(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 26, 2001 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen during his visit at the Arab World Institute in Paris. France has initiated a procedure for the withdrawal of the Legion of Honor attributed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said on April 16, 2018 evening to AFP the entourage of President Emmanuel Macron. "The Elysee confirms that a disciplinary procedure of withdrawal of the Legion of Honor", the highest French distinction, "against Bashar al-Assad has been committed," said the Presidency of the Republic. / AFP / Jack GUEZ Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov enters a hall for a meeting with his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl in Moscow, Russia April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Trying to find your way to clarity through the fog of horror that surrounds the Syrian civil war, you could do worse than start with MSNBC television host Chris Hayes, who took to Twitter in the wake of the United States air strikes on Damascus: “They lie about everything all the time. Everything. Every single thing, big and small. All of it. Constantly.”

He doesn’t distinguish who he means by “they”, but it hardly matters. United States cruise missiles arc across a Middle Eastern capital in order to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction by an entrenched dictatorship. But this isn’t 2003. Massive anti-war demonstrations are now just a memory. The clarity of purpose with which millions marched against former US president George W. Bush’s illegal assault on Iraq has been splintered and numbed; first through our failure to prevent the invasion, and then by 15 long years in which war has mutated and spread, each new intervention spawning the next. This time, they’re taking no chances, giving the anti-war movement only the option of response post-fact.

US military spokesmen speak of pinpoint precision, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cruise missiles targeted so as to degrade Bashar Al Assad’s ability to repeat the horrific scenes of bodies piled upon each other on the outskirts of Damascus. Syrian sources claim that no such attacks occurred. They release footage of Al Assad sauntering into his office as though nothing much has happened. For a while, rumours circulate online that a Hezbollah base has been struck, drawing Iran and Lebanon directly into conflict with the US.

The lead-up to the US attacks was no less surreal. Trump, in one of his more lucid moments, told an audience in Ohio late last month that with Daesh on the ropes, “we’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon”. A week later, for reasons known only to him, Al Assad’s air force helicopters are alleged to have attacked a civilian apartment block with chemical weapons — a senseless atrocity that could not have been better timed to end any loose talk of US departure from Syria.

Nonetheless, the accusations are plausible precisely because of how much carnage Al Assad has been prepared to unleash in the name of regime defence. Chemical weapons represent a “red line”, Al Assad has been told, but apart from that the regime has been left free to deploy snipers, barrel bombs and strategic starvation of entire districts. Chemical weapons are different, it seems.

The appalling footage of gas casualties in a basement in eastern Ghouta prompted the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, to claim: “We have irrefutable evidence that this was another staged event.” In case anyone missed the implication, Russian defence spokesman Igor Konashenkov insisted he had “evidence that proves Britain was directly involved in organising this provocation”.

Needless to say, no such evidence was tendered. The world would have to wait until the closest thing we have to a neutral expert body, the United Nations Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission make a conclusion. Less than 24 hours before OPCW inspectors were due to arrive in Syria, three members of the UN Security Council have unilaterally launched air strikes on precisely the facilities that they claim are implicated in war crimes. Somehow, presumably deliberately, it has been made nearly impossible to tell the difference between reality and the comments thread on an InfoWars live-stream. While much of the news may be fake, the deaths are real. The people of Syria are still caught, after seven long years, between the irresistible force of cruise missiles, military proxies and terror cells, and the immovable object of Al Assad and his backstop in the Kremlin.

Syria, and Yemen, and Gaza, each in their own way, are terminal signs that our system of global governance is truly broken. No party to these bruising conflicts can say with a straight face that they are acting in good faith, or with any regard to the “international rules-based order” in which post-Second World War generations have placed their trust. Whole populations are being crushed between the tectonic plates of great-power rivalry. Those who take their chances and seek refuge are just as likely to fall prey to the slow-burn horror of domestic refugee politics, while collective attempts to make sense of the carnage are poisoned by strategic misinformation campaigns that flood social media platforms from all directions.

People of good heart have a choice, here, as Occupy Wall Street co-creator Micah White has argued: To either stick with interventions that we can safely assume will continue to fail, or to write a new chapter in globally inspired, coordinated defiance. We’d best take this leap into the dark before our present generation of leaders ignite a Third World War, since no one will be left to write caustic tweets in the event of our continued failure to meaningfully challenge the people who continue to lie about everything, all the time.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd

Scott Ludlam is a columnist and writer.