Tuesday, April 17, 2018
A Fake News Triumph
On April 7, 2017 the US fired a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at targets in Syria; 36 were intercepted; only 23 reached their targets but caused inconsequential damage. The cost of just the missiles was around $100 million. The US claimed that it was punishing the Syrian government for attacking civilians with chemical weapons, based on some obviously faked videos and zero actual forensic evidence of chemical weapons use and ignoring the fact that Syria has been internationally certified as free of chemical weapons.
Taking these two strikes to mean that this is going to be an annual event, these two data points allow us to make the following projections based on the annual increase in the number of missiles launched at Syria and the annual improvement in the Syrian air defense systems to shoot them down.
In April of 2019 the US will fire a barrage of 180 missiles at targets in Syria; 140 will be shot down; 40 will get through but cause inconsequential damage. The cost: $324 million.
In April of 2020 the US will fire a barrage of 314 missiles at targets in Syria; 276 will be shot down; 38 will get through but cause inconsequential damage. The cost: $565 million.
In April of 2021 (provided President Trump is still in office or his successor chooses to continue with the annual event) the US will fire a barrage of 548 missiles at targets in Syria; all 548 will be shot down; none of them will get through. The cost: $986 million.
This is a rather naïve, straight line projection; I assume incremental improvement, whereas the sale of Russia’s new S-300 systems to Syria, which was stopped due to Western objections but is now once again being actively considered, would effectively seal off Syrian airspace against any US incursion.
“What exactly might be the point of this futile exercise?” you might ask. Well, there are many reasons why this exercise might be useful:
• It’s a morale booster for the Syrians, whose air defense systems have turned out to be able to successfully thwart the US military. They’ve done extremely well with the old Soviet-made systems; they will do even better if they upgrade to the more modern Russian hardware. At this point Syria, still led by Bashar Assad, is making good progress toward complete victory over the jihadis. ISIS has been vanquished. There are a few thousand US troops stranded at bases in the desert, but they are of no consequence. What is of consequence is that the Syrian civil war is ending, thanks in no small part to diplomatic efforts by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The US is irrelevant to this process, and the rocket attacks—both last year’s and this year’s—have made no difference to the final result.
• It’s a morale booster for the US President and for all Americans. Tump’s approval rating among the US electorate has shot up by a whopping 1%: another 6000 Tomahawks, and he’ll be at 100% approval! US Presidents attack other countries for all sorts of personal reasons. For instance Bill Clinton bombed an aspirin factory in Sudan, then bombed Serbia, because of troubles with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. And now Donald Trump is bombing Syria because of troubles with the porn star Stormy Daniels. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cruise missile is just a cruise missile; but sometimes it isn’t. But the reason to bomb is unimportant; in general, when US Presidents bomb other countries, Americans cheer and wave their gaudy little flags.
• It gives NATO countries—in this case, France and Britain—an opportunity to pretend that the Western alliance still means something and still has some unity of purpose. Of course, in this case the British just flew some laps over the Mediterranean but, according to the Russian defense ministry, were not seen to deploy any ordnance, while the French jets didn’t even get anywhere near Syria, but still, it’s the thought that counts, and that thought seems to be, “When the Americans tell the Europeans to jump, they do jump”—not very high, mind you, or their knees would snap. As an added bonus, Theresa May’s government got a welcome distraction from the Skripal poisoning case, which is falling apart most awkwardly.
• Using up lots of cruise missiles makes it necessary to order more, and this creates jobs and helps the economy. Yes, it also adds to federal debt, which is already over $20 trillion, but what’s another few billion in cruise missiles on top of that? And if profligate defense spending drives the US into national bankruptcy, wouldn’t that be a net positive for world peace, given this country’s proclivity to bomb other countries for no adequate reason?
• Seeing the excellent performance of Russian air defense systems, lots of countries around the world will place orders for them, helping Russian defense industry make even more money. In turn, the more countries acquire Russian air defense systems, the more countries will become invincible to US attack, also doing a good turn for world peace. And it is not just Russian weapons sales that are sure to get a boost: Bashar Assad, meeting with visiting Russian parliamentarians after the attack, was in excellent spirits, very happy with Russian support, and said, for the first time, that contracts for Syrian reconstruction will go to Russian companies.
• Those who are in favor of displacing the one “indispensable nation” in favor of a multipolar world of sovereign nations have a reason to rejoice: in Syria, a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed in that there, for the first time, the US was forced to deal with Russian Federation as an equal on an actual battlefield. This fact is being obfuscated using a virtual barrage of propaganda and disinformation, but underneath all that, the real barrage of physical cruise missiles was organized largely to Russian specifications, giving Russia nothing to complain about other than the fact that the attack took place at all.
But perhaps most significantly, this event was a major triumph for one of the key industries in the US that is showing very significant growth: the fake news industry. Thanks to new mass information technology, the US is now capable of creating its own reality, completely divorced from facts on the ground, especially in countries which most Americans can’t even find on a map anyway. Chemical weapons attacks take place if US officials say so—regardless of what those pesky international chemical weapons experts have to say. All that’s important is that the staged videos of fake chemical weapons attacks look realistic enough to the untrained eye. In the fake news world, all US cruise missiles always hit their targets, no matter how much evidence exists that they did not—video footage of intercepts, radar data and eyewitness testimony to half a ton of TNT blowing up in the middle of the air, generating a much louder bang than a missile exploding on the ground.
You might think that hiding behind a wall of unreality is a sign of weakness, and you would be right. But if you are a former superpower that’s hurtling toward national bankruptcy, international irrelevance and full-blown collapse, then indulging in make-believe can be most helpful in alleviating the pain—especially if you follow it up with a dose of fentanyl. And then, as you overdose, for a brief shining moment you would bask in the warm glow of perfect knowledge that America has indeed become great again just as the President promised.
It is also significant that the fake nature of the event did not get in the way of real, and very careful military planning which made it the non-event that it was. The Pentagon was careful to pick their targets so that the damage would be completely inconsequential. In fact, it appears that in this year’s barrage only one building was destroyed—a research institute next to a hospital and a kindergarten quite bereft of chemical weapons. (Last year’s barrage blew up some elderly jet aircraft stored at the unused end of an airfield.) US officials were also very careful not to harry or jostle the Russians, for fear of swift and deadly retaliation, which the Russians explicitly promised. This shows that US war planners are rational, careful and non-suicidal. They know that they have to bomb something now and again, for Presidential libido reasons or whatever else, but they are not about to blow up the world by accident. And this, I hope you agree, is a very hopeful sign.