They look like they hate one another, but they both share a similar belief in the need for Obama to have unlimited power to wage war. (photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Trevor Timm | Obama, Republicans and the Media Concur: It’s Time for War With Isis
18 February 15
fter more than six months of virtually ignoring the fact that the war against Isis was illegal by almost anyone’s standards – given Congress’s cowardly refusal vote on it and the White House’s refusal to ask them first – the Obama administration has finally submitted a draft war authorization against Isis to Congress.
That means the media can go back to doing what it does best: creating a “debate” over how many countries we should invade, without any discussion of how our invasions created the very situation in which we feel we have to contemplate more invasions. It’s like the early Bush years all over again.
On its face, the White House’s draft looks like a limited war authority that would need to be renewed in three years, only it contains vague wording and legal loopholes that, as legal scholar Ryan Goodman writes, could allow “the next president the power to embroil America in conflicts and in countries that no current member of Congress could predict.” Worse yet, the White House is decidedly not trying to reform or sunset the 2001 authorization to fight the perpetrators of 9/11, which it has also used as legal rationale to conduct its operations against Isis (Isis didn’t exist when the AUMF was passed and has been al-Qaida’s sworn enemy for some time now).
Law professor Rosa Brooks summed up the request like this:
“Dear Congress: I humbly request the authority to do whatever the hell I want even though I already have the authority to do it anyway. Love, Barack.”
And, as New York Times’ Peter Baker noted matter-of-factly on CBS this Sunday: “[the authorization] is not going to change what’s happening on the ground. President Obama has made clear whether it passes or not, he’s going to continue to do the exact same thing.”
The only thing more farcical than the White House’s position is the Republican party’s: after months of hyperbolic grandstanding over Obama’s supposed abuses of executive power when it comes to immigration, health care, net neutrality or anything else, his political opposition has suddenly decided that they won’t agree to pass anything that doesn’t give the president absolutely unlimited authority to engage in a forever war with Isis.
But if there’s not Congressional action on the war – which many are now predicting, since Congress can barely even name a post office these days – you can almost guarantee it’s because John Boehner will only give unilateral power to do whatever he wants to the same president he’s literally suing for executive overreach, and nothing less. If only Obama was more like a dictator is the new Republican talking point – and it’s being repeated by some in the media.
CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, for instance, on Sunday disturbingly called on Obama to act more like Jordan’s unelected king, who Schieffer also bizarrely commended for executing two prisoners immediately after it was made public that its captured fighter pilot was killed by Isis. Over on Fox News, their conservative commentators have been increasingly becoming enamoured with the Jordanian King, the military dictator of Egypt and Vladimir Putin for weeks. It’s like they’re unable to comprehend we are literally dropping thousands of bombs in Iraq and Syria per month right now, and the numbers continue to go up.
Meanwhile, the featured guests on those major network sunday shows – many of whom have never met a war they didn’t like anyway – tried to out-tough each other this week for who would go to war with Isis harder. It’s their standard script: Just six months ago in the lead up to the first bombs dropping on Iraq and Syria, those shows had 89 guests on to talk about the prospective Isis war. Only one of them was decidedly anti-war.
Television punditry is, as it always has been, all war all the time. No second guessing the administration or the war hawks: just shut up and get out of the way.
In echos of the Iraq War, New York Times was happy to pitch in just in time for the war authorization push too, publishing a front page article this weekend full of anonymous quotes from government officials hyping the worldwide spread of Isis and “raising the prospect of a new global war on terror.”
But look where that’s gotten us: more than 2000 bombs dropped by the US military in January alone and hardly anyone is even asking how many civilians those bombs have killed. The Pentagon absurdly contends, six months into a multi-country war, that none have been killed—yet it’s received scant coverage. (McClatchy – one of the few news outlets with a long record of skeptical war coverage – pointed to a mountain of evidence that there have been more than 50 civilian deaths in Syria thanks to only one errant US bomb, which the US of course refuses to admit.)
The government tells the media what they want to believe, and reporters repeat it, while their most-beloved talking heads support the conclusions the government wants all of us to draw. And look at the results: suddenly, a war weary public is now all ready for a ground war with Isis. This is how we go to war now: with the consensus and the participation of media gatekeepers, but without a vote in Congress, or a thought for what comes after.