Thursday, May 7, 2009

U.S. Media -- Kosovo and Bosnia

On page 125 of Warrior Politics, Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, 2002, Robert D. Kaplan quotes Walter Cronkite to say, “Most newsmen feel very little allegiance to the established order. I think they are inclined to side with humanity rather than with authority and institutions.” Kaplan goes on to write, “In the hands of the media, the language of human rights – the highest level of altruism – becomes a powerful weapon that can lead us into wars that perhaps we should not fight.

“When the media finds a cause it can rally around, it can both shape and replace public opinion, as it did in Bosnia and Kosovo, when the media was overwhelmingly interventionist while the public, as the polls showed, remained unenthusiastic. The media and intellectual communities are professional castes no less distinguishable than those of military officers, doctors, insurance agents, and so on – and no more representative of the American population. As with other professional groups, they are often more influenced by each other than by those outside their social network. Faced with an indifferent public, this quasi-aristocracy may shape the views of Western leaders much as the ancient nobles did of their emperors. And the media’s arguments will be difficult to resist. Human rights arguments advanced by the media at their most extreme have a distinctly inquisitional air.

“Television correspondents at the scene of catastrophes . . . manifest an impassioned tunnel vision in which sheer emotion replaces analysis: nothing matters to them except the horrendous spectacle before their eyes – about which something must be done! The media embodies classical liberal values, which concern themselves with individuals and their well-being, whereas foreign policy is often concerned with the relationships between states and other large groups. Thus, the media is more likely to be militaristic when individual rights and suffering are concerned, rather than when a state’s vital interests are threatened.”


I’m reminded of Walter Russell Mead’s book, Special Providence, also published in 2002. Mead describes 4 major trends that influence American foreign Policy. He calls them, 1) the Hamiltonian, 2) The Wilsonian, 3) The Jeffersonian, and 4) The Jacksonian. Modern individuals don’t necessarily fit in just one of these categories, but perhaps the American Media fits most comfortably in “The Jeffersonian.” Mead writes at one point that a Jacksonian is most likely to join the NRA; while a Jeffersonian is most likely to join the ACLU. The individual and individual rights are the concern of the Jeffersonian as it is for the American Media. But what of National Interest? What happens when Individual rights’ concerns come athwart National Interest? We saw what happens during the Vietnam War. The grand strategy that defined our National Interest during the Cold War was “Containment.” All the US administrations from Truman to Reagan believed in containing Communist aggression. It was in our National Interest they, as well as a majority of Americans, believed. And yet the Media, abetted by the American Left, emphasized individuals over National Interest during the Vietnam War – a war intended by the US to contain Communist aggression in Vietnam The Media would picture body bags, a young girl running from napalm, and other individual horrors. The logic of what they were advancing could be simplified as “individual safety trumps national interest.”

Is this true? Does individual safety, whether safety of Americans or safety of the enemies we are fighting trump national interest? Many in the American Media do seem to hold that position. Consider the recent Iraq war. Compared to other wars, we had very few casualties, but our media was not interested in statistics and comparisons. Here, they would say, look at this dead person, and this one. Also, look at this dead Iraqi, and that one. For the US Media, the Iraq War was one horror followed by another. But can a Foreign Policy be conducted with that sort of focus? I don’t see how. The reductio ad absurdum of this position would be to argue that we should never go to war unless we could promise not to kill anyone.

But is this always the position of the Media? Apparently not, as we see from the Kaplan quote. The Media was quite willing that America should go to war in Kosovo and Bosnia for “humanitarian reasons.” Humanitarian Reasons we can assume mean “individual Rights writ large.” Individuals are being killed – lots of them. Therefore, let’s send our troops over there to stop the killing. Madeleine Albright complained to General Powell, that we have this great army we aren’t willing to use. She wanted to use it. She, Clinton, and the American media were willing to use it in Kosovo and Bosnia for “Humanitarian Reasons.” Clinton, to avoid offending the Media and like-minded Jeffersonians sent his bombers over their targets so high that no anti-aircraft fire could hit them; so that none of the airmen would end up in body bags. But ironically, the bombers being so high were not very accurate in their bombing; hence, more “innocent civilians” were killed than if the bombers were lower; or even if we had cut back on the bombing and sent ground troops in to risk their lives.

One Russian told me that the Russian Media did something very like the American and showed pictures of innocent Serbian babies killed by American bombing. The reaction against that American horror contributed to Putin’s success.

Will the American, and perhaps the Russian people wise up to this Media’s Jeffersonian twist on modern day warfare? Will they notice that the Media plays up individual deaths in wars they don’t like and plays them do in wars they do?

No one can study everything. We all have to rely on others for some of our information. If we are relying totally on the Media, we need to make the effort to find a better source – or better sources. Where are those better sources? Build it (the recognition that better sources are needed) and they will come.

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