If Only Obama Had Bombed More, and Sooner

cnn-mccainThe United States is back to bombing Iraq, this time in order to halt an advance by the militant group Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)  into Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. The mission also involves humanitarian aid to Iraqi Yazidis, a religious minority who are being threatened by the group.

Coverage of the White House decision to launch military strikes was bound to note the apparent irony of an anti-Iraq War president going back to war in Iraq. But more broadly, the debates over the Iraq decision have highlighted a distinctly pro-war sentiment in the corporate media, with a spectrum of discussion that was too often restricted to “Finally Obama takes military action somewhere” on one side and the more hawkish “Is that all you’ve got?” on the other.

The starting point for much of this is the deeply flawed assumption (FAIR Blog, 3/18/14) that Obama has been too reticent to use military force–what New York Times columnist David Brooks termed a “manliness problem” (FAIR Blog, 4/22/14). In reality, Obama massively escalated the Afghan War, led an invasion of Libya that has resulted in chaos and violence, and has widely expanded drone warfare in a handful of countries.

But in many media accounts, Obama has not taking enough military action. The New York Times (8/9/14) called his decision to go to Congress for support for military action in Syria “perhaps one of the most glaring foreign policy missteps of his presidency,” and elsewhere (8/10/14) declared that he “has taken great pains to pull the United States out of the world’s squabbles.”

The Washington Post (8/8/14) reported that the decision to strike Iraq

reflected an important shift for a president who had spent months making the case for how the United States could achieve its foreign policy objectives without the use of force. His conclusion: Sometimes there is no substitute for military might.

Of course, a realistic assessment of Obama’s foreign policy would conclude that using force was not a serious departure for Obama. But realistic assessments are not a prominent characteristic of punditry about Iraq. On ABC‘s This Week (8/10/14), Cokie Roberts complained:

We’re not acting like a superpower, that’s the problem. And so that, you know…. I agree with Hillary Clinton, as you quoted her earlier, saying, well, if we had gotten into Syria when the rebels were begging us to come in, and saying, here we are, trying to secure our freedom, where is America, then you wouldn’t have had this group filling the vacuum.

This is a reiteration of her earlier commentary about the problem with US foreign policy is that the United is not feared enough in the Middle East (FAIR Blog, 7/14/14). The notion that military attacks on Syria would have prevented the rise of ISIS is curious, since it assumes that the Islamic State would not have found a way to benefit from US intervention against a government they were also fighting. And it is important to note that the group’s history is intimately linked to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq (New York Times, 8/10/14).

But to pundits like Jeffrey Goldberg (Meet the Press, 8/10/14), the rise of ISIS is not linked to the Iraq War, but to Obama’s decision not to attack Syria: “It’s pretty obvious that, by staying on the sidelines, not only the US but the entire West allowed what became ISIS to fill a vacuum.”

The heavy emphasis on pundits and politicians who believe that more military violence is the proper solution for almost any foreign policy question was, as is often the case, represented by the presence of John McCain on the airwaves. The Republican senator is a relentless supporter of US military violence, and made an appearance on CNN‘s State of the Union (8/10/14) to call for strikes in Syria and Iraq, and for more US military support for Syrian rebel groups.

McCain’s take does not come as a surprise, and CNN host Candy Crowley acknowledged that McCain’s ubiquity attracts criticism:

 Senator McCain, lots of people, when we have you on, often say, why do you have him on so often? And we say, because he answers our questions, because he expresses his views quite clearly.

Whether McCain supports more war clearly isn’t the issue. The problem is that McCain is given so much airtime, as if he is a particularly insightful analyst of foreign affairs. There is no evidence for this; McCain’s recommendations always amounts to more US bombing. And that’s a message corporate media are eager to amplify.




About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.