The US military has mobilized following allegations last week that Bashar Al-Assad was behind the chemical weapon attack that left 70 people dead in the town of Khan Sheikhun. The US government decision to bomb Syrian airfields in retaliation consequently incited an explosion of media coverage and analysis. Ultimately, last week’s drama resulted in people glued to their television screens as newscasts broadcast plumes of smoke and glowing missiles. For many alive during the lead up to the War in Iraq, much of these images and rhetoric awaken a familiar sentiment. The US media’s 24/7 coverage, the endless parade of retired generals appearing on TV and the fetishizing of war harken to a day where unquestioned loyalty to the effort predicated the invasion of Iraq.
Drums of War
It is hard to fathom a more complicated scenario to be cast into. The civil war in Syria has raged for years now, pro-Assad Russian forces occupy the land, Turkey and Iran are vying for influence in the region and now chemicals weapons have been used for a second time in 5 years. Apart from the endless violence suffered by the Syrian people, what is most concerning about what has happened over the past few days has been the reductionist attitude of the mainstream media. Democrats, Republicans and media analysts alike have jumped on a bandwagon that often leads to shallow policy and incomplete objectives. The spectacle of war and the insistence that military intervention should be the immediate response have all resulted in a scenario in which a complex situation is reduced to the same old ineffective solutions of the past. Adding on to the reductionist narrative, key media figures have seemed to have lost all sense of logic and critical thinking as tuning in to the news has been kin to entering an echo chamber void of any dissenting opinion.
The lack of vocal opponents to the current parade are not surprising. In the lead up to the Iraq War, mainstream news media vehemently discouraged dissent among its anchors and the Bush administration kept a tight lid on the information going in and out of the Middle East. Phil Donahue of MSNBC was dismissed after questioning the war effort and the long-term viability of a war strategy in Iraq as was Peter Arnett of NBC news. News media was limited to what they could broadcast in an attempt to hide the true costs of war by banning pictures of coffins and dead Americans. It is no surprise then, that instances such as these produce compliance and bizarre claims about the ‘beauty’ of war and deadly missiles just as the government clamours to produce some public support for the war. There is an unsettling willingness to go to war, and that is not healthy. In the end, I do not intend to claim that war is never a viable option, but that blindly following the chorus is a dangerous trend that more often than not does the bidding of the government.
Compounding on the fact that we are receiving a one-sided media response to the war effort is the response and motivations of President Trump. From an unorthodox President that is hard to predict, carrying his own motivations and plans, it becomes apparent that the response of the news media following the White House’s military action is irresponsible at best. The endless praising of Donald Trump as ‘presidential’ due to his choice to use military action in Syria not only cheerleads further military action but associates the office of the Presidency with the use of force. What does Zakaria refer to when he says these actions are ‘presidential’? Was it his willingness to use military power or his decisiveness? Either way, the answer to these questions paint diplomacy and careful consideration in a negative light and further reinforces the reductionist narrative.
Neglecting to see the true motivations, or even the existence of motivations other than those that have been vocalized by the White House is another characteristic this past week has shared with the Iraq War. Acting as a mouthpiece for the president does not qualify to holding the government to account and the failure of the news media to even contemplate a larger context is a huge dereliction of duty. Geopolitics is rarely a he said she said scenario, there are complex realpolitik implications and motivations. By reducing these motivations to face value and by limiting oneself to a single scenario and response, we risk being pushed into another endless war. It is no wonder we find ourselves in this very scenario in the first place.
Photo: US Government Issue (DoD)