Oh, how great Barack Obama’s second inaugural address was. He mentioned climate change! And how he’s going to do something about it! And laid out a full-throated liberal, progressive agenda for his second term! And yes, it was great he name-dropped Stonewall and Selma, seminal moments in American history.

But allow me this: Obama uttered a major falsehood, something that progressives should call him out on, and yet not many did (though Salon’s Natasha Lennard was on it). And the falsehood speaks to a highly important legacy that Obama will be leaving behind: the institutionalization of a permanent war footing so the U.S. can wreak havoc around the globe in the name of fightin’ terror.

“A decade of war is now ending,” said Obama, in his inaugural address. 

But you see, Obama is not ending any war. It is true that he pulled out of Iraq, though that was only after the Iraqi government rebuffed his requests for U.S. troops to stay past 2012. And it is true that plans are being formulated for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan--but it is also true that the Obama administration has held negotiations over having U.S. troops occupy that country for longer.

But the brazen lie that Obama has ended a decade of war comes in full view when you look at his record on drones. On the same day as Obama was inaugurated, his outgoing Secretary of Defense was much more truthful on this issue: “The reality is [drones are] going to be a continuing tool of national defense in the future.”

These drone strikes have hit Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and have indeed waged war on both militants there and the civilian population.

To end, I’ll allow Esquire magazine’s Tom Junod, who has written extensively on the human costs of Obama’s drone program, to rip Obama’s war claim to shreds:

It is a war that continues even as the president said that our wars are ending. It is a war that persists even as he said that “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” It is a war that endures and flourishes even as the president said that Americans are “heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends.”

I am not speaking, of course, of the wars that the president spoke of yesterday, in his second inaugural speech -- the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he spoke of without naming. I am speaking of the war that is currently being prosecuted in countries where we are not supposed to be at war, like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. I am speaking of the perpetual war, the shadow war, the invisible war against invisible enemies, the war whose latest manifestation came just two days ago, when three men identified as militants, names unknown, were killed by an American drone. I am speaking of the war that the president did not speak about, even though his Administration has never called it anything but a war, and it has killed thousands of people.




A report that the regime of Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against Syrians jolted foreign policy watchers yesterday. But other news outlets have cast doubt on the story.

Yesterday, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reported that a “secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month.” The attack allegedly took place in the Syrian city of Homs on December 23.

“We can't definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23,” an administration official told Rogin. Agent 15 is a powerful hallucinogen.

Chemical weapons use on Syrian civilians or on Syrian opposition fighters has long been feared by the U.S. government, and is considered a “red line” for the U.S. If chemical weapons were actually used, the prospects for U.S. intervention would likely increase. Still, it’s important to note that previous reports of Syria preparing to use chemical weapons were unsubstantiated, despite breathless corporate media reporting.

After Rogin’s report was published, the White House downplayed it. “The reporting we have seen from media sources regarding alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria has not been consistent with what we believe to be true about the Syrian chemical weapons program,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Wired’s Noah Shachtman also cautioned against reading too much into the report:

It’s important to note, however, that this was the conclusion of a single consulate within the State Department, and there is still wide disagreement within the U.S. government over whether the Homs attack should be characterized as a chemical weapons incident...

When U.S. officials first caught wind of Syrian rebels’ chemical weapons claim, the officials didn’t make much of it. In graphic videos uploaded to YouTube, opposition activists said they were hit by a gas that was “something similar to sarin,” a deadly nerve agent. The videos showed victims howling in agony and barely able to breathe. But the symptoms, as gruesome as they were, didn’t seem like the one produced by sarin.

There were complaints of strong smells in the videos; sarin is often odorless. There were reports that the victims inhaled large amounts of the chemical; a minuscule of amount of inhaled sarin can be fatal.

“It just doesn’t jibe with chemical weapons,” one U.S. official told Danger Room at the time.

Later accounts from Homs more closely match what one might expect from a nerve gas victim. Rogin spoke with Dr. Nashwan Abu Abdo, a neurologist from Homs, who talked about victims with pinpoint pupils, “choking on their own secretions.”

Abdo’s descriptions, however, don’t correspond with the conclusions of the State Department cable. A hallucinogen like BZ is unlikely to produce the effects Abdo outlined; such drugs typically cause pupils to grow, for instance, not contract.

Something horrible happened in Homs on December 23. Exactly what that horrible event was still isn’t clear.