FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Chuck Todd, Syria, and the "Objective" View of U.S. Foreign Policy

by JUSTIN DOOLITTLE

Chuck Todd is NBC News’s political director and White House correspondent. He is presented as a straight reporter and analyst, not a commentator with opinions, even though he explicitly opposed prosecuting the torturers and killers of the Bush administration and openly professed to be “outraged” by the IRS “scandal” earlier this year. On Sunday, Todd appeared on The Chris Matthews Show (TCMS) – a truly amazing spectacle of the most trite Beltway chatter imaginable – and the first topic of discussion was the Syrian civil war and the Obama administration’s decision to send arms to rebel forces. What this “objective” correspondent said about the issue was quite revealing.

TCMS is (mercifully) ending its run this summer and its website does not appear to be regularly updated anymore; transcripts and video have not been posted for any episodes since May 19 (if for some reason either becomes available, I will update this post). Fortunately, Jason Linkins of the Huff Post live-blogged all of the Sunday shows, including TCMS, and he did capture the gist of what Todd said, after the latter started off by rightly mentioning that polling clearly indicates that the American public strongly opposes U.S. military involvement in Syria:

“There are a lot of reasons to be involved in Syria,” says Todd, whose involvement in Syria will be occasionally talking about it with dumb pundits between the “White House Soup Of The Day” segment and the pundit discussion on “What the White House soups tell us about the president’s messaging strategy.” Some of those reasons: we are lone superpower, humanitarian stuff, we are the world, cheeseburgers, flags.

“Assad could win,” says Chuck Todd, as if the most likely result of a civil war in Syria should somehow shock us into pantslessness.

Todd immediately throws his pro-war cards on the table, confidently declaring that “there are a lot of reasons to be involved in Syria.” He did not follow this by adding “and there are a lot of reasons not to be involved in Syria.” Viewers can reasonably conclude right off the bat, then, that Todd is, for all intents and purposes, supportive of U.S. military involvement in Syria – after all, he thinks there are “a lot of reasons” for it – and that he has, at least temporarily, dropped his “objective” correspondent shtick in order to convey his apparently pro-intervention views.

Todd then started rambling a bit and tried listing some of the “reasons” to which he referred – I won’t quote him directly until and unless a video or transcript becomes available, but Linkins is correct that he did specifically mention the terms “superpower” and “humanitarian” as representing just two of the whole “lot of reasons” that the U.S. military ought to intervene in a foreign country’s civil war. As Linkins writes, Todd wrapped up his elevator pitch for war by breathlessly warning us that “Assad could win.” Yeah, what’s wrong with everyone, all hesitant about jumping into a civil war in the Middle East and shipping arms to people we know virtually nothing about? Don’t they realize that ASSAD COULD WIN?

What is of interest here is not just that the ostensibly neutral Todd essentially came out in support for military invention, but his stated reasoning. The essence of his admittedly incoherent case was that the U.S. is the “lone superpower” in the world and, as such, it has a responsibility to intervene in Syria on “humanitarian” grounds.

This is a journalist, remember. A journalist who covers the White House. Typically, a journalist who covers the White House would want to spend most of his time questioning the White House and expressing skepticism at virtually everything the White House says that is not directly supported by evidence. Chuck Todd has a different conception of journalism, though. Chuck Todd evidently thinks covering the White House involves implicitly helping the White House make its case for military intervention by agreeing to, and promoting, several crucial premises on which the “humanitarian”/”superpower” case for war must rest.

First of all, no journalist should ever accept or agree to the manifestly dubious proposition that the U.S. government makes military decisions based on “humanitarian” concerns. Not only has that notion been redundantly discredited by history, but virtually every power in modern history has justified every military intervention on the grounds that it was for purely selfless, humanitarian reasons. It is entirely predictable, and thus effectively meaningless. The U.S. government, like all governments, is an amoral actor, and journalists should be the last people to accept the ludicrous notion that the highest officials and planners in the most powerful government on Earth are making decisions based not on perceived self-interest, but rather on the suffering of impoverished people on the other side of the world. This fatally undermines the skeptical, adversarial culture on which all serious journalism must depend. A skeptical approach does not, of course, preclude accepting that U.S. government policies, even military interventions, can theoretically have beneficial humanitarian effects, only that, just as a corporation makes decisions based on maximizing profit, the U.S. government makes decisions based on what aligns with U.S. government interests.

There is a second, rather weird premise that Chuck Todd evidently accepts a priori, namely, that U.S. military involvement (no matter the level) in Syria will, by definition, reduce the violence and alleviate this “humanitarian” crisis. This is an amazingly glib view on what exactly will happen if a Western superpower, despised in the Arab world, with a disastrous military record in the region, intervenes in Syria’s civil war on behalf of an opposition that includes elements the U.S. doesn’t even portend to know or understand (and which might include some genuinely dangerous elements). One need not be a pessimist by nature to understand the very clear and obvious risk that military intervention might, in fact, make the situation even worse.

No one with even a cursory knowledge of the history of allegedly humanitarian interventions would fail to consider the enormous possibility that, instead of facilitating peace, it could cause the situation to spiral even further out of control. Unfortunately, most of the people who can be found discussing this in the corporate media do not appear to have any interest in the messy details of these interventions or what happens after the intervening powers leave (see, for example, the lack of coverage in what has happened in Libya in the wake of Western intervention there), and are usually far more intrigued by “red lines” and other such fatuous nonsense.

One final imperial premise that Chuck Todd has evidently accepted lock, stock, and barrel: the idea that, out of all the countries in the world, the United States is the ideal candidate to intervene in Syria. In all the endless discussion about Syria and whether or not the United States should intervene in some fashion, what never arises is the question of why, exactly, out of all the countries in the world, the U.S. is the only serious candidate for intervention. Indeed, the question of whether or not an intervention is required is seemingly indistinguishable from the question of whether or not the United States should intervene. This is bizarre, considering that the United States is not in the same region (and virtually all of the populations in the region oppose U.S. involvement), possesses little or no understanding about Syrian history or culture, and is intensely disliked by substantial elements of the Syrian population.

Chuck Todd reasons that intervention must be carried out by the U.S. because its the “superpower” – an irrational platitude and non-sequitur that doesn’t even make any sense as anything other than shameless state propaganda. Actually, the U.S. might very well be the worst choice to carry out any kind of an intervention; American involvement in that region will always be toxic and will always produce blowback and unanticipated consequences on a unique scale. However, among the courtier press, the imperial mindset runs so deep that these questions usually don’t even arise. No one in polite circles dares to suggest that, yes, an intervention might be necessary, but that it should not be carried out by the U.S., and – gasp – the ideal choice might not be some beloved U.S. ally, either. That’s because it’s our world. Everyone else is just living in it.

It’s always interesting when an “objective” Beltway journalist reveals, intentionally or unintentionally, his or her political ideology or position on a high-profile issue, as Chuck Todd has done in expressing his support for military intervention in Syria. But what is often more interesting is the reasoning given. Chuck Todd just swallows whole the imperial assumptions that have formed the framework of what passes for foreign policy “debate” in this country for decades: we have the unique right to intervene anywhere in the world; we’re always the ideal choice to intervene; when we do intervene it’s invariably for selfless and humanitarian reasons; the fact that we’re the most powerful state, by some logic, means that we should always be the ones to intervene; and so on. There are many words to describe this kind of worldview, but “objective” is not among them. And there are many words to describe what Chuck Todd is doing, but “journalism” is not among them.

Justin Doolittle writes a political blog called Crimethink. He has an M.A. in public policy from Stony Brook University and a B.A. in political science from Coastal Carolina University.

Justin Doolittle is a freelance writer based in Long Island, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @JD1871.

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail