Seymour Hersh as Dorian Gray

The following piece by Louis Proyect is the sixth article I’ve posted in response to Seymour Hersh’s “The Red Line and the Rat Line” which appeared in the London Review of Books on Sunday.

How can one article merit this amount of attention and criticism?

In terms of its substance, it does not. Had such a thinly-sourced report been written by anyone else, the LRB wouldn’t have touched it — it would more likely have appeared somewhere like Mint Press or Alex Jones’ Infowars.

But whenever the byline “Seymour Hersh” appears in the media, shock-waves ripple across the planet. His latest blockbuster always commands that governments respond. Within hours official statements get circulated to the press.

It’s an unfortunate effect because this reaction to Hersh lends his reporting more gravity than its most recent examples deserve. Moreover, the fact that he can prompt such swift responses reenforces the perception that this is a man who through telling the truth, has the power to shake the establishment. Thus, there seems all the more reason to treat his “revelations” as authoritative.

However, for me (and a few others) the reason Hersh’s work demands attention at this time, is because it reveals a malaise on the Left.

A fear of “Islamic terrorists” or “jihadists” which a decade ago served as the fuel powering the neoconservative enterprise, has since then percolated across the political spectrum and turned into a widely accepted means to delegitimize the Syrian revolution.

It is now not uncommon to hear people suggest that after Bashar al-Assad has killed tens of thousands of his own people and turned cities to rubble, for him to remain in power would be the lesser of two evils.

It’s either Assad or the wild men who eat human hearts for breakfast, many on the Right and the Left now believe.

Islamophobia which used to reside on the Right has now acquired a veneer of cosmopolitan “realism.”

This is why the attention I’m giving to Hersh is not all about the veteran investigative reporter. He merely highlights a much wider corruption of thought.

Louis Proyect’s choice of metaphor is both provocative and appropriate.

Proyect writes: Like his last article for the London Review of Books, Seymour Hersh’s latest continues to demonstrate that he is no longer a trenchant and truthful investigative reporter. Instead the portrait of a decaying and sloppy propagandist is taking shape, just as damning as the one that caught up with Dorian Gray. While Gray recoiled in horror from what he saw, it is likely that Hersh will persist in his ways since so many of his fans are also committed to demonizing the Syrian rebels and rallying around the “axis of good” in Syria, Iran and Russia. With this 77 year old reporter so badly in need of correction, it is almost tragic that none will be made.

To start with, he likens Barack Obama to George W. Bush as if the rhetoric about “red lines” were to be taken seriously. Hersh believes that he was held back by “military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.” I often wonder if people like Hersh bother to read the NY Times or — worse — read it and choose to ignore it.

In fact there was zero interest in a large-scale intervention in Syria in either civilian or military quarters. All this is documented in a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest, that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.” In other words, the White House policy was and is allowing the Baathists and the rebels to exhaust each other in an endless war, just as was White House policy during the Iran-Iraq conflict.

These pacifist military leaders, Hersh assures us, were suffering sleepless nights over Turkey’s bellicose role in the region.

‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria — and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

With all these unnamed military leaders and spooks at his beck and call, who are we to question Hersh’s analysis? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t put much store in unnamed inside-the-beltway sources after putting up with Judith Miller’s “reporting” in the NY Times back in 2003:

Having concluded that international inspectors are unlikely to find tangible and irrefutable evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration is preparing its own assessment that will rely heavily on evidence from Iraqi defectors, according to senior administration officials.

I understand that most people on the left are willing to take Hersh’s word at face value but I suppose that is to be expected when they are also partial to and Iran’s PressTV. Like the Obama voter who takes Rachel Maddow by the loving spoonful, these “radicals” find their bliss in media outlets that do not pass the smell test. [Continue reading…]

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  1. Proyect’s metaphor might be appropriate if his article were anything other than a series of half-baked cheap shots. His “argument” here stands on two wobbly legs: one is an unsubstantiated speculation about who Hersh’s source is (a speculation that quickly mutates into an accepted fact in Proyect’s polemic); the other is a bizarre non-refutation, based on one WSJ article, of Hersh’s claim that, contrary to U.S. policy, jihadis in the Syrian war have gotten their hands on MANPADs via Turkey. Here Proyect doesn’t seem to understand that what’s being discussed are things behind the curtain of official politics; one wonders if he’s ever heard of, say, Pakistan, where a close “ally” can have its own agenda–like “hunting for” and protecting Bin Laden all at the same time.

    But what makes Proyect’s attack not just inept but malicious is when he veers into the staple name-calling of the “pro-Revolution” Left writing about Syria. All of a sudden Seymour Hersh shows not (putative) journalistic just bad judgment, but  “partisan zeal for the Baathist dictatorship”–I guess sort of like all of us pro-Saddam antiwar types back inthe early 2000s, or us pro-Ghaddafi fanatics who opposed NATOs heroism a couple of years ago. I don’t now about Hersh, but poor Oscar Wilde really deserves better.