Syrian state media announced mid-Tuesday, corroborated by a military commander, that Syrian air defense had misfired because of an apparent hack that took place against the Syrian military infrastructure. Several air defense missiles were shot off, even though no attack was taking place.

The commander attributed the mistake to a cyber-attack launched by the US and Israel. After initial Syrian claims that they successfully fended off a battery of missiles, the United States denied any launches, and the Israeli military declined to comment.

It was later discovered that in fact no attack had taken, place and that the air defense systems were deceived by a “malfunction.” Other sources say that recent “anxiety,” coupled with unusual air traffic led to the launch of the air defense missiles, which apparently hit nothing.

The last two weeks have seen a flurry of military action in Syria, as Israel launched a strike against Syrian facilities they said were operated by Iranian operatives. After the incident, the Israeli role in the attack was outed by Russia, in what was apparently a face-saving exercise so Russia wouldn’t have to openly retaliate against American actions.

A Syrian city then fell victim to an apparent chlorine gas attack. The US, UK, and France claim there is incontrovertible evidence that there was a chemical weapons attack, staged by the Assad regime, with Russia again claiming that the reports are fabricated and that the evidence is staged.

US President Trump then vowed to respond, and launched a series of airstrikes against Syrian facilities. In a bizarre war of truths, there were combatting reports from both sides, with Syria initially denying any attack took place, and then admitting that there had been strikes, but that their air defenses had eliminated most of the missiles. The US countered with satellite images said to show chemical weapons storage facilities, and research centers targeted and destroyed by the strikes. They claimed that the majority if not all the missiles shot their targets.

Alarmingly, only in the last 24 hours have international chemical weapons inspectors been granted access to the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack, Ghouta, as Russian troops apparently held off access to them until now, according to UK sources.

Russia has meanwhile accused the UK of staging a “fake” chemical attack.

In a bizarre twist, after this apparent second incident of chemical weapons usage against civilian areas, after the first of which the Russian government vowed to take responsibility for the destruction of the weapons, the Russians went to the UN security council to protest the attack on Syria, claiming that the attack was a violation of the UN charter. The vote to condemn the actions was, unsurprisingly, vetoed by most parties, with only China and Bolivia supporting the Russian claim.

Russia, while seemingly losing the war of morality, finds itself strategically stable, as they back the Assad regime, which has all but shored up control of the bulk of the major urban areas in Syria. Their war on trust, though, has clearly shaken the foundations of Western democracy, as the more extreme wings of right and left in the US find themselves bitterly at odds, not only over policy, but over their conception of objective truth.

Possibly starting after the invasion of Ukraine, continuing through the US election, and following after the poisoning of Sergey Skripov, there have been two conflicting narratives of world events, one where Russia is a bad actor bent on destroying the Western world order, and one where the Western governments and its media lie in a large conspiracy to poison relations with Russia and cover up their own misdeeds.

Faith in the news media has dropped significantly, and believe in the honesty of major institutions is often even lower. A culture of cynicism, conspiratorial floundering, and questioning of basic truths accomplishes what many in the East want, a questioning of the validity of the liberal democratic Western order. Westerners are more likely, then, to challenge their leaders and sow discontent, and citizens in China and Russia will feel a little bit better about the conditions in their own countries, questioning the value of any push for democracy or liberalism.

These states have accomplished all they set out to do, and more, they have proved that morality is a losing game. Back your friends, crush your enemies, and as long as you don’t step too far out of line, nobody will say anything, because there are no police in an amoral world.

This is dangerous, and the countries involved in this shift should pay a price. Donald Trump is too feeble minded, and focused on trade, to push against the regimes themselves behind this, those in Russia, and China who play carefully scripted geopolitical games to weaken the Western order. Syria, Iran, Russia, but also Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and even China are sick countries, ruled by twisted monsters of men. The Middle East is the sick man of the world, and the US does well to avoid involving itself in every quagmire and conflict in the patchwork of failed states and dictatorships that perpetuate the endless cyclone of wars, poverty, and extremism that desperately try to draw others into their suffering. They have unfortunately, though, abandoned their claim to act as the moral compass, and stood by watching as country after country committed egregious crimes.

Notwithstanding this, the United States should still aim to develop a clear policy towards the Middle East, towards Syria, towards navigating the Sunni-Shia divide, including which of these anti-democratic regimes it chooses to support. Without a strategy, it will be hard not to repetitively and impulsively careen into every conflict that lightly affects the US, but otherwise play little or no part in crucially shaping the future of this region. The United States is currently incapable of that, with a President who has no concrete foreign policy vision, and years to come will be very dangerous for the world.

Staff writer: Ari B

Photo credit: Thomas Ashlock