Confusion, mistakes and misfires on the battlefield are hardly unusual. To the contrary, they are a common occurrence in warfare. But last Saturday, after U.S. warplanes launching airstrikes in Syria against the so-called Islamic State struck instead a group of Syrian army forces, what followed was, if not unusual, informative. The aftermath of the incident highlighted the Middle East’s propensity to find murky motives behind easily explainable events, exacerbated by the widespread confusion about the strategic objectives of the war’s combatants, notably the United States.
As soon as news emerged of the U.S. airstrikes in Deir el-Zour, which Russian officials say killed more than 60 Syrian regime forces, conspiracy theorists shifted into overdrive about the attack, about the origins of the Islamic State, and about the intentions of the multiplicity of players in the Syrian conflict.
In fact, the most remarkable of all the conspiracy theories came not from the Middle East, but from Russia. This was even more striking because Moscow and Washington had only days earlier agreed on a plan for ceasing hostilities, hinting there was at least an opening for better relations between the rival powers over Syria.