Yesterday’s front-page New York Times article by Michael Schwirtz, entitled “Horror in Syria Has Secret Ties to North Korea,” begins a new public chapter in what is already a very sad and disturbing story. The yawning duplicity of the Syrian regime and its Russian lawyers grows wider, and the irresponsible claims of the Obama Administration become more obvious than ever.
The New York Times article doesn’t say so in so many words, but it is now clear that even as the United States and others were acting as hazmat garbage collectors, ridding Syria of years’ worth of militarily useless but still toxic chemical weapons precursors (and paying the bill for it!), the Syrian regime was importing new and powerful chemical weapons matériel from North Korea—most certainly with the knowledge of Russian officials, and probably Chinese officials, too. Out the front door went the bad stuff, in through the back door came more of the worse stuff.
In that light, it is worth reviewing a few choice past statements as they have piled up over time.
“. . . we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”
Secretary of State John Kerry,
Meet the Press, July 20, 2014
“We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”
Susan Rice, Obama NSC Advisor,
NPR interview, January 16, 2017
“If the Syrian government carried out the [April 2017] attack and the agent was sarin, then clearly the 2013 agreement didn’t succeed. Either [Assad] didn’t declare all his CW and kept some hidden in reserve, or he illegally produced some sarin after his stock was eliminated—most likely the former.”
Robert Einhorn, State Department Special Adviser for Nonproliferation and Arms Control,
New York Times, April 9, 2017
“Certainly what we tried to do in the last Administration is dismantle the entire chemical weapons program, which we know they never did.”
Mallory Stewart, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Emerging Security Challenges and Defense Policy, 2015-17,
quoted in the New York Times, February 28, 2018
The new revelations may tempt other former Obama Administration officials to claim that they did get rid of all the Syrian CW, and that the prohibited substances used in April 2017 had been newly introduced into the country from North Korea. That would be just another falsehood, however. The evidence is clear, just as Ms. Stewart says, that the Syrian government never declared all of its chemical weapon stocks. The evidence is now clear that they have been adding to those stocks in recent years.
This is a sore subject for me. I was very much alone when I claimed in writing, in public, as early as September 30, 2013, that the Syrians were lying about their chemical weapons stocks.1 It became even clearer to me that the evidence for their lying was growing two years before the revelatory April 2017 sarin attack that clarified for the obtuse the truth about what the Obama Administration had failed to achieve.2
I beat on this drum repeatedly in the fall of 2013 and for months and even years beyond in hopes of getting some company in calling the Obama Administration’s claims to the carpet. One reason I did so was because of the shadows cast by the Syria deception on the Administration’s sales pitch regarding the Iran nuclear deal—and thanks to an excessively candid interview that Ben Rhodes gave to David Samuels in 2016, it turns out I was right to be skeptical.3 I got no company whatsoever on the Syrian CW business, not even from Republican staffers who had a clear partisan interest in helping out. It was a frustrating experience.
Only around 2015 did I get any company at all, none of it mentioning my early warnings. For example, a Wall Street Journal investigation published on July 23, 2015 showed that the Assad regime hid nerve agents, relocated stockpiles to complicate the work of verification inspectors, and kept weapons-research facilities up and running even after the main mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons ended in 2014.
With yesterday’s revelations, things look even worse. I quoted Mallory Stewart above. Here is how the Times article describes the situation back in 2013 and beyond:
. . . Western officials and nonproliferation experts have long suspected that Mr. Assad retains some chemical weapons. . . . Mallory Stewart, a former State Department official who was involved in the Obama administration’s efforts to dismantle serious chemical weapons program, said that there were always concerns that the Assad government had not listed all of its chemical weapons stockpile on its declared inventory of what it gave up. The [UN] report, she says, “confirms everything we’ve been saying.”
“Everything we’ve been saying”? Everything who has been saying? And saying to whom? Apparently no one told John Kerry anything before midsummer 2014, because otherwise it is very hard to reconcile his claim of 100 percent success as anything other than a bald-faced lie. I have been following this issue fairly closely for years, and, before yesterday I cannot recall seeing anything that Mallory Stewart said on the record about this matter, even in the time since she left the State Department. Maybe I missed it.
Just one final note, for now. Yesterday’s Times article says nothing about what the U.S. intelligence community either did or did not know about the Syria-North Korea chemical weapons connection, and when it did or did not know it. But a hint as to the answer resides in something that the current National Security Advisor said after the U.S. cruise missile strike on Syria in April of last year, following the Syrian chemical weapons attack that provoked it. On April 6, H.R. McMaster said as follows at a news conference held in Florida:
. . . the one thing that I will tell you though, there was an effort to minimize—to minimize risk to third-country nationals at that airport—I think you read Russians from that—but that—and we took great pains to try to avoid that. Of course, in any kind of military operation, there are no guarantees. And then there were also measures put in place to avoid hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas, so that that would not be ignited and cause a hazard to civilians or anyone else.
In other words, reading ever so slightly between the lines, at least as of April of this past year the U.S. intelligence community knew there was sarin gas still in Syria, they knew where at least some of it was, and they knew that the Russians knew where it was, too, in their complicity with the Syrian regime. I find it difficult to believe that this was new knowledge at the time, and even more difficult to believe that intelligence sources available to the United Nations were superior to and independent of those available to the U.S. government. I suspect the U.S. intelligence community has known about this for quite some time, going back fairly deep into the tenure of the Obama Administration.
Draw your own conclusions.
3 David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” The New York Times Magazine, May 5, 2016