Reprinted from Consortium News
As demonstrated by Steve Kroft of CBS' "60 Minutes" in his contentious interview with President Barack Obama, a key role for the mainstream news media is to enforce whatever warmongering "group think" dominates Official Washington, such as today's perceived need to escalate U.S. military involvement in Syria and hit back against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Not to excuse Obama or any other politician for caving in to this kind of pressure, but it is daunting to confront a solid wall of "conventional wisdom" -- posed as hostile questions -- that almost always favors militaristic solutions to international problems. On the other hand, a politician can almost never go wrong by adopting the most belligerent positions, by posing as the "tough guy" or "tough gal," by making sure not to get labeled "weak."
Thus, on Sunday evening, Kroft castigated Obama on behalf of those interests, badgering the President of the United States to intervene more aggressively in the Syrian conflict in line with the desires of the Saudis and the Israelis who have both adopted an intensely hostile position vis-a-vis the so-called "Shiite crescent," the string of Shiite-led governments and political movements from Iran through Iraq to Syria and southern Lebanon.
On "60 Minutes," there was no debate as to why the United States should jump in on one side of a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites dating back to the Seventh Century -- or whether U.S. national interests ally with either Saudi support for the Wahhabi fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam or Israel's opportunistic teaming-up with Saudi Arabia. In Kroft's world, it is just taken as a given that Obama should do what the Saudis and Israelis want.
Kroft also baited Obama over not confronting Putin more aggressively in Syria, even deploying the dreaded "w"-word, "weakness."
"He's moved troops into Syria," Kroft said about Putin. "He's got people on the ground. Two, the Russians are conducting military operations in the Middle East for the first time since World War II. [He's] bombing the people that we are supporting. ... He's challenging your leadership, Mr. President. He's challenging your leadership."
Kroft continued, "There is a perception in the Middle East among our adversaries, certainly and even among some of our allies that the United States is in retreat, that we pulled our troops out of Iraq and ISIS has moved in and taken over much of that territory. The situation in Afghanistan is very precarious and the Taliban is on the march again. And ISIS controls a large part of Syria. " They say you're projecting a weakness, not a strength."
When Obama interrupted to ask, "You're saying 'they' but you're not citing too many folks," Kroft replied, "I'll cite if you want me to. I'd say the Saudis. I'd say the Israelis. I'd say a lot of our friends in the Middle East."
The "Weakness" Charge
To deflect the politically damaging depiction of "projecting a weakness," Obama talked tough, lashing out at Putin as the one supposedly lacking leadership. But in defense of not re-committing large numbers of U.S. combat force into Mideast conflicts, Obama did note that some of his Republican critics favor sending "endless numbers of troops into the Middle East."
But there was another way to address these issues without simply Kroft channeling the attitudes of the Saudis, Israelis and U.S. neoconservatives. For instance, he could have asked about possible areas where the United States and Russia could cooperate to restore peace to the region.
Or, if Kroft wanted the drama of an argument, he could have pressed Obama on his decision to provide TOW anti-tank missiles and other sophisticated military hardware to Syrian rebels fighting the Syrian army.
The Washington Post's Liz Sly on Monday reported that the CIA has been supplying TOWs to the Free Syrian Army, a relatively moderate Syrian rebel group whose success with the missiles may have forced Putin's hand regarding intervention to prevent the collapse of Syria's military. She reported that only a small number of TOWs have apparently fallen into the hands of Islamist extremists.
While Sly's story raises a valid question about the possible unintended consequence of Obama's decision to introduce TOW missiles into the Syrian conflict -- prompting the Russian intervention -- I'm told that the CIA's TOWs also include about 500 missiles going to Ahrah ash-Sham, an Islamist force founded, in part, by Al Qaeda veterans. That raises an additional question about Obama playing a risky game of collusion with jihadists.
Ahrah ash-Sham collaborates with Al Qaeda's Nusra Front as the two leading militias in the Saudi-backed Army of Conquest but maintains at least some formal separation from Al Qaeda, all the better to qualify for U.S. weapons.