The New Republic, a progressive news organization, recently posted an article titled “The United States might be stumbling into a deeper war in Syria.” I often read The New Republic and believe that they do good work, but this particular headline is a part of a dangerous pattern that certain media outlets are guilty of.
What does it mean to stumble? Stumbling is always an accident – it’s never the intent. You stumble down stairs, stumble into a wall, etc. We all know what stumbling is… so what does it have to do with the United States’ foreign policy? The United States doesn’t “stumble” into any wars; we make the conscious decision to go into wars. However, some media outlets paint the U.S. as a country that war happens to, rather than a country that actively pursues war – as if we don’t decide to go to war, war comes to us. In this country, many of us buy into the myth that we are always the good guys. That going to war is accompanied by a metaphorical reluctant sigh. This narrative enables the belief that America is a peaceful nation that gets dragged into war by other countries or only goes to war for justifiable reasons. In other words, we are a gentle giant, earnestly trying to do our best for the world, but we stumble as we do so.
Articles describing the U.S. as inadvertently going to war have increased since President Trump took office. Many in the media view Trump as, to be blunt, an idiot who does not know how running a country works, ergo he must not know the full implications of his foreign policy decisions. Although I mostly agree with this view, Trump is not the only one in control of America’s foreign policy. In fact, there have been many reports that the Department of Defense has had more power in this administration than the Obama or Bush administrations. One could reasonably think that Trump himself does not know how different actions lead to different consequences, but you can’t make that argument for Secretary James Mattis, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary Mike Pompeo.
The issue with the narrative of the U.S. accidentally going to war is that it assumes the U.S., or its main actors, don’t want to go to war and that their decisions are made with the intent of not escalating conflict. That’s not true in general, but it’s even less true in the Trump administration. John Bolton is a man who is so war-hungry, even former Bush officials have told people they’re apprehensive.
The National Republic is not the only news site to have done this. The media site The Drive accused the U.S. of “stumbling closer to a dangerous escalation in Syria,” along with various other news sites painting the picture that the U.S. is being pulled into war rather than pulling the nation into war.
The U.S. is boldly walking into war, not just stumbling into it – and the media needs to begin describing it like this if we want a chance at peace.