paving the way for the road to damascus

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  • 7/29/2019 Paving the Way for the Road to Damascus


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    Appeared in:

    Asia Times(9/13/13)

    Foreign Policy Journal (9/11/13)

    Paving the Way for

    the Road to Damascus

    ByNorman Ball

    Most of all, [the Syrian conflict] is all about control of natural resources and channels of distribution.

    Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, September 9, 2013

    Like most battered tropes, the tail wagging the dogoffers a durable, if dog-tired, metaphor

    for much that afflicts us. While rhetoricians are apt to groan over rote recourse to tired imagery,

    regular folks use clichs because they strike a resonant, cognitive chord. After all, mass appeal is

    what exhausts language in the first place. The bane of poets, clich is a sign of democratic

    affections. Lets have more of it.

    This particular metaphor derives its power from the sense that, rather than addressing the

    thing-itself, we are forever grappling with epiphenomena, proximate reflections and spunrealities. Everything is mediated. Nothing is authentic and palpable. Manufactured consent is all

    about assembling a coalition of the deceived. True, we are being lied to with Goebbellian

    ambition to a point where deceit becomes, for many, an undetectable ethos. No sooner does one

    explain to a seemingly perceptive friend or colleague the diversionary intent of the current

    chemical weapons debate than they nod their heads in sage agreement, take due note of the

    submerged icebergs immense size and resume stock sound-bites the very next day. Such is the
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    power of the frame. There is also, Im convinced, a social component. Just as people want to make

    good around the water cooler, no one wants to be the offices perennial, contrarian weirdo. The

    frame du jour is where polite small-talk gathers. Nothing ventured over doughnuts, nothing


    Within the mainstream media, we are presented

    daily with messagestailsthat attempt to corral bodies

    of facts on the ground. The messages are illicit rearguard

    actions designed to exert mastery over sleeping dogs.

    Since lies have a habit of demanding further lies, why

    undertake this great exertion of deceit? Hovering

    somewhere between Straussian arrogance and neo-

    Platonic contempt, the elite are loath to address, in an

    open-air forum, the many hellhounds nipping at all ofour heels. Are we wrong to dignify this aversion with

    philosophical pretentions as perhaps it has long since metastasized into pathology? Our leaders

    seem convinced subterfuge abets their power.

    Meanwhile what Syrias reallyabout involves a knotty confluence of water rights, dueling

    pipelines, nation-state reconfigurations, militarized economies, competing CIA and DOD

    fiefdoms, Islamic sectarian divides, the global affliction of nihilism, domestic (US) shale oil

    ascendancy, Saudi panic, the fading Petro-Dollar, French colonial re-visitations, shifting Israeli

    internal demographics, Persian and Ottoman empire re-imaginings, etc., etc. With all due respect

    to the Syrian civilians who (apparently) died at the hands of someagency of chemical weapons,

    this is hardly about them. They are but ghoulish pretense. May they rest in peace all the same.

    Heres where things can get a little tricky, especially in this transparent and skeptical age of

    alternative media. Assads complicity in the chemical attack may or may not be fact. What is

    immutably true nowhowever is the elite have selected it (for better or worse) as the controlling or

    instigating frame through which they will leverage Americas entry into the region for a host of

    covert reasons embedded in the issues cited above and, it should be added, at very real risk of

    sparking World War Three. If the Syrian regime did in fact commit the atrocity, it becomes a

    contributing legitimation within a cluster of larger reasons for American engagement. It is also a

    Trojan Horse hewn to commit Americasmilitary within the city walls of the Levant. Once we are

    there, the road to Tehran will be a long and arduous one; yet one our friends, Saudi Arabia and

    Israel, are determined we should make.

    If on the other hand it is shown the chemical attack was committed by the rebel forces, the

    elite, far from relenting, will defend their rendition to the hilt. (Remember, they exist beyond

    good and evil in the Straussian realm of the Noble Lie.) Thus whether a complete fabrication or a

    genuine Assad war crime, the chemical attack has the practicable effect of being an incidental

    expediency in all cases. The burden and aftermath of collapsing grand deceptions can be onerous

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    indeed. For instance, the Syrian case for intervention must climb a wall of worry constructed in

    Iraq and Afghanistan. Importantly and in all cases, the elites are practicing deception (certainly the

    sin of omission) when they purport that the use of chemical weapons is the sole reason for

    resorting to force. I would hazard it barely cracks the top five.

    As it is, the plebes are fed a steady, lurid diet of comic book WMDs and noxious gas

    portrayals. Bam! Zoom! Whammo! To coin Guantanamos Jack Nicholson, we cant handle thetruth, or so it has been decided. Platos Republic might be cool with this paternalistic head-patting

    except our elite manage to bollox one Guantanamo after another. (Since were treading linguistic

    terrain let me say that I disparage the term elite as it conjures up notions of sure-footedness and

    meritocratic station. Our elite are more in the vein of Keystone cops.)

    When the Spin becomes King, vertigo rules the land and straight thinking acquires a

    positively eccentric ring. Backwardation overturns causality. People are instructed to believe TV,

    not their own eyes. Yet every time a regular Joe summons his dog in real life, the animal defiantly

    arrives first, its tail invariably traipsing along behind. People have been known to shoot their dogs

    just to silence the doggone cognitive dissonance. Imagine putting down Fido so that Senator JohnMcCain might sound a little more lucid? Such are the inestimable costs dogs of war are routinely

    called upon to make.

    Another hackneyed phrase is sending the right message, something weve been hearing

    probably six times a day of late. For this, were back on TV, only selling soap flakes.Sending a

    message is an attempted seduction via telegraph not unlike batting an eyelash. But I dont want to

    be right back after this message during which a kimono is coyly lifted, revealing a bit of ankle.

    Putins taken great pains to assure us hes not that kind of guy, much less that kind of adversary.

    Dont mediate your intent. Demonstrate it. All these ornamentalisms are features of decadence

    and feckless, late Empire. When the mediated message becomes the thing-itself, gesture has

    swarmed substance. Camouflaged boys and girls from Kansas are sent in to rescue Neros sound-

    bites. Merely embarrassing the elites becomes a veritable Pearl Harbor to be dealt with swiftly.

    With repetition, a Quixotic syndrome develops where people increasingly conflate

    windmill-mirages for clear-and-present foes. This is a form of collective madness which, if not

    unique to the television age, is certainly an emblematic feature of it. Ironically, no group is more

    perilously removed from the visceral (and so convinced of their message-making s existential

    heft) than are our rarified leaders. Surely a certain decadent nadir has been reached when their

    foremost concern involves the veracity and sanctity of the imparted message. Youd think the

    Red Line was pinned down on Iwo Jima with a two-day supply of water. No matter, a command is

    sent down from some high-up place: Summon the kids (well, our kids anyway). The message

    must be preserved at all costs! A contemptible equivalency has been struck: Losing a limb, ours,

    is a reasonable price to avert losing face, theirs. Never mind that the Red Line isnt a cornered

    battalion, but merely a botched metaphor wrapped in a rhetorical gaffe. It happens also to be the

    exoteric casus belli.

    These quotes are revealing:

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    to communicate with [the Iranians] we have to be very clear, very forthright.

    White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough

    Youd think if America wanted to send a very clear, forthright message to the Chilean

    people, there are better ways to do it than bombing Nigeria. How about Antarctica? Its closer and

    less populous. I would submit that Iran is, far and away, the most forthright target by which tosend the Iranians a forthright message. These non sequiturs are compelled by veiled objectives.

    Then too, had we wanted to push Iraq decisively into the Iranian orbit, there were far less


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