If you've noticed that the active anti-war movement seems smaller these days, you're not alone – and just at the moment when the public seems to support their cause.
But those few who have remained consistent, along with a vast and ideologically diverse majority of Americans opposed to war with Syria, must now contend with a media that reflexively assumes purer motives of President Obama than it did of his predecessor.
|A vast and ideologically diverse majority of Americans opposed to war with Syria, must now contend with a media that reflexively assumes purer motives of President Obama than it did of his predecessor.|
This is how the media had been dragging us into a war that both Congress and the public view with great skepticism – right up to the moment the British Parliament's vote and extremely sour public opinion forced Obama to un-make his mind about invading without congressional approval.
Witness, for example, the coverage this year and last of Obama’s controversial drone-strike policy. Even while providing reasonably critical coverage, journalists did not hide their shock that Obama – “a good man ... an honorable man ... the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize ... an unimpeachably upstanding citizen,” as Esquire put it – had made mass assassination his singular contribution to the history of the U.S. presidency.
The New York Times, even in revealing Obama's personal role in approving strikes, merely presented this as evidence of his credentials as a deep thinker: “A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas,” the Times asserted, “he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions.”
That provides some insight into the sympathetic assumptions from which the media currently operate and how they have nearly got us into a war last week.
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan asked her paper’s managing editor, Dean Baquet, about whether Times coverage of Syria isn’t ignoring the lessons of Iraq.
His paraphrased reply: "Syria is not another Iraq, he said. One of the major differences, he said, is that the Obama administration has no enthusiasm for this conflict in the way that President George W. Bush’s administration did a decade ago.”
The drums of war beat to such assumptions, and to the tune of wishful thinking. Time’s Jay Newton-Small penned a post last Wednesday – “Six Ways Syria 2013 is not Iraq 2003.”
Two of her six “reasons” – the robust Arab and European support that Obama supposedly enjoys (Newton-Small sneered: “Remember ‘Freedom Fries?'”) – were falsified within 48 hours of publication.
Jordan refused U.S. access to its airspace and the British Parliament vetoed UK action against Syria. It was the first time Parliament has voted down a government-backed military action since Britain exited our own Revolutionary War. (“Freedom Muffins,” anyone?)
Newton-Small at least brought up one other important difference – the fact that Bush had placed his ill-fated invasion in Congress' hands, whereas Obama at that point had no plans to do so.
“Maybe Obama should allow the debate in Congress,” she conceded, adding that “it’d be a headache,” and referring to the constitutional process of authorizing a war as “posturing.” She was not alone in this characterization.
Yet under great pressure at home and abroad, Obama has now conceded (if not explicitly) that he can't just start foreign wars on his own – a possibility that few journalists ever took seriously, even if polls showed eight in 10 Americans were demanding it.
In 2003, the American public strongly supported the invasion of Iraq (72 percent), and its prospects seemed far more promising at the time than this new venture.
It had an actual goal (regime change), and months (not days) were spent debating the merits. One can only imagine how much more quickly that unwise war might have begun, had the contemporaneous media coverage taken the deferential tone of the Obama era.