Leading nations to war under dubious pretenses is not a new idea. It has been around for millennia. The United States has not been immune. The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor is probably the best example. There is another layer - distinct from, but closely akin to, the outright lie - that is more popular. It is creating a story that is partly true in its particulars but false in itself. Take for instance testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990. A woman, identified only as Nayirah, gave a heart rending account of Iraqi atrocities in newly occupied Kuwait:
I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital with twelve other women who wanted to help as well. I was the youngest volunteer. The other women were from twenty to thirty years old. While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die.[crying] It was horrifying.
Her stories were true (mostly) but it eventually emerged that she was Nayirah al-Sabah, the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. When Iraq invaded she was not in a Kuwaiti hospital, she was in the United State. The purpose of her scripted performance was to build a case for war with Iraq to liberate Kuwait. Ms. al-Sabah is what is known as a propagandist.
The same question is being asked today about the role of a young woman named Elizabeth O’Bagy and the extent to which US news coverage of the civil war in Syria is being manipulated by undisclosed lobbying groups in order to precipitate a US intervention.
Elizabeth O’Bagy And The Intervention Debate
Ms. O’Bagy first drew attention when she penned an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal titled On The Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War. But she has been active advocating on behalf of the Syrian rebels. Via The Daily Caller:
Kerry and other lawmakers — including Sen. John McCain — have relied on O’Bagy’s assessments while calling for an American military intervention in Syria. McCain even traveled with O’Bagy to Syria in May.
“A woman by the name of Elizabeth Bagly, B-A-G-L-Y, just wrote an article,” Kerry said in congressional testimony Wednesday — spelling O’Bagy’s name wrong — “she works with the Institute of War. She’s fluent in Arabic and spent an enormous amount of time studying the opposition and studying Syria. She just published this the other day. Very interesting [Wall Street Journal] article, which I commend to you.”
“I just don’t agree that a majority are al-Qaida and the bad guys,” Kerry concluded.
Kerry made the same argument before the Senate on Tuesday.
“The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation,” Kerry told Sen. Ron Johnson, “more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to … an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular.”
But on Thursday morning, Reuters called out Kerry’s — and by extension, O’Bagy’s — assessment as “at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements.”
In December, O’Bagy opposed the Obama administration’s attempts to designate al-Nusra — a powerful Syrian rebel group — as a terror organization because of its ties to al-Qaida.
“I’m not saying they aren’t a terrorist group. But given the circumstances and given their cooperation with the opposition as a whole, designating them now would be disastrous,” O’Bagy said to McClatchy newspapers in December 2012.
In April 2013, al-Nusra pledged loyalty to al-Qaida.
Her actual role is a bit convoluted as she holds two jobs. She is an analyst at a 501(c)3 called The Institute for the Study of War and simultaneously the political director of another 501(c)3 called the Syrian Emergency Task Force (or SETF). Ms. O’Bagy told the Daily Caller that she is actually a contract employee, not a staffer, though she appears as one of four persons identified by SETF as their Washington, DC, staff.
Before we depart keep two things in mind. First, Ms. O’Bagy has had an out-sized role in shaping the debate in the favor of the Syrian rebels and downplaying the extent to which they have been coopted by al Qaida. Second, she is employed by The Institute for the Study of War. While the nature of the contract she is working under remains nebulous (is it with her or is it with her employer) what is clear is that her employer has not objected to her assuming a high profile role in this debate.
If you go back to the SETF Washington Staff photos you will notice that their Executive Director is a guy named Mouaz Moustafa. He probably isn’t familiar to you. But look closely at this picture and he is the guy on the right. With him are Senator John McCain and the nominal/titular leader of the Free Syria Army, General Salim Idriss. This was taken when the SETF facilitated Senator McCain’s visit into rebel held territory in May 2013:
Sen. John McCain, one of Congress' strongest advocates for increasing America's role in Syria, on Monday became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country since a bloody civil war broke out there more than two years ago, NBC News has confirmed.
McCain, R-Ariz., crossed the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, The Daily Beast first reported.
McCain stayed in the country for several hours during the unannounced trip and met with rebel leaders, who called on the U.S. to increase its support of the Syrian opposition by providing weapons, a no-fly zone and air strikes on forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Who is Mouaz Moustafa? Well it depends. If you go to FrontPageMag, where even your grandmother is a closet jihadi, he is an Islamist of some sort:
Mouaz Moustafa is a Palestinian Arab and the Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force which arranged for McCain’s visit.
Senator McCain called Moustafa a “patriot”, but it’s not clear which country he’s a patriot of, since it’s not Mouaz Moustafa’s first time around on the regime change bus tour.
Before the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Moustafa was the Executive Director of the Libyan Council of North America, which like the SETF existed to help push regime change. Before that, he mentions working with “rebels” in Egypt. On his Twitter feed, he denounces the overthrow of Morsi making it rather clear which side he was on.
A lefty site opposed to the United States’ close alliance with Israel takes a different view. They show that Moustafa was listed as an “expert” for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an organization that has been heavily criticized as being very pro-Israel. It has never been accused of being pro-jihadi. His WINEP bio page has been deleted but he leaves a prolific trail on the WINEP website.
Syrian Emergency Task Force
The Syrian Emergency Task Force is a relatively new non-profit and no official filings have been made as it struggles to obtain IRS approval for its tax exempt status. We at RedState did a quick investigation of the registry for the SETF website and it is registered via a third party and anonymous. “Very quiet” was the way the registration was described. That doesn’t mean a whole lot but the lefty site that found Moustafa’s connection to WINEP found something interesting.
Even more intriguingly, one of the web addresses for Moustafa’s nonprofit is “syriantaskforce.torahacademybr.org.” The “torahacademybr.org” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel.”
Moustafa disputes any connection and says it was a “dumb error” by a web designer. Interesting. Torah Academy of Boca Raton is hosted on a server in Houston, TX. In fact, it is hosted on the same server as SETF. If the error was by a web designer, the Torah Academy’s web design was done by a company called TechLogically Media, maybe the only web design company in the world without a web site.
Earlier I said to keep in mind Ms. O’Bagy’s employment. Because regardless of the nature of the contract, we can assume that her employer is not displeased with her activities on behalf of SETF. Naturally, I checked their “Who We Are” page to see who was running the show.
Then, using a Guidestar account I decided to find out more about the Institute for the Study of War.
What Else is Happening
So how does the Israel’s lobbying organization fall out on the issue of Syria? Via Politico:
The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC is planning to launch a major lobbying campaign to push wayward lawmakers to back the resolution authorizing U.S. strikes against Syria, sources said Thursday.
Officials say that some 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm the halls on Capitol Hill beginning next week to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. They are expected to lobby virtually every member of Congress, arguing that “barbarism” by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated, and that failing to act would “send a message” to Tehran that the U.S. won’t stand up to hostile countries’ efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, according to a source with the group.
And where does Bill Kristol, political pundit and director of the Institute for the Study of War, stand. Again via Politico (damn their SEO is good):
Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, predicts Republicans will back President Barack Obama's call for military action in Syria.
"I think the Republican Party will step up and do the right thing and support the president against a chemical-weapons-using, terror-sponsoring, Iran-backed dictator," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press.".
Kristol added that he wished the president had taken in action in Syria in 2011 or 2012 but said that he made the right decision in going to Congress to authorize military force. He said that the authorization of action for the first Gulf War is a good example for this, noting, however that then-Sen. John Kerry voted against it.
What Does It Mean?
In terms of a smoking gun there is nothing. If you wish to connect dots, I would submit there are a lot of them to be connected. Ms. O’Bagy is hardly a heavy hitting intellectual. Her non-profit, SETF, is objectively a non-entity. Yet both she and SETF are punching way above their weight. She is working on a contract that has given her a high profile and some notoriety and the employer is fine with it. Take my word for it, this is not usual. One of the directors of her employing non-profit, one who is not listed on the website, is Bill Kristol. I don’t know what his ties are to AIPAC but they seem more than passing. The executive director of SETF is affiliated with WINEP, a pro-Israel think tank. And there is the nasty little coincidence of the SETF having the same hosting server and apparently the same web designer as a Jewish school in Boca Raton, FL. But the dots... eh, they're probably just coincidences.
Were I connecting the dots, I’d say that John McCain and John Kerry and a lot of other rubes have had been hooked, gaffed, and landed by an updated version of the Nayirah scam.