On February 16, 2018, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake published an article entitled “Don’t Be Fooled: Russia Attacked U.S. Troops in Syria.”
For context, the U.S.-led coalition conducted air and artillery strikes against what was believed to be pro-government forces in Syria on February 7, 2018, in response to an “unprovoked attack” launched by these pro-regime forces. Not long after, reports began emerging that significant numbers of Russian personnel were included in the over 100 dead and wounded, though Russia denied this at first. As the evidence began to mount, the accepted version of events on both sides was that those involved were Russian mercenaries and contractors, not official troops.
When asked about the incident initially, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said he had “no idea why they [pro-government forces] would attack there, the forces were known to be there, obviously the Russians knew.”
“We have always known that there are elements in this very complex battle space that the Russians did not have, I would call it, control of,” he added.
In response to this conundrum, Lake wrote:
“Now, it should be said that Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, is a very smart man. His perplexity in this case is probably what Plato called a ‘noble lie,’ a falsehood spoken by a leader to achieve a greater social good. If Mattis acknowledges the obvious — that the Kremlin authorized a direct assault on a U.S.-sponsored base by non-uniformed personnel — he risks an escalation spiral in Syria. Better to express bewilderment and give Russian President Vladimir Putin a chance to back down and deny culpability, which he ended up doing despite the heavy casualties suffered by his…