The Obama administration announced on Monday the beginning of US air strikes in Libya against ISIS targets, marking the fourth country the United States is currently bombing with the goal of “degrading and destroying” the terror group. A campaign that began two years ago this Sunday has now, 50,000 bombs and 25,000 dead ISIS fighters later, expanded to a whole new continent.
You’d hardly notice, however, if you followed US media. While the air strikes themselves were reported by most major outlets, they were done so in a matter-of-fact way, and only graced the front pages of major American newspapers for one day. The New York Times didn’t even find the news important enough to give it a front-page headline, instead relegating it to a quick blurb at the far-bottom corner of the page, next to a teaser about the G train “having a moment.”
Even many center-left outlets barely touched on the massive mission creep. To give some perspective, Slate, Mother Jones, and Buzzfeed News all ran more stories about Trump’s dust-up with an infant than they did on what was effectively the start of a new war. ABC World News Tonight mentioned the Libyan air strikes for only 20 seconds, 13 minutes into the show, and NBC Nightly News didn’t mention the air strikes at all. The president’s announcement that the United States is bombing a new country has become entirely banal.
This is by design. Obama’s “frog in boiling water” approach to war removes a clear deadline, thus stripping his use of military force of the urgency of, say, Bush’s “48 hours to get out of Baghdad” Gary Cooper approach.
Meanwhile, an anti-ISIS bombing campaign that began as “limited,” “targeted” air strikes in Iraq two years ago expanded to Syria six weeks later, to Afghanistan in January of this year, and to Libya this week. Combat troops and special forces have also crept into play, with US military personnel first appearing in Iraq and Syria in 2014, 2015, or 2016, depending on how one defines “boots” and “ground.”