A Syrian rebel soldier. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)
It was heartening to hear President Obama on the Charlie Rose show last night making dovish sounds on Syria, just days after charging the Assad side with using chemical agents against its foes—whoever they are—and promising to finally supply the rebels with US weapons. One has to wonder if he has returned to listening to the American people on this issue after a brief dalliance with key media figures and the many hawks in Congress and within his own administration. I did have to laugh, however, when the president hailed the “dentists” and “blacksmiths” among the rebels, leaving out the “jihadists.”
The media, particularly on TV and cable, have overwhelming featured Democrats backing their president on this issue and hawkish Republicans pushing for even stronger action, with little face time for critics of intervention. This, of course, is malpractice, and a recipe for disaster—if the rebels really face collapse will Obama now resist the accusations that he-lost-Syria? An example of this typical media coverage (with little or no rebuttal) this past weekend, as described at CNN’s site:
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CNN’s Candy Crowley there is a strong consensus on arming Syrian rebels. “As the Foreign Relations Committee voted nearly a month ago on a strong bipartisan vote of 15-3…we believe the rebels need to be armed, the moderate elements of those rebels,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey.
“Public intelligence sources have said that we’ve come to know who, in fact, we could ultimately arm. And the reality is we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them. And the president’s moving in the right direction.”
I noted last Friday that McClatchy was standing alone again (harkening back to the run-up to Iraq) in quesitoning the White House’s evidence on Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
Yesterday new polls appeared (don’t expect them to spark a shift in media coverage, even if maybe the president is listening).
While mainstream pundits and political figures left and right endorsed President Obama’s decision to arm Syrian rebels last week, polls from several weeks back showed that most American opposed such a move. But, aha, the hawks cried—wait till polls come out in light of the “finding” that Assad had used chemical agents. That would be a game changer.
Well, a new Pew survey finds that seven in ten still oppose arming the rebels, mainly because they (60 percent) correctly realize that this ragtag bunch, including many jihadists and Al Qaeda backers, might be no better than the current regime. And, for once, views were little different whether Democrats, Republicans or Indies. Few want another intervention in that region.
And a Gallup poll finds 54 percent oppose arming rebels, with 37 percent backing. The Gallup question framed it more as supporitng or opposing Obama which accounts for more Dems backing the idea.