The Washington Post is claiming that the Russian military intervention in Crimea illustrates President Obama is too reluctant to use military force. The Post’s underlying grievance, however, isn’t with the president – but with the opinions of the American public.
People make fun of Sen. John McCain, saying that he never met a war he didn’t like. But if The Washington Post were a senator, Senator W. Post’s extremist warmongering concerning the potential use of military force would make Senator McCain look like a prudent moderate by comparison. This isn’t just true of its “opinion” pages, but of how The Washington Post “reports the news.”
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In the wake of the Russian military intervention in Crimea, The Post – in a purported “news article” – is claiming that the crisis illustrates that President Obama is too reluctant to use military force.
Here is The Post’s chief White House correspondent, Scott Wilson, “reporting” – if you can call it that – under the headline, “Ukraine crisis tests Obama’s foreign policy focus on diplomacy over military force“:
Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor.
It will be a hard argument for him to make, analysts say.
A president who has made clear to the American public that the “tide of war is receding” has also made clear to foreign leaders, including opportunists in Russia, that he has no appetite for a new one. What is left is a vacuum once filled, at least in part, by the possibility of American force.
Apparently, “reporter” Scott Wilson could not find any “analysts” who thought it would not be hard for President Obama to argue his case for diplomacy, to give some balance to his “news article.”
The implications of Wilson’s argument are preposterous. If Wilson’s argument is right, then it must be the case that the Russian military intervention in Crimea would have been significantly less likely if someone besides Obama were president – because that other president would have convinced the Russians that if they intervened militarily in Crimea, then it was possible that the United States would use military force in response and that likely would have deterred the Russians from taking military action in Crimea. Is this even remotely plausible?
Let’s consider some obvious alternative scenarios. Suppose that the American people had elected John McCain, not Barack Obama, to be president of the United States in 2008 and had re-elected McCain in 2012. What would President McCain be doing now about the possible use of military force? We can’t know for sure. But here’s what John McCain is saying now:
McCain stresses that there is no U.S. military option for responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine, nor should there be.
How about President Marco Rubio? What would he do? We can’t know for sure. But here’s what Marco Rubio is saying now:
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., discussing the potential of U.S. military strikes against Russian troops in Crimea, said, “I don’t think anyone is advocating for that.”
Opposition politicians in the United States are not generally known to be shy about opportunistically demanding that the president take aggressive actions that they themselves surely would not take if they were president. Everybody supports moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem until they become president. Everybody supports finally getting tough with China until they become president. When they become president, these threats vanish without a trace. So the fact that even McCain and Rubio aren’t willing to be opportunistic on this point is pretty striking – the idea of using military force against Russia must really be quite preposterous.
Now suppose that George W. Bush were still president. What would he do? We can’t know for sure. But here’s how George W. Bush responded militarily when Russian troops intervened in Georgia in 2008: bubkes.
Vice President Dick Cheney said then, according to a statement from his office:
“Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community.”
But there was no U.S. military response; life went on, people in the West forgot about it, and Russia never faced any serious consequences for its military intervention in Georgia.
If The Washington Post’s argument is so preposterous, why did it make that argument?
Here are three very plausible explanations, which, rather than being mutually exclusive, are quite complementary.
The first explanation is that the editors of The Washington Post live in a neoconservative fantasy bubble, in which being wrong by excessively advocating military force never has any serious negative consequences for Washington Post editors (or “reporters.”) We could primary Joe Lieberman. We can’t primary The Washington Post. Washington Post editors have never been painfully held to account for being extremist warmongers. Washington Post editors don’t expect to get blown up in Fallujah or Kandahar. Why shouldn’t they “put the pedal to the metal”? They are the “old invincibles.” They think they have nothing to lose.
The second explanation is that even if they were to concede that, as McCain said, there is no military option with respect to Russia, they hope that if they can put some points on the Washington chatter scoreboard for the idea that Obama is too reluctant to use military force, it could help in the future with other fights where a warmonger line isn’t quite so spectacularly absurd on its face. Maybe they can pressure Obama to be more aggressive with Russia in other ways. Maybe they can pressure Obama to be more aggressive in Syria. Maybe they can pressure Obama to be more aggressive with Iran. Maybe they can pressure Obama to back off of the very modest cuts to the Pentagon budget that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed. (Remember: these are the people who claimed that Chuck Hagel was the wrong choice to be secretary of defense, not because he said mean things about AIPAC but because he called the Pentagon budget “bloated.”) Because pressing the pedal to the metal is free for The Washington Post, if it can save one dollar of Pentagon spending by frothing at the mouth, it’s pure gain.
In all these cases, The Washington Post’s underlying grievance isn’t with Obama but with the opinions of the American public. If Americans wanted war with Syria, Congress would have approved it. If Americans wanted war with Iran, Congress would have approved it. If Americans wanted their taxes increased or their Social Security benefits cut to pay for more Pentagon spending, Congress would have approved it. But Americans didn’t want it then, don’t want it now, and are extremely unlikely to want it in the future that we can see. If The Washington Post wants these things, it will have to elect a new people. But pressing the pedal to the metal is free for ˆ, and most Americans probably won’t notice that it is their opinions, not Obama’s, that The Washington Post has in its gun sights.
The third explanation for The Washington Post’s behavior is this: as long as we’re debating whether or not Obama is too reluctant to use military force, we’re playing in The Washington Post’s preferred sandbox. We could be asking other questions, like this: If what Russia is now doing was a likely consequence of poking Russia in the eye, and if we don’t like what Russia is now doing, and if we have no plausible means now to stop Russia from doing what it is now doing, why did we poke Russia in the eye in the first place? Why did we help anti-Russian politicians overthrow the democratically elected government of Ukraine, without taking Russian interests – and the allied interests of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who voted for the guy that we helped overthrow, like the majority in Crimea – into account? “Don’t start what you can’t finish,” children are sometimes told when they complain about the negative outcome of a schoolyard confrontation. How come no one ever told U.S. foreign policy not to start what it couldn’t finish? Could it be because people such as U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland, who believe that it’s totally unremarkable for U.S. diplomats to try to dictate who will be the leaders of the government of Ukraine, like the editors of The Washington Post, have never faced any serious negative consequences for advocating too much confrontation? The Washington Post doesn’t want us to talk about that, so it changes the channel to whether Obama is too reluctant to use military force.
The Washington Post’s likely motivations for warmongering about the foreign policy topic of the day are similar to the apparent motivations of its brother-in-rhetoric Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for warmongering about Iran: 1) no expectation of negative consequences for extremist warmongering; 2) warmongering might push the U.S. administration to be more aggressive; 3) warmongering changes the channel from uncomfortable topics, such as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank.
Unfortunately, The Washington Post abolished its ombudsman, apparently believing that The Washington Post shouldn’t have to pay someone to criticize it. But you can still complain about The Washington Post‘ss over-the-top warmongering to The Washington Post’s “Reader Representative,” Alison Coglianese here; you can contact the Washington City Paper’s “Washington Post Ombudsman” here; and you can find Patrick Pexton, The Post’s former ombudsman, who still sometimes weighs in, here.
Oh the press, the press
The freedom of the press
We must be free to say
Whatever’s on our chest …
For whichever side will pay the best!
– Marc Blitzstein, “The Cradle Will Rock,” 1936