How Not to Debate Syria
By: Cliff Kincaid
Accuracy in Media
I’m usually on the opposite side of people from the Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) group, but Peter Hart’s article, “The New Crossfire: Where Both Sides Support War With Syria,” is right on target. Peter Hart is the activism director at the left-wing group. He is already troubled by the direction of the new CNN “Crossfire” program, even though it is not on the air yet.
He writes, “CNN is bringing back Crossfire next month, but viewers on August 27 got a taste of what they might expect: The left thinks we should bomb Syria, while the right thinks we should have started that a long time ago.” He is talking about a mini “debate” on CNN, during which John Berman, filling in as guest host on the show The Lead, moderated a discussion of striking Syria between “conservative” S.E. Cupp and the “left-leaning” Van Jones.
“I want to commend the President for finally following through on our red line threats,” said Cupp. “That’s important. That’s important for our credibility.” Jones replied, “This President has now said there is a red line. It was not clear before whether the line was crossed. It’s crossed, he’s moving forward. I think we need to stand behind this President and send a clear message to Assad that this type behavior is not acceptable.”
The exchange was captured on YouTube in a video headlined, “Van Jones & S.E. Cupp Agree on Syria Airstrikes!”
This is hardly an example of a real “crossfire” on the issues. A cynic might say that the channel was trying to create the perception of left-right support for Obama’s proposed strike on Syria.
However, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the lead conservative co-host on the new CNN “Crossfire,” had already declared his opposition to Obama’s policy. “Most Americans would agree the use of chemical weapons is frightening and worthy of condemnation,” he said. “Most Americans would also suggest, however, that both sides in the Syrian civil war are terrible, and that there is not a good side in this tragedy.”
Gingrich said the American people should call their congressmen and senators and “demand that they oppose the media pressure and elite pressure to attack Syria.”
Now that Obama has backed away from an immediate strike and says he wants Congress to vote on it, it is time for our media not only to offer both sides, but to analyze the dubious case for war.
First, Obama is falsely claiming there is a direct threat to the United States from alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons.
He told PBS, in a completely convoluted statement, “…when you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they’re allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.”
He went on to say that “we want to make [sure] that they [chemical weapons] are not loose in a way that ultimately, could affect our security.” By taking action, he claimed, we “may have a positive impact on our national security over the long term.”
Obama is spouting a bunch of nonsense, and the media know it. Asked about this rationale on the air, CNN reporter Jill Dougherty pointed out the obvious—that “it is very dubious that Syria could ever launch some type of chemical weapons directly against the United States.”
In fact, destabilizing the Syrian regime would very well lead to the spread of those chemical weapons and a wider Middle East war.
Earlier in the PBS interview, Obama also claimed that “America’s core self-interest” is somehow related to “a well-established international norm against the use of chemical weapons.” This is more gibberish designed to somehow justify the attack on Syria under the War Powers Act. But threats to international order are not cited as justification for military action in the statute.
Whatever their intentions, the political left is doing a better job of debunking the Obama Administration’s rationale for war than are some Republicans.
A release from the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) quotes Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois College of Law as saying that, by Obama’s own standard, the justification for war falls short. He points out that the Obama Administration document on chemical weapons in Syria uses the standard of “high confidence” that they were used when the appropriate standard by the International Court of Justice is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The release notes that Secretary of State John Kerry claims, “We assess that the opposition has not used chemical weapons,” but that Carla del Ponte of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the rebels may have done so.
The IPA release quotes Robert Parry, a critic of the war in Iraq, as saying that Bush’s case for that war “at least had details that could be checked,” but that the Obama administration document contains “no direct quotes, no photographic evidence, no named sources, nothing but ‘trust us.’”
This is a time for honest reporting, like the comments we saw from CNN’s Dougherty, and a presentation of both sides of the story.
Even before it’s officially on the air, CNN’s “Crossfire” has failed.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.