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September 01, 2013 11:10 AM John Kerry’s credibility problem

By Samuel Knight

On ABC’s “This Week,” John Kerry inadvertently highlighted the problem with the Obama administration’s decision to hinge the case for attacking Syria on American credibility - it’s already in short supply.

Kerry revealed that, in trying to appeal to the world that the U.S. must prepare to intervene to maintain its integrity and the credibility of international conventions, he dispatched his charges to the Kremlin to brief Russian officials on what he says is evidence that Assad used chemical weapons. But, the Secretary of State said, “they chose not to believe it or acknowledge it publicly.”

The interventionist camp will argue - with justification - that Russia is trying to defend a client state, here. But is that’s all that’s going on? That argument requires acknowledgment our government’s stated goal is the ouster of Assad - regime change policy over which the specter of the (John Kerry supported) Iraq War looms large. It immediately raises questions about the motivation to claim certainty of who is responsible for the Ghouta attack, here, and offers some justification to the Russians’ decision “not to believe it.”

The credibility problem goes beyond publicly stated U.S. intelligence estimates (there remains significant doubt, by the way, that Libya would have played host to a humanitarian crisis in the absence of intervention there in 2011). Our integrity deficit is fueled by a dearth of moral authority. A working paper commissioned by the United Nations in 2002, for example, concluded that depleted uranium - allegedly the cause of widespread birth defects and illness in Iraq - should be considered among “weapons of mass destruction…with indiscriminate effect, or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering” and, therefore, banned by the Geneva convention and other treaties. The same paper also drew similar conclusions about the legality of cluster bombs, anti-personnel mines and other weapons the United States army continues to use. Not to mention, Israel used white phosphorous in the densely populated Gaza Strip in an allegedly criminal manner in 2009, and President Obama didn’t bat an eyelash. Nor did the President appear keen on holding the past administration’s criminals to account. Suddenly we care about international law?

All this weighs heavily on John Kerry’s case for an attack - one with an integrity further battered by claims to Stephanopolous that this “limited” intervention can be reconciled with Republican Senators’ (McCain and Graham, of course) refusal to support any maneuvers that don’t seek to decisively overthrow Assad.

Kerry’s hypocrisy, thinly veiled by an over-eager swagger — including a refusal, on “This Week” to consider the possibility that the administration’s case for war will be rejected by Congress — is reminiscent of the dark days of 2002-2003.

It’s like George W. Bush joined the yacht club.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.

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