Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
Sunday December 20, 2015
To hear the Republican presidential aspirants tell it, Barack Obama is the worst president in the history of the republic. What’s more, he and his policies are the sole reason this country and the world are worse off today than they have ever been.
As we are now in the full throes of the 2016 presidential race, I am going to excuse this hyperbolic, political rhetoric, on the grounds that Republicans would say that, wouldn’t they.
But there is no such reason for the mainstream media’s deplorable abdication of their journalistic responsibilities by going all Trump, all the time. In a shameless effort to inflate ratings and circulation numbers, Donald Trump has been given more free airtime and newsprint space than any presidential candidate I have seen a five decades of reporting.
To make matters worse, with a few exceptions, Trump is not being fully challenged when he consistently makes outlandish proposals which denigrate whole classes of the population. Banning all Muslims from entering this country or expelling eleven million so-called illegal Hispanic aliens, may be what many Republican primary voters want – apparently so because Trump leads the pack with 41% support among Republicans in national polling.
But these are not serious policy proposals with any chance of becoming law, regardless of who becomes the next president. And this point should be hammered home in every story on this subject. Instead, Trump simply refuses to address this reality while the networks and major newspapers continue to grovel for his time and attention. Small wonder the news media have gone from being among the most respected of the country’s institutions- which believe it or not they were as recently as the 1980s- to among the least respected - now down in the single digits in public approval ratings along with the U.S. Congress.
And while I’m on the subject of the news media’s failings, they go beyond giving Trump a free pass. I understand that after seven years in office President Obama’s record is not blemish free. But in reporting what Republican presidential wannabes say they would do to eliminate the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, it is not enough for reporters to simply recount their tough talk.
Donald Trump has said, “I will bomb the sh- -t out of them.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) warns, “We will utterly destroy them. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion.” Yet how do such threats translate into a credible policy?
Aaron David Miller, a senior diplomat specializing in the Middle East in both Democratic and Republican administrations wrote this in a recent op-ed.
“Talk is cheap, and the war against ISIS and the jihadis will be a long one. If any of the tough talking Republican hopefuls become president, they will discover that winning that war isn't so simple.
"Campaigning on U.S. leadership is one thing. Combatting terrorists and finding long-term solutions in the face of the meltdown in Syria and Iraq, uncooperative allies, and the limits and complexities of no-fly zones and large deployments of U.S. ground forces is quite another.….. From what to do about Syria, Iraq, the Islamic State, or Putin's adventurism, a Republican president, or even a Democrat who aspires to be tougher or bolder than Obama, will be hard pressed to find much better -- let alone heroic -- solutions to any of these problems.”
Rarely, if ever, do reports about what the candidates say they will do, contain such objective analysis. Likewise there is little historical context in most reporting. The Republicans would have us believe that all of the problems of the Middle East, began the day of Obama’s inauguration. That’s partisan politics. But reporters have a duty to do more than regurgitate what a candidate says. That’s merely stenography.
In fact, virtually every Middle East analyst worthy of the name, acknowledges that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 totally destabilized the region. The chaos that ensued unleashed a new era of the centuries old Sunni/Shiite sectarian split in Islam. And the Sunni insurgency eventually morphed into the Islamic State. In addition, the U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army, put thousands of Saddam Hussein’s officer corps out of a job and many of those are today providing their professional skills to what is now the world’s most militarily sophisticated terrorist organization.
What also seems to be forgotten is that as well as the tens of thousands of American troops killed and wounded, and the two to three trillion dollar cost of the war (which was never paid for in taxes, but in effect, put on the Chinese credit card) the Iraq intervention has become a monument to the limits of U.S. military power. Not counting other members of the U.S. led coalition, there were often more than 110,000 American troops in Iraq during the nearly eight years of occupation, yet America could not impose its will on the Iraqis. As conservative pundit George Will has written, the invasion of Iraq was “the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history.”
Pundits, critics, and much of the mainstream media frequently fault President Obama for being risk-averse. Somehow, recent history is ignored and many Americans are again nostalgic for a president with swagger- one who scares opponents. This is evident in the apparent admiration expressed by numerous prominent Republicans for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s style, such as his decision to directly intervene militarily in Syria. However, as I wrote at the time, Putin’s action in Syria was not a sign of strength but an indication of weakness - his guy, Syrian President Bashar Assad was in danger of losing the bloody Syrian civil war. The Russians may have reversed that, but at the cost of also getting bogged down there.
I predict that some day historians will note that America was well served by Obama’s risk aversion –that his refusal to stumble blindly into another full scale Middle East war was an act of wisdom, however much it was derided by his many critics.
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