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September 11th, 2013
11:57 PM ET

Wagging the dog: The tale of Elizabeth O'Bagy

"Wag the Dog" was a dark comedy about a fake war sold to the American people by public relations professionals and a Hollywood producer.

"We aren't going to have a war. We're going to have the "appearance" of a war," said character Conrad Brean, played by actor Robert De Niro.

The movie "Thank You for Smoking" was another attempt to pull back the curtain on how Washington, D.C. really works.

"These guys realized quick if they were going to claim that cigarettes were not addictive, they better have proof. This is the man they rely on," said character Nick Naylor, played by actor Aaron Eckhart. "He's been testing the link between nicotine and lung cancer for 30 years and hasn't found any conclusive results. The man's a genius. He could disprove gravity."

Those two films and their somewhat exaggerated takes on Washington, D.C. came to mind Wednesday.

When the history of this odd moment in time is written – this period in either a build up to a military strike against Syria or whatever comes next – some attention may be paid to Elizabeth O'Bagy.

As the Obama administration prepared its case for military force, O'Bagy wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal headlined "On the Front Lines of Syria's Civil War," in which she pushed back against a narrative that the rebels are al Qaeda led extremists.

"Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news has been led to believe that a once peaceful, pro-democracy opposition has transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al Qaeda," she wrote, arguing that "moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces."

The op-ed was cited last Tuesday by Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, as Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the Senate.

"Secretary Kerry, John, over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal ran an important op-ed by Dr. Elizabeth O'Bagy – I hope you saw it – a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, spent a great deal of time inside Syria, including just this month. And I want to read her assessment of the situation on the ground," McCain said, going on to quote the op-ed.

Kerry cited it the next day before the House of Representatives, though he mangled the last name a bit.

"A woman by the name of Elizabeth Bagly, B-A-G-L-Y, just wrote an article – 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 article, which I commend to you," Kerry said.

Who is O'Bagy? She was identified as a "senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War."

But it turns out she also works for an organization that advocates for the Syrian rebels, The Syrian Emergency Task Force, a fact that was not disclosed at the time. The Daily Caller's Charles Johnson first reported O'Bagy's conflict of interest.

On Wednesday, the Institute for the Study of War fired the woman it had repeatedly identified as Dr. O'Bagy. The group said in a statement it had "learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O'Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University. ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O'Bagy's employment, effective immediately."

It's all part of the weird world of Washington – a doctor who is not a doctor writes an op-ed testifying for the rebels, without disclosing that she is paid for by a rebel advocacy group, and her words are seized as evidence by experts – Kerry and McCain.

It reminded some, a little, of when the Bush-Cheney administration leaked information in 2002 to New York Times reporter Judith Miller about Saddam Hussein trying to obtain metal tubes as part of his alleged plan to make a nuclear bomb.

The story was page one on the Sunday edition of The New York Times, and that same day, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press.

"There's a story in The New York Times this morning – this is – I don't – and I want to attribute the Times. I don't want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but it's now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge," Cheney told NBC on September 8, 2002.

There is no need to exaggerate this connection because no one has credibly disputed anything O'Bagy wrote, while obviously the falsehoods distributed in the build-up to the war in Iraq are now the stuff of legend.

But it is a reminder that a lot of stuff going on in D.C. is not organic, and is a lot more coordinated than many realize.

As has been said: "Why does the dog wag its tail? Because the dog is smarter than the tail. If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog."

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