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Trusting Your Government in a Time of War - Dilbert Blog

Trusting Your Government in a Time of War

President Trump’s critics and supporters agree on one thing: Our new president has a history of “stretching” the truth whenever there is some advantage in doing so, and sometimes even when there is not. You might say he is famous for playing loose with the facts. We all expect a high degree of “hyperbole” from President Trump, to put it kindly. He gets away with it because barely-enough Americans believe his intentions are in line with America’s best interests.

The odd exception to our universal understanding of President Trump’s mode of operation is his claim that he is totally certain Assad was responsible for the chemical attack on his own people last week. The President’s critics and most of his supporters believe President Trump when he suggests that our military can track any plane in Syria and know what that plane did to whom.

Do you believe that?

I have it on good authority that the United States can track and identify aircraft in Syria. But does that mean we are watching (or recording) every plane at every minute, and we also know what ordinance they dropped?

Do you believe, for example, that our military can identify Syrian jets doing a normal bombing run at the same time as a hobby-sized ISIS drone drops some sarin gas in the blast zone? Can our satellites see that?

Or suppose rebels lobbed an artillery shell with sarin into a village that was being bombed at the same time. Would our satellites and drones and AWACS pick up the incoming round?

Maybe.

But my experience of life is that literally nothing works that well.

Or to put it another way, if we could do shit like that, the war would be over in a week. We’d know who every player on the ground was, and what they were doing, at all times. Heck, if we can detect a hobby-sized drone with a gas canister strapped to its belly from outer space, we don’t need boots-on-the-ground to beat ISIS. We can kill everyone who needs killing from the sky.

Generally speaking, the information you get from a war zone is fiction. You wouldn’t want it any other way. The Commander-in-Chief has to simultaneously manage public opinion and a military conflict. In the context of war, misinformation can be a useful tool. History would give a free pass to any president who misled the public in the interest of national security. 

My view is that the public will never know for sure who was behind the Syrian gas attack. But I also think it doesn’t matter because most of the world believes Assad was behind it. And that created options for Trump to get an advantage in Syria while simultaneously “negotiating” with China, North Korea, Russia, Congress, the American public, world opinion, Iran, Israel, and anyone else who is watching.

Some critics have pointed out that launching 59 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles is expensive. But it is starting to look like a good investment, at least so far. That could change, of course.

It is entirely possible that Assad launched the gas attacks to test for a U.S. reaction. Perhaps our military does have 100% certainty about the source of the attack. All I’m saying is that war-related claims have no credibility by their very nature. And in this specific case, the truth is irrelevant. What matters is that the allegation of Assad’s guilt opened new strategic options at a reasonable cost, and President Trump jumped on them.

That’s all we know for sure.


You might enjoy reading my book because a hobby-sized drone could lift it.

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