An objective observer of international news would be forgiven for thinking that last week witnessed the most dangerous moment of the post-Cold War era.
What were undoubtedly well sourced media reports confirmed that discussions were underway within the US government about possible attacks on the Syrian military.
These reports appeared in Reuters, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, and confirmed that a meeting would take place at “staff level” on Wednesday 5th October 2016 to discuss military options to present to the President.
The military option which appeared to be the most strongly favoured was covert military strikes on Syrian army bases.
These reports provoked a warning from the Russian military on Tuesday 4th October 2015 that any US aircraft engaged in attacks on Syrian army bases risked being shot down by the Russian air defence troops stationed in Syria. This was not an empty threat since the Russian military has stationed advanced S-400 and S-300MV Antey-2500 anti aircraft missiles in Syria.
On Thursday 6th October 2016, two days after the Russian warning and directly following the staff meeting, the US announced that all plans for military action in Syria had been called off.
In other words last week the US publicly disclosed that it was considering military action in Syria, where the Russian military is present, and then called it off following a Russian warning against it doing so.
At any time during the Cold War this would have been called a superpower confrontation, and it would have completely dominated the world news for days on end, with huge alarm about the risk of imminent nuclear war. As it is, it was the first instance I can think of when the US and Russian militaries publicly squared off against each other – with one side publicly threatening to shoot down the aircraft of the other – since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
In the event, what is truly astonishing about these events is that in the West they have gone by almost completely unreported.
In Britain there some sparse reporting of the US threats to launch military strikes on Syria. The Russian warning that this might lead to US aircraft being shot down has however gone almost completely unreported.
There are in my opinion two reasons for this.
The first is that the talk of covert US strikes on Syrian bases was almost certainly never intended seriously but was just an empty bluff, and the Western media was almost certainly aware – and was probably told – of the fact from the start.
Adam Garrie of The Duran has carefully explained the absurdity of the proposal:
“The fact that this has already happened makes this one of the most curious twists of linguistic and logical acrobatics in memory. The US has targeted Syrian troops not just through their Islamic terrorist proxies but directly. John Kerry then apologised for a ‘mistake’, an aerial assault which lasted for 4 hours. Then the US said ‘we want to make more mistakes only this time on purpose’. Then they admitted that they were going to lie about it and now they’re saying ‘we’re not going to do it after all, please trust us this time’.”
As Adam Garrie says, it makes no sense to plan a supposedly ‘secret’ strike and then publicly announce the strike in advance by disclosing the plan to the newspapers. That fact alone makes it a virtual certainty that this nonsensical plan was never intended seriously.
More likely it was a bluff to scare the Syrians and the Russians into calling off their offensive against the Jihadis occupying eastern Aleppo.
If that was its purpose then it failed the moment the Russians called the bluff by giving their warning, which caused the US to back down.
That however brings me to the second reason for the Western media blackout, and it is far less reassuring.
This is that the heavily militaristic and interventionist Western media does not want the Western public to know that the US backed down after receiving a public warning of retaliatory action from the Russian military.
This is not just because the Western media does not want the US and Western public to know about the US’s humiliation. It is because it does not want the Western public to know of the colossal risks of the dangerous strategy of military intervention in Syria which it is recklessly advocating.
The result is that though the option of serious military action was rejected by the US last week after a public superpower clash which threatened to escalate into a direct military confrontation, the Western public is almost entirely unaware of the fact.
This is what made possible the surreal debate the British House of Commons held about Syria two days ago, discussing military action in Syria as if this option was still on the table.
Over the course of this debate – which lasted a mere 3 hours – Boris Johnson, Britain’s hapless Foreign Secretary, whose earlier writings about Syria show that he certainly knows better, tried to hide his embarrassment and lack of options by ludicrously – and illegally – calling for protests outside the Russian embassy.
In subsequent comments to a House of Commons Committee he again made clear that a no-fly zone is not in fact on the agenda, but again tried to hide his empty hand by talking of “kinetic options” (ie. military options) which he knows the US has already ruled out. That he is perfectly well aware of this he slipped out when he said that
“[whilst it is time to] look again at the more kinetic and military options but be realistic – we cannot do anything without the Americans and we are still a pretty long day’s march from getting there”.
One of the most depressing aspects of the whole Syrian conflict – and of the succession of conflicts which have preceded it – is how the Western media has become not just a cheerleader but an active and determined lobbyist for Western military action whenever the possibility arises.
The repeated failure of Western military action to achieve the results promised, and the ever escalating risks of military action, never seems to change anything. One gets the impression that it is the momentary vicarious thrill of military action, and the assertion of power that comes with it, rather than any thought of the larger consequences, that now drives events.
Regardless of the reasons, the Western media’s suppression of news of what happened last week is a journalistic crime.
The USSR tightly controlled its media but it did not hide the reality of the Cuban missile crisis from its people.
That boundary, the Western media has now crossed.