It's been a hell of a week in national events. Some thoughts about how all the pieces fit together.
I will admit, even I didn't expect Trump to play the Wag the Dog strategy (Wag the Dog = start a war to distract everybody) quite this soon, although I was certainly expecting it sooner or later. In this particular case, I have to say that it was actually a bit clever.
Trump's core problem at the moment is that a narrative has been brewing, that he is actively a pawn of Putin. Distractions entirely aside, I suspect that's the real motivation for the Syrian strikes: they're not just starting a war, they are starting a war with Russia on the other side. Memetically, this is all about showing that he is his own man, and thereby defusing the Russiagate controversy. The message is essentially, "So they got me elected. So what? I don't work for them." That's a fairly smart message for him to be sending to his wavering supporters right now, and plays cleverly into the general understanding that he's a changeable crook.
It might even be true. Let's assume for the moment that this isn't a truly Machiavellian plan on Putin's part, sacrificing the pawn of Assad in the name of broader strategic objectives. (I think it is entirely possible that that is what's going on, but a bit beside my point.)
There's an interesting question that not enough people are asking: what is the game here? What are Putin's strategic objectives?
I mean, sure -- you can assume that he's just a villain out of a Bond movie, sitting in the back and twirling his invisible Stalin mustache. But I suspect that's too simplistic.
My guess is that controlling the US would be a fine goodie for Putin (why not?), but his primary aim is to neutralize the US. To that extent, the goal of backing Trump was only secondarily getting him elected -- the primary objective was to hurt Hilary as much as possible, throw the US into chaos, and make it ineffectual on the international stage. Which, note -- Mission (largely) Accomplished.
What Putin mainly wants, I figure, is to be able to secure his borders, in the sense of turning everybody around Russia into client states again, as in the Good Old Days. And of course, for his murderous kleptocracy to be able to do what they want, with minimal interference.
To that end, we should be clear that it is quite possible that Trump is just a Useful Idiot, not actually being controlled by the Kremlin. It's possible that he is, of course, but don't delude yourself that it's a clear certainty. Even if that was true at the beginning, he's not a complete moron, and it's clear that he has figured out that that's a bad image for him. So he's going to focus for now on making clear that he's not a puppet. Which is good -- aside from raising the likelihood of Stupid Nuclear Holocaust a step higher.
But the other thing to keep in mind (and the cause of the title here) is, we shouldn't feel too comfortable in our own certainties. I was starting to think about this essay last week, and then hit the latest episode of Full Frontal -- with the interviews claiming that Sanders supporters were also being manipulated by the Russian alternative-media machine.
Which is entirely what I would expect: if their goal was to cause chaos and discredit American democracy, just manipulating one side is silly. Instead, you should be playing all of the sides against each other. I lack evidence, but would guess that they were trying to stir up the Clinton camp as well, simply because it fits the goals.
The point is, alternative narrative is a tool, and can be used in any and all directions. This crap is not just effective on the uneducated and credulous -- it works precisely because the world is complicated, and humans prefer to seek easier answers. (Heaven knows there is plenty of similarly silly nonsense that is believed by many wealthy, well-educated left-wingers.)
It's easy to get paranoid, and I'm not advocating that -- melting down into a puddle of helplessness is kind of what the Putinites want you to do. But it does mean that serious critical thinking is a necessity if you're not going to be easily manipulated. Facts aren't true or false simply because they come from the mass media, or the Internet, or your neighbor: you have to keep a well-balanced diet of information sources, always examining what their agendas are (because everybody has their own agendas -- that's just human) and keeping an open mind to the possibility that you're being misled.
It's a tricky game, and easier to just avoid altogether. But if you really care about civics and doing the best thing, it's going to be a part of modern daily life, I suspect...