Politico's Dylan Byers: 'Iraq Casts Shadow' Over Media Coverage of Syria Debate

It's been a decade since the U.S. and its coalition of nations invaded Iraq and sent Saddam Hussein scurrying to an underground bunker. As time passed and no weapons of mass destruction were found, the media accused President George W. Bush of relying on “bad intelligence” that led to a “disastrous fallout" in that violence-drenched nation.

Ten years later, Dylan Byers -- media reporter for the Politico website -- stated on Thursday: “For a moment, it looked like the media were going to follow quietly along as America bombed Syria.” However, the Iraq War “stretched its shadow over the span of 10 long years, and the press sprung into action” against U.S. president Barack Obama's strategy to punish Syrian president Bashar el-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons on his own people.

With virtually no public support for his quick-strike tactic, Obama on Friday called el-Assad’s chemical weapons attacks “a challenge to the world” and said he is considering a “limited, narrow act” against the country’s regime, with “a no-boots-on-the-ground approach.”

“I have not made any decisions about the various actions that might be taken,” he added before responding to criticisms of things he should do before attacking Syria: “We have consulted with allies. We have consulted with Congress.”

Obama's plea was partly a reaction to the fact that “pundits and thought leaders from across the political spectrum, many of whom were beating the war drums in 2003, are urging caution, calling for evidence and demanding a plan,” Byers stated.

On Thursday, the New York Times editorial board, which had initially endorsed a limited strike, said the Obama administration “has yet to make a convincing legal or strategic case for military action against Syria.”

The blogger then stated that “the Washington Post editorial page likewise called on Obama to consult Congress before ordering a military strike and warned, 'Unless linked to a broader strategy for weakening the Assad regime -- and forcing it either out of power or into real negotiations -- the use of force might prove worse than useless,'”

“Iraq is a giant wound that continues to bleed and haunt people and make them afraid of making a mistake or being on the wrong side of history,” George Packer -- the New Yorker staff writer who supported the Iraq War but is now wary of America’s Syria strategy -- told Politico.

“After Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday denounced Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people as 'a moral obscenity,'” Byers stated, “the media saw a military strike as a foregone conclusion and began counting down the hours and figuring out which military assets would be put into play.”

“Opinion leaders seemed to accept this as fact,” the Politico blogger continued. “On Monday, hours after Kerry’s speech, the Times editorial board endorsed the plan being leaked by administration officials: a limited, carefully targeted strike against the Syrian military units involved in chemical weapons use.

Meanwhile, liberal hawks and neocons pushed for more aggressive action, seeking “direct military strikes against the pillars of the Assad regime,” Byers added.

“Whatever the Obama administration decided to do, it was clear that it would receive little opposition from the media,” the blogger indicated. A “red line” had been crossed, and Obama needed to act.

But a few days later, “the tenor of the media debate has changed, influenced by a growing chorus of skeptics who are ideologically disparate but united by the memory of Iraq and the fear that any involvement in Syria’s civil war will lead to unforeseen consequences for America,” the blogger said.

In a column entitled “8 Reasons Not to Go to War in Syria,” Reason Magazine senior editor Peter Suderman channeled the sentiments of his readership when he wrote: “The case for action in Syria is thin -- and there are plenty of reasons to avoid becoming mired into another Middle East conflict.”

“That view has caught on with leading right-wing radio hosts like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, who has said that an attack on Syria could lead to World War III,” Byers said.

Fox News Channel anchor Sean Hannity told his radio program listeners: “I hate to say it, but it might just be time for the United States to get the hell out of the way and let two groups of bad people just kill each other and provide as much humanitarian assistance as possible.”

“By Thursday, the media had slammed on the brakes. In addition to the Times and Post editorials, both the Times and the Associated Press led the morning with news reports about the growing demand for evidence that the Syrian regime was behind the chemical weapons attack,” Byers noted.

“There are still some of us,” Leon Wieseltier told Politico, “that actually believe there are serious threats emanating from these regions, and that there are things we can do against these threats, that believe American power can be used for good, used for democratization,” said the editor of the New Republic.

“But even Wieseltier acknowledges that his worldview has lost popularity among the American people, just 9 percent of whom support an intervention into Syria,” Byers continued.

“Even Rush Limbaugh, perhaps the most influential conservative talking head, has urged caution.” Byers indicated.

What is our strategic national interest in getting involved in this on either side of this? I wonder if Kerry or Obama could answer that. Is it just that chemical weapons are being used, and the red line and credibility and all? What is it?

It's hard to believe sometimes, but even the liberal media can turn on a Democratic occupant of the White House when he's taking actions that could lead to a war in which we'd have to send our young men and women to fight and die on the other side of the world. There may be hope for the "lamestream" media yet.

Randy Hall
Randy Hall