Pentagon: Yeah, Hagel pulled that "Russian chem weapons" stuff out of his hat

Smart power, my friends.  Smart power.  We’re in the very best of hands, as a foreign policy dream team of Barack Obama, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel steps up to bat for America.

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel accused Russia of supplying Syria with chemical weapons.  Today the Pentagon was obliged to remind the world that, as with Obama and Kerry, it’s not a good idea to parse Hagel’s words too carefully.  From ABC News:

It all happened in an exchange with Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during which Hagel said it???s no secret that the Assad regime has significant stockpiles of chemical weapons.

When Wilson asked where they???d come from, Hagel said, ???Well, the Russians supply them. Others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves.???

After the hearing had concluded, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little issued a clarification, explaining that Hagel was referring to the ???well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia.???

He also pointed out that Syria has had a ???decades-old largely indigenous chemical weapons program.???

He added that some Russian military equipment and support can be modified to support Syria???s chemical weapons program.

Oh, come on.  What percentage of English-speaking human beings would listen to the boldfaced response from Hagel and conclude he was not saying the Russians supplied Syria with chemical weapons?  One percent?  Less?  Shouldn’t America’s high officials, our representatives to the rest of mankind, be required to possess communication skills at grade-school level or better?

Watch Hagel’s little “gaffe” and see if you think he was just parenthetically remarking that the Syrians get a lot of conventional weapons from Russia:

This is not to say that the Russians are constitutionally incapable of providing weapons of mass destruction to their clients.  But this is not the kind of accusation that should be made without solid proof, and plans to deal with the global political fallout.  You don’t take a verbal shot like this unless you’re certain you’re going to hit the target, and the target is worth hitting.  Pentagon “clarifications” notwithstanding, I think Hagel probably meant what he said, and might even have good reasons for saying it, but evidently it has been decided that U.S. – Russia tensions will not be taken up to that particular notch at this juncture.

It’s all par for the course in Obama’s bumbling, stumbling rush to war.  This was never supposed to be anything more than Obama shooting off a couple of cruise missiles, posing for a heroic photo or two, and hoping his opinion polls creep up a bit.  He and his team were not prepared to answer tough questions about war strategy, the rebel forces, or the long-term situation in Syria.  As you can see from Secretary of State Kerry mumbling that this won’t be “war in the classic sense,” Team Obama seems nonplussed at having to think of this operation as a “war” at all.

As for the Russians, they’re talking up a hundred-page report they compiled in July, accusing the rebels of being repeat chem-weapons offenders in Syria.  The report was filed before the big attack in August that prompted the current “red line” crisis.  In fact, it’s one of the reasons U.N. weapons inspectors were in Syria when the red-line attack occurred.  From McClatchy News:

In a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry???s website late Wednesday. Russia said the report had been delivered to the United Nations in July and includes detailed scientific analysis of samples that Russian technicians collected at the site of the alleged attack, Khan al Asal.

Russia said its investigation of the March 19 incident was conducted under strict protocols established by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international agency that governs adherence to treaties prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. It said samples that Russian technicians had collected had been sent to OPCW-certified laboratories in Russia.

The report itself was not released. But the statement drew a pointed comparison between what it said was the scientific detail of the report and the far shorter intelligence summaries that the United States, Britain and France have released to justify their assertion that the Syrian government launched chemical weapons against Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21. The longest of those summaries, by the French, ran nine pages. Each relies primarily on circumstantial evidence to make its case, and they disagree with one another on some details, including the number of people who died in the attack.

The Russian statement warned the United States and its allies not to conduct a military strike against Syria until the United Nations had completed a similarly detailed scientific study into the Aug. 21 attack. It warned that what it called the current ???hysteria??? about a possible military strike in the West was similar to the false claims and poor intelligence that preceded the United States invasion of Iraq.

???The Russian report is specific,??? the ministry statement said. ???It is a scientific and technical document.???

Sure, this might just be a diversionary tactic to protect Russia’s client in Syria.  And even if the Russian report turns out to be rock-solid, that doesn’t mean Assad is not responsible for the big August gas attack.  But it does mean Barack Obama might end up launching a unilateral intervention against one set of war criminals… on behalf of another.  Come to think of it, the “red line” speech from last year that Obama suddenly began disavowing yesterday explicitly threatened dire consequences for anyone who used WMD in Syria.

We’re going to need a bigger “reset button” to fix America’s standing in the world after Obama is gone.