Syria Is A Black Box

Screenshot from 2017-04-14 13-05-30

Amid the killing, the horrors, and the tragedies in Syria, there’s also an ideological civil war among eleven players and even more agendas. In addition to exchanging bullets and bombs, in this war, every claim from one player is instantly challenged by another’s counter-claim.

We might have described Syria as an abyss or black hole had the civil war occurred during Hafez al-Assad’s regime. Under his son Bashar it’s a black box.


Black boxes have inputs and outputs, but the connections among them and the rules that govern how causes become effects are purposely opaque so that consent can be manufactured and propaganda can be accepted without evidence.

A few thoughts on how black a box Syria is:

1) Where’s your trench coat Columbo?

I need actual evidence that the Assad regime carried out a Sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians on April 4th 2017. The kind of evidence that Adlai Stevenson presented to the United Nations that the Soviets had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba. Or the satellite photos obtained by The St. Petersburg Times that showed fewer Iraqi troops and tanks massing on Saudi Arabia’s border than we were told during the Gulf War. However, as of the date of this post, no real evidence has been offered. Instead, we’re supposed to believe a White House report with no sourcing or named government officials or images. Nikki Haley told Chuck Todd that there’s evidence, but “it’s classified”. To this Chuck Todd said nothing. Edward R. Murrow wouldn’t have let Haley slide. And he might have smacked Chuck Todd in the mouth for being a repeater instead of a reporter.

2) Who watches the watchmen?

I’m getting really pissed off about not seeing evidence of events that can affect the present and future of our republic. If everyone else isn’t pissed off, too, then the warmongers who told us that there was a direct connection between 9/11 and the Iraq War were right about how we think. They think we’re stupid cheerleaders for the kind of destruction that’s good for big business. They also think they’ve neutralized any possibility of a real anti-war movement. But they haven’t factored in that the Trump administration lies all the time, which means that “It’s classified” in response to a request for real evidence is a prima facie reason to doubt their claims. Put another way, not producing any real evidence of atrocities to civilians whom we wouldn’t take into our country event though we’re saving them from barbarism is the height of cynicism. Message to the elite and powerful: you can’t have it both ways. You cannot classify the hell out of information that we need to make reasoned judgments while also bitching about Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks. We will get you one way or the other. Tick tock …

3) Those who do not remember Iraq are condemned to repeat it

The Trump administration suddenly bought into regime change as its vision for Syria days after Rex Tillerson announced that President Assad’s fate would be up to the Syrian people to decide. So how has regime change worked out for us in Iraq and Libya? (And why is there still a Taliban? Who’s next up for an American smackdown, the Sandanistas?) To this there are two responses: 1) regime change hasn’t worked out at all; or 2) it’s working exactly as it should, particularly if the goal is a natural gas pipeline through Syria. And especially if the ultimate goal is to break up and then redraw the map of the Middle East so that Saudi Arabia and Turkey have no nation state counterweights to push back against them.

4) Russia! Russia! Russia!

Last week’s Russia story (“gassing beautiful babies”) has become a nice deflection from the previous week’s Russia story (“hacking our democracy”). This serves to bring war-mongering Republicans like John McCain on-board the Trump train while also bringing hawkish Democrats also for the ride, even though they also argue in a fey sort of way that Trump should get authorization from Congress. Few if any of them will say that Trump’s attack was illegal. It violated the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military force, as well as the 1973 War Powers Resolution:

“The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) authorized the President to use force only against those groups and countries that had supported the 9/11 attacks. The bombing in Syria was not authorized by any other act of Congress. Thus, Trump’s missile attack violated the War Powers Resolution.

Regarding international law, the United Nations Charter prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” There are only two exceptions: when conducted in self-defense after an armed attack, or with the approval of the Security Council.”

Marjorie Cohn. “Trump’S Syria Attack Trampled Many Laws”. Common Dreams. 2017.

5) First we take Manhattan, then we take Damascus

Brian Williams exclaimed “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons” while reporting the missile strike on the Shayrat airbase. Adam Johnson of F.A.I.R. reported that only one among 47 major newspaper editorials supported the airstrikes. How long have we been addicted to bombing as a way to achieve foreign policy objectives? (And why does CNN have so many retired generals on speed dial?) I’ve written before about how the Democratic Party’s shift to the right has enabled the conservatives to move even more rightward. This shift is as evident in international as it is in domestic affairs. Since 9/11 America’s foreign consensus has drifted rightward, which has empowered an increasingly neoconservative “clash of civilizations” worldview.

6) The Washington Playbook Explains Why Everyone Sounds The Same

Though his foreign policy was consisted of many half measures and weak promises, the former president Obama has the best analysis of 5) that I’ve seen thus far:

““Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.””

Nancy LeTourneau. “The Washington Playbook Won’t Work In Syria”. Washington Monthly. 2017.

7) Looking into my crystal ball …

Two years from now Nikkii Haley will be Secretary of State. And she, not Pence, will run for President in 2024.



1) syria’s_war_who_is_fighting_and_why_ screen_grab.jpg

2) By Frap at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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