Last fall, Eric C and I were so worried about a possible new war with Syria--specifically, an authorization of force vote by Congress--that we violated one of our core rules and “chased the news”. We posted a few articles opposing the war and analyzing the media coverage, and wrote an open letter to our representatives in Congress recommending that they didn’t start a new war in the Middle East.
And the U.S. didn’t go to war. Media coverage moved past Syria and on to better, newer, brighter news stories, like a Malaysian airplane crash, the government shutdown of 2013 (Glad we weren’t fighting a war during that!), Obamacare’s failure (then not failure), and another foreign policy crisis in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the civil war in Syria continues on...and Syria has actually destroyed some of their chemical weapon stockpiles.
Syria, another war that wasn’t.
At the time, President Obama’s failure to intervene symbolized his lack of leadership, the ascendence of Russia, the failure of Americans to protect the innocent, and the decline of American power and global leadership...all in one small crisis. If you had turned on Fox News, CNN or even The Daily Show, you would have seen coverage bemoaning President Obama deciding not to start another war. You would have heard countless pundits warning that America’s security had never been more at risk than the present.
Does any of that seem weird, in hindsight? I mean, eight months on and Syria hasn’t made the news for weeks. (Unless you watch PBS or read The Economist cover to cover.) At the time--and for the record, the conflict in Syria hasn’t stopped--Syria seemed like the most important news story ever. I mean, thousands died in a chemical gas attack.
Americans have a billionaire racist to obsess over now.
There is an important takeaway in this episode: The media hyper-charges foreign policy crises with its 24/7 coverage. In the weeks during a crisis, the U.S. over-analyzes and tears apart the President’s every decision. In hindsight, it’s hard to remember why every crisis seemed so dire.
This wasn’t the first time--or second time--we got duped into opposing a war that never happened. Two years ago, we wrote a whole series on war with Iran--we’re still proud of that work, by the way--that never happened. Last year, we wrote a series on “The War that Wasn’t”, about North Korea and that war that never happened. At various points this year and last, war with Iran seemed inevitable, and now we have talk of intervening in the Ukraine. (Maybe Nigeria?) But all of these “wars” eventually fall by the wayside.
This week and next we plan to run some posts we wrote last year related to Syria. With the Ukraine figuratively “blowing up” in the mean time, we plan to lump in the whole host of avoided wars during the Obama presidency into one chunk. In hindsight, we hope to offer what most of the media fails to in a bid to grab page counts: thoughtful, reflective analysis on a series of crises.