The claim has recently been made that the Obama administration concocted not only the imminent attacks on U.S. soil by the al-Qaeda cell The Khorasan Group, but the group itself, in order to make a case for self-defense and justify the bombing of Syria.
As outlandish as it may first appear that America would create a fictitious attack to justify its own attack, there is a pattern of just such fictions stretching back to nearly the very beginning of America’s wars.
President James Polk led America into one of its first foreign wars when he informed the congress that Mexico had attacked a U.S. Army detachment on American soil. In 1848, Abraham Lincoln, then a congressman, would make one of his first appearances in American history by standing up on the floor and demanding that the President inform the House of the exact spot upon which the attack took place. Polk would not answer. That first fictitious attack would justify the war with Mexico.
The second fictitious assault would take place half a century later in Manila. The Treaty of Paris would give the Philippines to the United States over the desires of the Filipinos, who would declare war on the U.S. the next year. But the treaty required ratification by the U.S. senate. As the senate was torn over the question of ratification and foreign expansion, Filipino insurgents attacked American soldiers in Manila. What was not reported to the senate at the time was that the insurgents only entered the skirmish after an American soldier had fired first. The fictitious unprovoked attack on Americans led the senate to protect American soldiers abroad and ratify the treaty. This second fictitious assault made the Philippines, along with Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba, American possessions.
A century later, the same strategy would be inflated and used again in Korea. The cause of war this time was the horde of North Korean invaders bursting the border dam and pouring, unprovoked into South Korea in a surprise attack. The next day, the Americans would introduce their fictitious story to the United Nations Security Council in the form of a resolution condemning the North Koreans for their "unprovoked aggression."
What the fictitious story’s audience did not know was that the North Korean attack was preceded by two days of South Korean bombing preparing the way for a surprise South Korean incursion and attack on the North Korean town of Haeju. The American authors of the fictitious story of the unprovoked attack knew it though. According to William Blum, an American military status report mentions the South Korean incursion on the night of the very day it happened. Blum also shows that several Western media sources independently confirm the South Korean attack. History would record North Korea’s fictitious surprise assault as the beginning of the Korean War.
The fictitious attack would appear next in 1964 when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would mislead President Johnson in an attempt to pressure him into war in Vietnam. McNamara would use the story of an attack by North Vietnamese boats on U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin to pressure Johnson into retaliating by bombing the North Vietnamese and to pressure congress into passing the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. But McNamara’s narrative omissions made for another fictitious assault. McNamara knew that John Herrick, the U.S. task force commander in the Gulf, had come to doubt the attack and wanted "a complete evaluation before any further action taken." He knew too that, based on those doubts, Admiral Sharp, the U.S. Commander, told McNamara to hold off on the retaliatory bombing. But McNamara continued to lie to the President in an attempt to use a fictitious attack to justify an American war.
A variation of the pattern may have been exploited in Syria and Ukraine more recently. In Syria, the sarin gas attack was temporarily offered as a justification for war on Assad. And though President Obama told the United Nations General Assembly that "It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack," that was not what Obama’s intelligence was suggesting to him. That’s why Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper would not put his name on the assessment produced, not by the office of the DNI, but by the White House.
Seymour Hersh has revealed that, despite the White House’s disingenuous claims, the U.S. was aware that, not only the Syrian army, but the Syrian rebels too had access to sarin. Hersh says that “In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaeda, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity.” And it was not just one rebel faction that could have fired the sarin. Hersh says that the CIA told the White House that “al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) [now ISIS], also understood the science of producing sarin.” He adds that a top secret summary provided to the Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed that al-Nusra “had the ability to acquire and use sarin.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff also undertook an “all-source analysis,” which, Hersh reports, concluded that “rebel forces were capable of attacking an American force with sarin because they were able to produce the lethal gas.”
Finally, with regards to Washington’s claim that reverse flight paths of the two missiles intersect at a Syrian military base, Theodore Postol of MIT and Richard Lloyd, an analyst from Tesla Laboratories, say there is a consensus among missile experts that the rockets analyzed would have had a maximum range of about three kilometers, while the claimed Syrian military launch site was about 9.5 kilometers from where the sarin carrying missiles struck.
This time the assault was not fictionalized, but staged, and then attributed to the party America wanted to attack.
If the explosion and sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor in 1898 that killed 268 men and helped whip up support for the Spanish-American war was falsely blamed on Spain, then this is an early appearance of a variant of the fiction that took place in Syria. No evidence was ever provided to implicate the Spanish. But the claim was made that the American ship had been treacherously sunk "by an enemy’s secret infernal machine" and the treachery was attributed to Spain. The real cause was a mystery, but the attribution of blame was fictionalized to help vilify and convict the party America wanted to go to war against.
A similar staging may have occurred in Ukraine in February when Maidan Square demonstrators were fired upon by snipers. The U.S. blamed Yanukovych and his government for the sniper fire that led to the violence that left more than eighty protesters and police dead. But the identity of the snipers was not so clear. A leaked phone conversation between Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton suggests that the snipers were not from the Yanukovych government, but provocateurs from its opposition. Paet says that a doctor informed him that the same kind of bullets killed people on both sides: the police and the protesters.”So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet says.
As in Syria, though not a fictional event, an event is staged and then attribution is conveniently made to the desired party. A similar strategy was employed in the American supported Venezuelan coup of 2002 that briefly removed Hugo Chavez from power.
And lest it seem even more outlandish, paranoid and conspiratorial that America would allow people on its side to be fired upon and killed, then enter into evidence the CIA manual that was prepared for America’s Nicaraguan contra allies in the 1980’s. In the manual, called Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare, the CIA recommends "taking the demonstrators to a confrontation with the authorities to bring about uprisings and shootings that will cause the death of one or more people to create a martyr for the cause."
So, as outlandish as the creation of a terrorist group and its imminent attacks on the U.S. may seem, it is not insane. At least not more insane than the historical reality that such a chain of fictional and staged attacks produced to justify American wars stretches back to the very beginning of American wars.
Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in U.S. foreign policy and history.