Drumbeats in the Distance

Has the American media learned anything since George W. Bush drove the country into the Iraq War on false pretenses and warped intelligence? Hopefully it has, but we are be on the verge of a high-stakes test of this hypothesis.

The Trump administration appears to be on the cusp of walking us into a conflict with Iran. And we need to be clear about how this all started: Against the advice of many of his top aides, Trump decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal crafted under President Barack Obama. The deal strictly limited Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon, a goal nearly everyone in the U.S. shares, but Republicans decided that anything with Obama’s name on it made them sad, so it had to go. Then, last month, the administration announced it was labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and unprecedented and aggressive move.

That brings us to this month, when officials have been trying to convince the public that there is intelligence suggesting that the threat from Iran is growing even though U.S. Central Command released a report saying the regime had no interest in going on the offense against the United States unless provoked.

So the administration decided to provoke them. National Security Adviser, and talking mustache, John Bolton announced that he would send aircraft carriers and bombers to the Persian Gulf in response to some new information. But Bolton is the quintessential unreliable narrator. He was, after all, a part of the administration that manipulated the intelligence to make the case for the Iraq War under Bush. Even Bush would later sour on his former ambassador to the United Nations, saying, “I don’t consider Bolton credible.”

The Associated Press credulously reported Monday that a U.S. official said that the military has assessed that Iran is likely responsible for a recent attack on oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates over the weekend. But the story was thinly sourced, relying only on one anonymous official citing a military assessment.

Bolton has never seen a regime that he didn’t want to overthrow and he is clearly gunning for Iran. And given how stupid and easy to manipulate Trump is, Bolton may well lead him into war.

Reporters must be particularly skeptical of what administration sources are saying, whether they’re speaking anonymously or before Congress. Who’s agenda are they serving? How reliable is the information they’re citing? We’ve seen how the government can manipulate the media into banging the war drums for them. And there are signs it is making such a mistake again.

The American role in any rising tensions, beginning with Trump’s tearing up of the nuclear deal, is the important context for understanding any emerging conflict. Reporters need to be particularly skeptical of any claims they’re hearing as the Trump administration, with John Bolton at the helm of national security, coalesces around the idea that Iran poses an imminent threat.

Once More With Feeling

Via Huffington PostAfter the beheading of a second American journalist, Shirley Sotloff, by ISIS militants, the overwhelming narrative on nearly all sides of the media and government has been that we need to seriously consider reentering the conflict in the Middle East in a profound way. In fact, earlier today President Obama vowed to build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” the group.

“We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists,” Obama said. “And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.”

If this sounds familiar, it should.  Minus a couple of invasions (so far), the steps being considered or already in effect to deal with “the threat of ISIS” are a reasonable summary of the last 13 years of what was once called the Global War on Terror. It’s shocking to think after the massive debacle that was the war in Iraq that there would be a situation possible that would make us consider reengaging militarily, especially given that it was likely our decade-plus long efforts to “degrade and destroy” al-Qaeda and the subsequent destabilizing of the region that has allowed ISIS to gain such power and influence.

When the U.S. embarked in the Global War on Terror  it set off a process that led to insurgencies, civil wars, the growth of extremist militias, and the collapse of state structures, it had also guaranteed the rise of something new: ISIS as well as of other extremist outfits ranging from the Pakistani Taliban, now challenging the state in that country, to Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.

All in all, the invasions, the occupations, the drone campaign, the deaths that ran into the hundreds of thousands, the uprooting of millions of people sent into external or internal exile, the sending of trillions of dollars all proved to be jihadist recruitment tools par excellence.

What reason do we have to think that a war with ISIS will prove to be anything different?

If the U.S. were capable of destroying ISIS, as our secretary of state and so many others are urging, that might prove to be anything but a boon.  It was easy enough to think, that al-Qaeda was the worst the world of Islamic extremism had to offer. The fact that we can’t now imagine what could be worse than ISIS doesn’t mean anything given that no one could imagine ISIS before it appeared. 

The American record in these last 13 years is a disastrous one.  Do it again should not be an option.