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Commentary: Dysinformatsia redux

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Aug. 13, 2012 at 6:36 AM
WASHINGTON, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- We are living in an age of fakery and fiction alongside reality and truth, concludes Huffington Post Books Editor Andrew Losowsky. The new Transmedia Project, he says, is part of a boundary-pushing genre that has so far kept to the edges of the mainstream.

These days, anyone with the skills can make a Web site that appears to be that of a major company.

A YouTube video can appear to show real events that are fabrication, enough to make aging KGB veterans of the old Soviet dezinformatsia -- a tissue of falsehoods weaved around a kernel of truth -- nostalgic. They go viral on the World Wide Web where they become part of our permanent institutional memory.

The Middle East today is a geopolitical kaleidoscope of information, misinformation and disinformation superimposed by a civil war in Syria, a shadow war of Israel versus Iran that may soon become a hot one that drags in the United States.

In Egypt's Sinai desert, the Egyptian army is hunting down pro-al-Qaida tribesmen who killed 16 Egyptian soldiers on the Israeli frontier. At least that is what Cairo media announced. But a National Public Radio correspondent dropped in on some of the Sinai's tribal settlements that were alleged targets and the jobless men told her they hadn't heard a single shot fired in anger.

Back in Cairo, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's standard bearer, fired the cumbersome military chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 76, in the job 17 years, and his deputy Gen. Sami Anan.

The military still control roughly 40 percent of Egypt's economy and its leaders aren't about to return to barracks quietly.

In Syria, in February 1982, President Hafez Assad ordered his army to crush a rebellion in the city of Hama. In less than a week, the Syrian army killed 25,000. His son, President Bashar Assad, is at 19,000 killed after 19 months of civil war.

And the chorus of geopolitical and political voices demanding the United States intervenes to stop the killing and speed Assad's departure into exile -- or to meet his maker -- grow louder every day. But those who have served in or known Syria as frequent travelers for decades are urging caution.

Facebook and Twitter moved video showing insurgents throwing the bodies of slain Syrian soldiers off the roof of a post office in Al-Bab.

Al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq recently managed to attack 11 cities and towns the same day. Some of them have crossed the border into Syria and are posing as elements of either Free Syrian Army for Syrian Liberation Army. But this underground army is also an alphabet soup of Islamist brigades and groups of dubious origin.

Voices seeking U.S. military intervention emanate chiefly from Israel and its principal backers in Congress and the Obama administration. They see a geopolitical opportunity to kill two evils in one blow -- the Assad regime in Syria and its close ally Iran.

Syrian weapons of mass destruction are the main concern of policy makers. WMD in the regime's arsenal include nerve agents, mustard gas, radiological and biological instruments that can wipe out thousands of lives. Both Russia and China are standing by the Assad regime, presumably to deter anyone with similar ideas in their own countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama's critics offer up the successful NATO campaign in Libya as a precedent to emulate in Syria. But Libya, as one wit jested, "is a long beach dotted with oil wells and dozens of tribes that can't stand each other." Syria is a modern long-time client state of the Soviet Union before Russia inherited the only base Moscow has in the Mediterranean.

U.S. decision makers are also ever mindful of two recent engagements that didn't quite pan out the way they were planned. The $1 trillion spent on the Iraq war has given Iran more influence in Baghdad than the United States – despite the erection of a $1 billion new U.S. Embassy complex with some 1,200 diplomats and officials from various and sundry U.S. administrations.

Obama inherited the Afghan war and is winding it down. But the outlook for the planned 2014 exit is bleak. The ouster by Parliament of the two most powerful Afghan ministers -- Defense chief Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Gen. Besmullah Mohammadi -- wasn't a good omen.

U.S. Marines and Army advisers to Afghan military and police units are being gunned down with alarming frequency by their trainees. Three such rogue operations in four days isn't a good omen for a peaceful NATO withdrawal by the end of 2014.

In one attack an Afghan police commander and several of his men killed three U.S. Marines after inviting them to a Ramadan breakfast to discuss security. Next day, an Afghan police officer killed 10 fellow officers for siding with the Americans.

This year, there have been 26 "green-on-blue" attacks on allied troops in seven months that killed 35, a sharp increase on the previous year with 21 attacks and the same number gunned down.

Taliban insurgents lost no time posting on Twitter the attacks "clearly summed up the mood of the Afghan nation toward foreign occupation."

Looming larger than Afghanistan is Iran -- and the distinct possibility that Israel may attack some of Iran's nuclear installations before year's end.

Presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney would applaud loudly and Obama would have no choice but to join the chorus. This would automatically bring the United States into the conflict as Tehran would then retaliate against U.S. targets in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. State Department's Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Daniel Benjamin and the Treasury's Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen coordinated statements to warn the world that Hezbollah in Lebanon had been training and advising the Syrian army.

But the opposite has been true for years. Syria occupied Lebanon from 1976-2005 and aided and abetted the creation of Hezbollah, a politico-religious organization that remains more dependent on Iran than on Syria.

With disinformation, misinformation, information, and propaganda, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sort fact from fiction. Newspapers are read on line these days but "read" is a gross exaggeration. Thousands of blogs and millions of tweets leave little time for newspapers. These continue to bleed with a shrinking readership of retirees.

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