The US strike against a Syrian airbase in response to the use of chemical weapons has inspired two kinds of conversations. Due to the lack of a meaningful Russian response and broader US military intervention against the Assad regime, professional media outlets have turned their childlike attention to the shiny, big bombs being used from Syria to Afghanistan. Absent irrefutable evidence and the completion of an independent international investigation demonstrating Assad forces were undeniably responsible for the chemical weapons attack, a significant number of Americans and other Westerners are questioning the legitimacy of the Trump Administration’s actions. These critics believe someone may have engineered a “false flag” to justify a direct assault on the Assad regime. Although no one can say which, if any, of the conspiracy theories are correct, it is clear that the US intelligence community is no longer seen as a credible source of information.
Regrettably, rogue elements within America’s national security apparatus and military are known to have repeatedly fabricated evidence and engineered schemes in order to make war more palatable to the American People and discontented populations of countries that have run afoul of the US. They has also pressed forward with their agendas based on faulty intelligence reports lacking critical details. Colin Powell’s emotion-based plea for UN to support the invasion of Iraq, because the Saddam regime had wanted nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons can kill lots of people, serves as a notable example. Utilizing it and the justifiable fear of an expanding US campaign in Syria, the Russian government was able to help further erode trust, in the Trump Administration, i.e. punishment. As the government, and subsequently the Press, are often the primary sources of information on a number of issues for most people , this leaves the public unable to trust what is true and what is misinformation.
Furthermore, presumed innocent until proven guilty has long been the basis of the American justice system. Although not always the case in practice, this aspiration has been ingrained into the thinking of the American People and Americanized populations of the world. In war, i.e. a state of perpetual insecurity, and outside of civilian life, i.e. a state of security, the need to immediately respond when confronted with any situation that feels threatening compels individuals to make decisions based on a lack of evidence and certainty. It is a world where everyone is presumed guilty until proven innocent. The mindset of national security and military officials is that of someone in a perceptual state of war. In the case of a place like Syria, which is an active war zone, military decisions are, therefore, most likely going to be made on a lack of uncertainty rather than irrefutable evidence, which helps explain why intelligence conclusions are so vague and detail deficit.
To boot, the intelligence being used to make decisions over Syria is more likely to be incomplete and come from highly questionable source that cannot be properly vetted due to the circumstances of the war. Like most scientific evidence, which is incomplete, yet used by lawmakers to shape public policy, the lack of knowns and the introduction of fabricated evidence can be weeded out over time by taking a more systematic, transparent approach. Unfortunately, this does nothing to address another major problem when trying to identity unanticipated threats and make snap judgments: industry bias. The US intelligence apparatus and military have spent decades gathering information about countries like Syria in order to analyze and model potential threats. They have also spent just as much time developing contingency plans for any number of situations that might happen.
When a chemical weapon is detonated, whatever information is immediately available is plugged into the working models of the Syrian conflict then the most likely scenario is identified and the most comparable contingencies are sent to the President or military commander. The problem is that this approach essentially creates a very extensive and complex mousetrap, which can be triggered by anything that acts like a mouse. If someone with an agenda wants the US to strike Syria, they simply have to trip the trigger. If someone within the intelligence community wants to eliminate a treat, they simply have to set in motion events to trigger the trap. If the mouse wants to disarm the trap, it simply has to find another way to trip the trigger and blame someone else. More thoughtful decision making can help, but it would require a delay in life threatening decisions that require immediate responses. Unfortunately, this means military decisions can be less fact-based and more instinct-based, which introduces human error that can cause all sorts of issues.
That said, Donald Trump may have acted more responsible than most critics would care to admit. Unlike the George W. Bush Administration’s military campaign against Iraq, which never demonstrated a nuclear capacity or utilized nuclear weapons, the Assad regime has continually demonstrated a capacity to use chemical weapons and used them when only they could be responsible for their use. Unlike Iraq, Syria is also a war zone where the US is already active. Unlike Bush, Trump also severely limited the scope of his response, instead of breaking Assad’s military infrastructure and pursuing an actual invasion. As for Russia, which showed no such restraint in Georgia and Ukraine, the utilization of Tomahawk missiles, versus aircraft deployed bombs, helped lessen the likelihood of a US-Russia skirmish, which Russia’s entry into the war made an eventuality. By acting on the likelihood of the Assad regime’s responsibility, Trump immediately punished the use of chemical weapons while diffusing pressure to engage in a broader campaign until more is known.
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