"Gaslighting" is a meme based on an old movie where you're led to question your own sanity & ability to judge anything.
In my short previous installment, I noted the fighting in Syria & Iraq taking place in the new mags & tabloids and internet as well. Rather than subsiding with the near elimination of ISIS from Mosul, the conflict exploded onto front pages in the last day not due to what happened, but more due to what may have transpired. As has become rule over the last year or more, your take on the matter will depend on where you fit in the political spectrum and what walled-off garden of social & traditional media you're imbibing.
The facts on Mosul would seem simple enough - an unlikely alliance has been cobbled together to take on the much more sinister enemy of ISIS, and the effort to retake the city has turned into a plodding but successful affair due to ISIS' embedding itself among the civilians and underground, its use of improvised nontraditional weapons, and the allies' effort to make the push no more harmful to the already starving and beleaguered population as possible.
Proof of this is the dog that hasn't barked - US air power has been largely restrained, and other types of blockbusting munitions have been given limited use in the last months - instead, the allies seem content to take a few blocks a week, within the limits of not producing more "collateral damage" than needed.
That changed with the announcement of a large mistake by allies, causing upwards of 200 civilian deaths in a blockhouse. And here Rashomon takes over. We don't know when the strike happened, just that there are now bodies being removed from a flattened building. We don't know specifically whether it was US planes that flattened, though that's by-and-large an easy assumption to make even with a couple other possibilities. We don't know whether the civilians were living in the building, had gone their to hide or survive, or had been lured in by ISIS. Or even if some were transported there as corpses, seeing as ISIS continues to off dozens of civilians at a time when it suits them.
To make matters stranger, we don't know whether the US bombings were influenced by a recent Trump edict to loosen Obama's rather strict controls on how airstrikes would be carried out - an edict that hadn't actually been implemented, but may or may not have caused a less caring, discerning towards targeting.
In short, we don't know much, and considering there's still ongoing fighting and this event happened some time ago, it's quite likely we'll never have a good focused take on the matter. Any followup investigation is likely to be a far sight less conclusive than the still-doubted Warren Commission.
What's more worrisome is this round follows a previous tied to US bombing in al-Raqqah, where 30+ students were killed in a mosque - again, maybe or maybe not due to the US strike, who saw themselves targeting an ISIS meeting.
It's not that we can't claim that the horrors of war make this kind of event inevitable. But it wears down our support and understanding for valid and admirable efforts. While we were once way too gung-ho for the kind of over-testosteroned nonsense that chickenhawk John Wayne built a career on, we have to brace ourselves for the reality that most of our military actions in this age of decreasing war will be less clearcut in mission and results even without competing propaganda. But for those involved, they often require an incredible amount of fortitude and bravery (defined in my book with no military background as simply the ability not to shit yourself and run away, and extending anywhere upwards).
In the "he-said/he-didn't say" milieu of modern news, Amnesty International reports of Syrian hangings were predictably attacked by some as too incomplete, too much guesswork, by too compromised of witnesses - yet one wonders how they differed from thorough investigative reporting about any sealed off country or facility?
For much of our post-modern ambiguity on facts and thus followup decisions and opinions, we can thank Putin, the premier staying power on the world stage and the best purveyor of contradictory "facts" these past 18 years (though not "the devil", as some mischievously portray). Just this week he was on display with the conservative scourge of France, declaring with a smirk to be both disinterested but committed in the same breath. [the same faux innocent smirk he used when he sicced a dog on Angie Merkel with her known canine phobia]. The Guardian covers:
Putin noted that France was currently involved in an election cycle and that Russia did “not want to influence events in any way”. The sentiment sounded slightly less than genuine given that it came as part of a one-on-one Kremlin meeting with the far-right presidential candidate one month before the vote.
Le Pen’s surprise visit to the Kremlin was accompanied by similar mood music [to that with Trump]. The website Life News tweeted an opinion column with the tag “Russia will help Le Pen win” and then deleted the tweet a few minutes later.
The news agency Interfax released a snap news item: “The Kremlin announces financing of Marine Le Pen’s election campaign by Russian banks.” Two minutes later there was another snap: “Correction: Kremlin announces it has no information about the financing of Marine Le Pen’s election campaign by Russian banks.”
One has to wonder (or at least I do) whether Trump's changing the rules of engagement was another quid-pro-quo, taking the hit to make Russia's Syrian efforts look honorable, or whether it was similar to his rushed botched Yemen attack trying to score quick political points at someone else's expense, or whether it's just coincidence that some of our worst blunders have come with Trump's increased involvement, even though he's hardly staging these raids from the situation room.
The outcome of Mosul is assured - we will succeed, the last bits of ISIS will be rooted out, the region will almost certainly return to a much improved kind of normalcy. But still, there's a twist that all this fake and conflicting news brings, which are the lingering doubts of whether we did the right thing, in total, or in a series of mishaps along the way.
It's this kind of uncertainty that leads to apathy and non-participation, and overall contempt for the system and those who play. There was a nice movie some time ago by Lars von Trier called Zentropa. Set in Germany in the period following WWII, the message that came through most were that the most contemptible figures were those who refused to take sides, to take a stand - who because they chose to not even participate sacrificed their right and ability to judge.
This period we're going through being overloaded with info is not new - Nate Silver notes the escalations in info by itself with Gutenberg's printing press, and with the 100 years explosion of technical facts kicked off by the steam engine and the industrial revolution. The Web is over 25 years old, but it's hitting a new phase in social impact.
The war with ISIS and the jostling for position by multiple parties are also not unique in history - resembling intrigues in the Balkans 110 years ago, or the multipartite exploitation of African states (both recent decades and in the 1800's), et al. The Kafkaesque contradictory news is nothing Eric Blair/George Orwell didn't document in Burma and Spain. The difference is simply we each have access to the deceit and confusion 24x7, so the global impact of the propaganda has become much bigger than the impact of any particular war.
Worse than 1984's quandary that we've always been at war with
East Asia Eurasia is that now we may be at war with both or neither or a half-dozen others at the same time. Somehow we have to parse the bullshit and still decide plus get along with the more important & imposing aspects of our modern lives. Mosul has become a symbol for our news-impacted existence - under assault from multiple sides, no escape, no resolution, and no disinterested party to believe in or align ourselves with.
Too gloomy? stay tuned for installment #4.