Syria Bombing Designed to Distract

by James M. Wall

After the Syria Bombing, did you have that pit-of-the-stomach feeling that you had been deceived about a military strike?

I offer here a suggestion to clarify that feeling. It will not cure it, but clarity does have a way of easing the pain.

Accept the Syria bombing as a Wag the Dog deceit, a pretense to deliver a largely harmless distraction for an ulterior motive, as in the manner of a Roman emperor staging a stadium show for the masses.

Media reports used the 1998 movie, Wag the Dog as shorthand for The Syria Bombing. In the film, Dustin Hoffman plays a movie director hired to create television news casts to distract and deceive the American public. Robert De Niro is the spin doctor who hires him.

Film critic Roger Ebert explained:

Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog cites Grenada as an example of how easy it is to whip up patriotic frenzy, and how dubious the motives sometimes are. The movie is a satire that contains just enough realistic ballast to be teasingly plausible; like Dr. Strangelove, it makes you laugh, and then it makes you wonder.

Before last weekend’s Syria Bombing, Russia appeared to be forewarned. Putin grumbled but he did not shoot back. As feigned reality, the bombing served its purpose.

The media played its role. It hyped a dramatic news conference featuring our top military and civilian leadership. President Trump was at his presidential best, carefully following his script to announce he had ordered a U.S. military attack on Syria’s chemical weapons system.

A more recent movie, Argo, released in 2012, was neither satire nor feigned reality. It was rather, a Hollywood production of a very real event; no shooting and no buildings blown up.

The event was a rescue mission that freed six American diplomats from their hiding place in the Canadian embassy in Tehran, Iran.

The six had slipped out of the Tehran U.S. embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, before 66 other American diplomats were taken hostage by Iranian militants. The six were taken in by the Canadian ambassador and hidden in his residence.

Knowing that the six could not remain hidden long, President Jimmy Carter directed his chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, to pull together a White House team working with the CIA. 

A CIA operative, Tony Mendez, in the film by played by Ben Affleck (who also directed the film), concocted a plan in which he would pose as a Hollywood producer traveling to Tehran to oversee the making of a science fiction film.

Bringing with him six fake Canadian passports, Mendez “recruited” the hidden six to be his film crew. Back in Hollywood, news of the upcoming Tehran film-shoot was announced. Soon Tehran’s movie-loving public was in a tizzy over having its very own science-fiction film.

Mendez and his “film crew” scouted locations and then announced their “return to Hollywood”. They flew home on an Iranian airliner, after using their fake Canadian passports to leave Tehran.

Argo was based on real events. It was neither a satire nor a bit of feigned reality. It was, rather, a creative subterfuge which saved the lives of six American diplomats.

This was one of Jimmy Carter’s finest leadership moments as president. To protect the remaining 66 American hostages from retaliation, the rescue was announced as a Canadian secret operation, dubbed “The Canadian Caper”.

The story of the rescue was not fully declassified until 1997, 17 years after Carter left office.

During Carter’s four years in the White House, not a single American was killed by enemy fire, and not a single enemy combatant was killed.

After Carter’s successful secret 1979 rescue mission, this cannot be said of any succeeding U.S. president. Deceit, lying, and military ventures have become the prevailing modus operandi of succeeding American governments. 

Ronald Reagan, who succeeded Carter as president, set the new deceit tone. Negotiations to release the 66 hostages were kept secret by Reagan until after Carter left office, allowing Reagan to pose as the great savior of the hostages.

Having known Jimmy Carter when he was Governor Carter, I was not surprised to  read in The New York Times that he is still teaching Sunday School in Plains, Georgia. 

That story reminds me again of the high moral character of the man, his ingrained modesty, and the positive impact he has had, and continues to have, on the nation and the world.  

Wag the Dog was a satire, The Syrian Bombing was feigned reality, and Argo depicts a creative subterfuge orchestrated by an American president, a subterfuge meant to save, not to kill nor destroy.

Carter’s choice of a peaceful solution saved the lives of American diplomats. All these years later, he knows he chose the right path. 

Keep teaching it, brother. 

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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7 Responses to Syria Bombing Designed to Distract

  1. Bob Norberg says:

    Was gas the cause of the deaths and injuries? Robert Fisk reports another possibility. See

  2. Here is another independent source that exposes the lie about Syria’s chemical attack – go to:

    Trump called Assad an animal when he had no evidence of any wrongdoing. What should one call Trump for committing the war crime of unjustified attack on a country?

  3. withacane says:

    Thanks for the accurate Wag analogy, but more for reminding us about Carter then and now. John

  4. Pingback: Syria and the Brinkmanship Presidency – 3 – 131 Missiles to Destroy the Evidence | View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince's Blog

  5. Samia Khoury says:

    No wonder Carter was not elected for a second term. He was too honest and pro peace that did not fit the criteria of a politician.

  6. J. Martin Bailey says:

    Occasionally I hear an interview with President Carter. I am always amazed by his soft-spoken, yet honest and profound comments. It’s a shame that the American people failed to appreciate the care and sensitivity he brought to the White House.

  7. Robert Assaly says:

    Ditto Martin. If nothing else, Jimmy Carter reminds us that there is such a thing as an honest politician and world leader with integrity.

    The fostering of cynicism by today’s crowd benefits the cynics seeking political office. Trump mastered the art.

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