America’s first reality TV war

Micah Zenko writes:

One year after launching a limited strike against the Syrian government to deter future chemical weapons attacks, U.S. President Donald Trump did the same thing again Friday night. Within 12 hours, the Pentagon judged the operation as being “very successful,” which was a given since the three above-ground facilities were assuredly monitored for years and situated in a relatively low-threat air defense environment. The ability of a $700 billion military to destroy static targets is unremarkable.

What was sensational about the missile strikes was the public spectacle of it all. From Trump’s initial pledge that the Syrian government’s suspected chemical attack “will be met, and it will be met forcefully,” to the Pentagon videos showing individual missiles being launched, this was a military operation telegraphed, scripted, and executed for a 24-hour information era.

Trump’s Twitter feed provided its typical denunciation, bluff, and guidance. He assigned his latest enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the artless nickname “Gas Killing Animal,” indicated that the promised operation could commence “very soon or not so soon at all!,” and then warned Russia that the missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” The latter tweet was an accurate prophecy, as the operation featured the combat debut of the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range. Over the coming week, all of these tweets framed the news coverage and pundit debates, and the always scrambling-to-catch-up statements by administration officials. [Continue reading…]

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