(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2014: Iraq Redux", please click here.
And a disclaimer: I hate using the phrase “the media” but I don’t really have a better option.)
On Monday, I pointed out that media’s coverage of possible military interventions--in real talk, going to war--is incredibly pro-war. Quantitatively, the media invites on pro-war guests, up to and including people whose past advice has been utterly disastrous, ie, supporting and endorsing the original war in Iraq without ever admitting they were wrong. (Hell, Arizona and South Carolina voters keep re-electing these people to the Senate.)
But as had long been the On V style, we don’t want to just complain about something. We want to offer solutions. So here they are: four solutions to the media’s pro-war stance.
1. Invite on a War Skeptic
Military insiders, reporters who’ve been to war zones, and politicians allt tend to be reflexively pro-war (pro-intervention). More political talk shows need to invite on war skeptics to push back against the rush to war. Frankly, even I don’t really know who these voices would be. (I’d guess that there are dozens of liberal college professors who would do the trick.) Find these voices, and add them to the chorus.
2. Someone Needs to Create a Responsible Anti-war Media Organization
As you can tell by the tagline, yes, I’m a pacifist. And that’s not in name only. I really believe war is not the answer. (To defend myself against knee-jerk criticism, I’m more worried about World War I scenarios than World War II scenarios.)
But you may have noticed, in the tag to this sub-section, I wrote “responsible”. Too many anti-war groups are far too extreme for the American public. They’re either far-right libertarians or far-left socialists, with few voices in between. They don’t connect to the general populace. (If anyone has any suggestions of groups or blogs I could be following, let me know. I’ve looked.)
If we had the resources of time, energy and people--Michael C and I don’t--we would create an organization dedicated to creating balance on war coverage. We’d call it the “July Crisis” organization, dedicated to putting war skeptics onto every Sunday talk show to actually balance out the point of views. (In addition to, I’m guessing, writing reports and studies about the risks of future military interventions, like Michael C and myself did here on Iran.) These experts would question the push to war, ask the tough questions, and explain the risks of intervention.
But what information and viewpoints would these guests share? Well...
3. Debate the Worst Case Scenario
The media, by its nature, tends to frame military interventions over the cost of “doing nothing”. What will happen to innocent civilians in Syria or Iraq if we don’t protect them?
Instead, as Michael C has led the charge on, let’s ask the tough questions: how could this military intervention go disastrously wrong? What’s the worst case scenario? Who could we alienate? For the first Iraq war, we should’ve asked, “What happens if we get trapped in a prolonged, decade long insurgency? What’s the cost?” “Could we end up creating another terrorist group?” “Are we creating a battlefield that will train terrorists?” “Are we going to ignore Afghanistan for half a decade?”
You know, important questions people either didn’t ask or didn’t care if they got answered.
4. Let’s Debate the Past
In my opinion, the entire debate about further intervention in Iraq should be framed around America’s past mistakes in Iraq. (Remember Santayana’s not-a-quote-behaving-badly admonition: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”) We invaded Iraq when we shouldn’t have and set up the conditions that allowed ISIS to thrive. For a primer on how the media should handle this, watch Frontline’s episodes on “Losing Iraq” or “The Rise of ISIS”. (Though even these episode overstate the ISIS threat.)
Moving into the more recent past, the media is oblivious to the fact that they spent the fall of 2013 debating “arming the rebels” in Syria, without realizing that those rebels would, less than a year later, become the Islamic radicals we feared. Instead of framing the debate around “Would America have sent arms and financing to support terrorists?”, we basically moved onto the question, “What threat does ISIS pose?” And to stop ISIS requires allying with Iran (which Congressional Republicans adamantly oppose).
Whenever we go to war, we pick and choose allies. Since World War II, when we allied with Russia to defeat Hitler, we’ve picked poor bedfellows. To defeat Russia in Afghanistan, we allied with Osama bin Laden. To defeat Saddam, we angered Osama bin Laden. To defeat Saddam a second time, we propped up Maliki. Maliki angered the Sunnis, and now we’re at war with ISIS.
This never seems to come up in media debates about war. By addressing the ISIS threat, are we creating another threat? Who is that threat? The media should be instrumental in teaching America this. And reinforcing the lesson that war has unforeseen, often disastrous consequences.
Maybe the political talk show hosts can invite someone on their shows to give this opinion.