and that bail will be denied since national security is at stake.
Now at this point I have to apologize for making you read four paragraphs of rant, because it was all irrelevant. If the Prez did all of the above, I might start to believe him, but it doesn't matter because even if Assad did use chemical weapons it's still not a good reason to go to war. We've ignored much worse things, for example, the Andijan massacre, when it was in our interest to do so. And it's in our interest not to help the cannibal-jihadi coalition get control of Syria.