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Truth Test on Syria: Religious oath -- Polygraph -- Ouija board?

Systemic mapping of the pattern of affirmations and denials

Making sense of complexity

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Making sense of complexity

An extraordinary feature of the current crisis regarding Syria is the number and variety of affirmations regarding responsibilities for whatever is deplored -- chemical weapons, deaths, strategic implications, suspicions, and the like. These have been partially reviewed separately (Enabling Suffering through Doublespeak and Doublethink: Indifference to poverty and retributive justice as case studies, 2013).

Missing is any presentation of information which endeavours to hold all the possibilities -- whether hypothetical or considered to be based on "concrete proof". This could be extraordinary given the recognized threat of triggering World War III. That efforts should be so strenuously made to portray a singular truth, regarding a complex situation involving a variety of agendas, could be considered the height of irresponsibility. This is especially the case since the process has been so widely noted as reminiscent of the decision-making fiasco and intelligence failures regarding intervention in Iraq in 2003. Indications of a similar pattern continue to appear (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Obama Warned on Syrian Intel, Information Clearing House, 8 September 2013).

Interested parties: Construction of such a "map" would first require a checklist of the most interest parties, beyond the "Syrian regime" and the "Syrian rebel groups". The list might include:

  • permanent members of the UN Security Council: USA, Russia, France, China, and the UK -- each with their strategic interests and claims to upholding universal values
  • bodies in the immediate "neighbourhood" of Syria:
    • Israel and Iran
    • "Arab States", as variously cited as actively involved, most notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia
    • "Rogue groups", as might be suspected, whether as acting independently, or under secretive contracts (as typical of security operations in Iraq and elsewhere). These might also include rogue units of the army of the Syrian regime, as recently suggested by high-level German surveillance, contrary to US intelligence sources (Simon Tisdall and Josie Le Blond, Assad did not order Syria chemical weapons attack, The Guardian, 9 September 2013)
    • "Al-Qaida", as frequently asserted or implied as being a shadowy coordinating force behind social unrest in the Middle East -- and despite rarely discussed issues as to how or whether it can be said to "exist", other than as a politically convenient construct (a form of bogeyman), as separately explored (Cultivating Global Strategic Fantasies of Choice: learnings from Islamic Al-Qaida and the Republican Tea Party movement, 2010)

Relationships: It is then useful to distinguish between:

  • overt relationships with either the "Syrian regime" and/or "Syrian rebel groups". These are relationships reasonably well-documented which cannot be readily denied
  • covert relationships with either the "Syrian regime" and/or "Syrian rebel groups", to which little reference is typically made. These relationships might include or involve:

Nature of relationship: Also necessary to any mapping is the nature of any relationship, grouped here into three clusters:

  • supply of arms, whether conventional or biochemical (or their precursors)
  • active involvement (and typically of a covert nature) in anticipation of any military strike
  • concerns articulated with reference (through "red lines") to the highest human values -- such as necessity for humanitarian intervention, saving lives, preventing atrocities, punishing crimes against humanity -- irrespective of whether "genuine" or for political image building

Interactive animation: Together these can be tentatively and provisionally represented on the following schematic -- intended to be purely indicative and suggestive of other possibilities. It could well be the basis for an interactive animation which would allow users to adjust:

  • the "seating arrangement", if the schematic is to be understood as representing some form of negotiating table.
  • the presence or absence of links between particular parts of the diagram as representative of a "system"
  • the thickness of lines (or their elimination) as indicating the strength of the relationship, or belief in the evidence for its existence -- in the light of confidence in the intelligence assessment
Version 1: Schematic indicative of the bodies potentially interacting with those in Syria (tentative)
The "Syrian regime" and "Syrian rebel groups" are positioned at the centre

Symbolism: The visual symbolism of the schematic above has been enhanced by use of the:

  • Tao symbol: at the centre to hold the paradoxical duality with respect to which some transcendent integrative might be sought. Curiously that symbol is relevant as a means of holding the "plausible deniability" which characterizes beliefs in affirmations and denials, as readily recognized in practice with "snoring" (Snoring of The Other: a politically relevant psycho-spiritual metaphor? 2006).
  • Heart symbol: used primarily as a device (in the upright and inverted forms) to position the arrows linking to the centre points of the Tao symbol. The symbol is of course of great relevance to the nature of a heartfelt response to the suffering associated with Syria and the possibility that it may yet trigger World War III -- and even Armageddon, according to some (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004). The addition of the inverted form of the heart symbol is a reminder that the associated compassion of some is not necessarily extended to others whose fate may be decided by the coldest of hearts.

The schematic is variously reminiscent of a negotiating table, a roulette machine, or some form of systems diagram. An effort was made to construct such a map to indicate the forces in play with respect to the dynamics of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan (Afghanistan Stability / COIN Dynamics) and described as The Great Afghan Spaghetti Monster (McClatchy Checkpoint Kabul, December 2009). An adaptation of such a schematic, as presented below, was proposed with respect to the forces in play on the occasion of the UN Climate Change Conference, framed by some as the last chance to save the world (Insights for the Future from the Change of Climate in Copenhagen The meaning of "The Meaning of Copenhagen", 2010).

Adaptation to climate change
of a representation of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan

(click on image for larger version)

An effort to construct a more sophisticated map with respect to the situation in Syria has been made by the Debategraph group as shown below

Screenshot of interactive map of issues relating to Syria
(Reproduced from Syria: What next? 2012 by Debategraph; click image to expand and explore)

Supporting arguments: Missing in any schematic maps of this form is an integration with Wiki-style databases in which the evidence claimed for any relationship -- or its denial -- is available to facilitate informed debate and media presentation. This would require a coding of each relationship on the map to enable such text to be retrieved. This was the approach taken with the databases of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential -- specifically embodying claims and counter-claims on controversial issues perceived by international constituencies. In the case of Syria, the challenge is evident following the production of the UN report on the results of chemical weapons test (Tony Cartalucci, Five Lies Invented to Spin UN Report on Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack, Global Research, September 17, 2013)

The absence of documentation on relationships claimed by some with regard to Syria is a strong indication of the manner in which the debate is deliberately distorted -- from which it may be inferred (with a high level of confidence) that there is something being deliberately hidden (namely "missing links") in the effort to impose a pattern of consent.

Valuable clarification of the available intelligence, and the manner of its presentation, is provided by ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern (Time to Reveal US Intel on Syria, Information Clearing House, 9 September 2013). He notes that the four-page Government Assessment of the Syrian Government's Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013, was released by the White House rather than by the office of the Director of National Intelligence, thus suggesting that the white paper did not have the endorsement of the full U.S. intelligence community. The level of endorsement by the intelligence community is now variously challenged (Obama's Case for Syria Didn't Reflect Intel Consensus, Independent European Daily Express, 9 September 2013). As McGovern notes:

Citing the curious provenance of the Government Assessment, Gareth Porterreported that the document appeared to be a political product of the White House rather than a professional assessment from the intelligence agencies. Yet, by implying that the document had the imprimatur of the U.S. intelligence community, the White House has used the white paper to preempt congressional questions about who was actually responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical incident in a Damascus suburb....

It appears we are back to the Cheney/Bush days of "faith-based intelligence" when the "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." It used to be that intelligence analysis relied chiefly on empirical data. "Common sense," especially when misshapen by intense political pressures, did not hack it.

Such processes were made obvious in the case of formation of consensus for military intervention in Iraq. The approach is more generally relevant to collective response to major disasters (Enabling Collective Intelligence in Response to Emergencies, 2010).

Testing confidence level: In the Syrian case, the schematic developed above suggests the challenging possibility that it might be used as the basis for three or more quite distinct tests, especially if a degree of interactivity enabled the strength of links to be modified by those confronted with it. Thus, when adjusted to the satisfaction of a user, it invites several possibilities:

  • Religious oath: the schematic could serve as the representation of a pattern of truth to which a user could swear by a solemn religious oath -- affirming belief in evidence for a particular pattern of relationships. In anticipation of a dramatic decision for a military strike and its consequent fatalities, representatives of the US Senate and Congress could be asked individually simply to swear -- on the Bible or otherwise -- that s/he is convinced that the regime was responsible for the chemical weapon attack of 21 August 2013 (for example). This would link that decision with faith -- the latter being politically of great significance in the USA as relevant to the values on which the country is based. The same might be even more dramatically asked of Kerry and Obama in their presentation of the case for a military strike on the basis of inferences of guilt readily challenged in a court of law. A precedent exists in the prayerful communion which George Bush Jr claimed to have engage in before authorizing every death penalty when he was governor of Texas. Most important would of course be the phrasing of the oath to be sworn to eliminate "weasel wording" and ambiguity. The difficulty with relying on this procedure is highlighted in the case of the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has admitted to telling "clearly erroneous" things in sworn testimony to Congress regarding the collection of phone data on American citizens (Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman, Clapper under pressure despite apology for 'erroneous' statements to Congress, The Guardian, 1 July 2013).

  • Polygraph: the extensive use of lie-detection equipment in security agencies within the US suggests (especially following recent disclosures by Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden) suggests its relevance to a major decision in which human lives are placed at risk. Rather than requiring decision-makers to swear a religious oath as to their belief in the veracity of evidence regarding the schematic, they could be required to pass a polygraph test on the elements of the schematic as they have adjusted them to their satisfaction. It is unclear however whether this would have proven relevant to the detection of the "erroneous statements" of James Clapper -- a matter to which the security agencies are undoubtedly now attentive.

  • Ouija board/Roulette machine: more provocatively, an interactive variant of the schematic could be understood as a means of engaging with chance, namely with insights derived from non-rational modalities. Various comparisons have been made with "roulette" (Michael Falcone, John Kerry Plays Russian Roulette, ABC News, 12 September 2013; Matthew Duss, Playing Russian Roulette with Syria, The American Prospect, 11 September 2013; David Francis, Syria: Is Putin Playing Russian Roulette with Obama? The Fiscal Times, 6 September 2013). This approach could be considered partly inspired by the publicity widely accorded to the use by Senator John McCain of an iPhone during the course of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on a military strike against Syria (McCain playing poker on his iPhone, The Washington Post, 3 September 2013) -- a process compared by some to that of the tricoteuses who knitted during the executions of the French Revolution. Such extraordinary comparisons serve to highlight the absence of comprehensive visual representations during such debates of the system of affirmations and denials with regard to the quandries of the matter. Expressed otherwise, there is no "Syria app" which might have enabled McCain to play otherwise.

An argument for some form of "test" has also been made by Brian J. Foley (It's Time to Create a Process to Test Claims for War -- Let's Cross-Examine Obama About His Case for Bombing Syria, Information Clearing House, 9 September 2013). This might be extended to the contextual framework of international norms and treaties which the US variously mentions and avoids, as summarized by George Monbiot (Obama's rogue state tramples over every law it demands others uphold, The Guardian, 9 September 2013), who concludes:

As for the norms of international law, let's remind ourselves where the US stands. It remains outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, after declaring its citizens immune from prosecution. The crime of aggression it committed in Iraq -- defined by the Nuremberg tribunal as "the supreme international crime" - goes not just unpunished but also unmentioned by anyone in government. The same applies to most of the subsidiary war crimes US troops committed during the invasion and occupation. Guantanamo Bay raises a finger to any notions of justice between nations....

But Obama's failure to be honest about his nation's record of destroying international norms and undermining international law, his myth-making about the role of the United States in world affairs and his one-sided interventions in the Middle East all render the crisis in Syria even harder to resolve. Until there is some candour about past crimes and current injustices, until there is an effort to address the inequalities over which the United States presides, everything the US attempts, even if it doesn't involve guns and bombs, will stoke the cynicism and anger the president says he wants to quench. [emphasis added]

Other relationships: The schematic can be extended to include the relationships, potential or otherwise, between those "at the table" to give a schematic of greater complexity, as indicated below.

Version 2: Schematic indicative of the bodies potentially interacting with those in Syria (tentative)
The "Syrian regime" and "Syrian rebel groups" are positioned at the centre; relations between the bodies are added

12-fold pattern: The schematic could of course be extended in other ways. As constructed above it excludes other perspectives such as those of the United Nations and Palestine. Including them (as in the version below) would then turn the pattern into a classic 12-fold roundtable, variously held to be of functional and symbolic importance in practice, as separately discussed (Checklist of 12-fold Principles, Plans, Symbols and Concepts, 2011). Their dynamics suggest other considerations in engaging with the systemic crisis (Enabling a 12-fold Pattern of Systemic Dialogue for Governance, 2011; Eliciting a 12-fold Pattern of Generic Operational Insights: Recognition of memory constraints on collective strategic comprehension, 2011). Clearly missing from the schematic is the military-indistrial complex which benefits so significantly from any form of warfare -- possibly to be clustered with the "rogue groups" in the following variant.

Version 3: 12-fold Schematic indicative of bodies potentially interacting with those in Syria (tentative)
The "Syrian regime" and "Syrian rebel groups" are positioned at the centre (as in the earlier versions)


Building consensus around a lie
"If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."
(Adolf Hitler)

... suggesting that every effort should be made to test the quality of belief in what is upheld as truth.

Cheney08/26/02:There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
Cheney09/14/03:We never had evidence that he had acquired a nuclear weapon.

Powell02/05/03:Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agents.
Powell09/13/04:I think it's unlikely that we will find any stockpiles.

Bush05/29/03:We found the weapons of mass destruction.
Bush10/08/04:I wasn't happy when we found out there wasn't weapons.

Failure to do so, encouraging belief in the lie, ensures that "Syria" will follow "Iraq"

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
(George Santayana)

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