Obama Plays a Dove in NPR's Historical Fiction
By Jim Naureckas / fair.org

The second thing NPR wants you to know about Hillary Clinton and foreign policy—after “she’s experienced”—is “she’s more hawkish than President Obama.” White House correspondent Scott Horsley (All Things Considered5/17/16) says:

Clinton is less reticent when it comes to deploying military force than President Obama. While she hasn’t advocated large-scale ground operations, she has pushed for the creation of “safe zones” in Syria, and she was a strong advocate for the US military intervention in Libya.

So Clinton pushed for “safe zones” in Syria, which Obama did not create—and she advocated for US military intervention in Libya, which Obama carried out. So half the evidence presented for the claim that Clinton is more hawkish than Obama actually shows that Clinton is as hawkish as Obama.

But what is the evidence that Obama is “reticent when it comes to deploying military force” in the first place? He’s bombed at least seven countries during his time in office—Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya, and drone strikes continue in all of these but Libya. The deadliest airstrikes, those against ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, have killed more than 25,000 people, according to US officials.

CNN graphic showing countries known to have been bombed by Barack Obama.

CNN graphic showing countries known to have been bombed by Barack Obama.

Obama currently has troops on the ground in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, CameroonUganda and Yemen. In his biggest commitment of ground forces, he sent 50,000 troops to Afghanistan, doubling the US presence there. (I say “at least” because Obama has a great enthusiasm for deploying Special Forces, most of whose operations are classified.)

Map from The Atlantic showing Obama’s current military engagements.

Map from The Atlantic showing Obama’s current military engagements.

To NPR, this level of military intervention is below average for presidents: “If Obama’s caution is, in part, a reaction to the excesses of the George W. Bush era, Clinton’s more aggressive posture might reflect a reversion to the mean.” In other words, Bush was more willing to use force than the average president, Obama was less willing and Clinton, presumably, would be just right. (Clinton wouldn’t “go overboard” because “she paid a political price for backing Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as the Libyan intervention in 2011″—though the political price she paid for Iraq in 2008 didn’t stop her from enthusiastically calling for an attack on Libya.)

Foggy crystal ball–gazing aside, the assertion about Obama’s below-average aggressiveness is dubious. By my count, the younger George Bush engaged in combat in five countries:AfghanistanIraqPakistanYemen and Somalia. Bill Clinton bombed or sent combat troops to six: IraqBosniaSerbia, Somalia,Afghanistan and Sudan. George Bush the Elder’s military conflicts were in Iraq,PanamaSomalia and Libya. Ronald Reagan took direct military action against Grenada, Libya, Lebanon, Iran and Nicaragua (counting the CIA’sattacks on Nicaraguan ports as direct intervention). Jimmy Carter appears to have launched no military interventions, unless you include the failed hostage rescue mission in Iran.

Gerald Ford presided over the end of the wars against Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (and sent troops subsequently to Cambodia in a disastrous effort to rescue the Mayaguezhostages). Richard Nixon waged intense war against the three Southeast Asian nations. Lyndon Johnson greatly escalated the war in Vietnam, began bombing in Cambodia and Laos, and also invaded the Dominican Republic. John Kennedy began involving US troops in Vietnamese combat, and attacked Cuba in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Eisenhower ended the Korean War, intervened in Lebanon and sent the first military advisors to Vietnam. Harry Truman presided over the end of World War II—including the atomic bombingof Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the beginning of the Korean War.

So Barack Obama appears to have engaged in direct combat operations against more foreign nations than any other post–World War II president. (Let me know in a comment if I’ve missed any—history has a way of forgetting the smaller US military operations.) While the combined death tolls of his wars have probably been an order of magnitude or two lower than those of Truman, Johnson, Nixon and Bush junior, his military policy has arguably been more aggressive than Eisenhower’s, Kennedy’s, Ford’s, Carter’s or even Reagan’s (speaking strictly of direct US intervention, not the bloody Reagan Doctrine of fueling proxy wars).

Obama probably out-hawks Bush senior, given that their most intense wars (Desert Stormand ISIS) have similar death tolls, and Obama had more smaller wars; how you rank Bill Clinton depends on whether you count the deadly sanctions regime against Iraq as a part of the ongoing military operation or not. 

NPR glosses over all this history, presenting Obama as a relative dove in a way that suggests that its institutional memory doesn’t reach back much before the 21st century. Its presentation of Hillary Clinton as the Goldilocks commander-in-chief—more hawkish than Obama, more dovish than George W. Bush—helps to establish the constant military intervention of the “War on Terror” era as the new normal.

© 2016 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 24,788 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 17,260 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 11,862 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 11,636 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 7,967 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 6,718 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 4,810 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 4,018 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
Our Obsession With 'Good Immigrants' Breeds Intolerance
2 min · 2,863 views today · Society sets the bar so high to become a 'good immigrant', argues writer Nikesh Shukla, that normal immigrants are demonised. He says non-Brits in the public eye have a simple...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 2,818 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
My Cuba - An Intimate Look at the Pleasures and Struggles of 6 Different People's Cuba
150 min · 2,380 views today · Cuba - diverse, vibrant and complex - is undergoing immense change. But what does it mean to be Cuban in this time of change? Six people. Six films. From the comedy and ballet...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,837 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Bird Watching on Lesvos Island - A Poetic Call to Stand With Refugees
3 min · 1,397 views today · Born in Darfur, Sudan and raised in Philadelphia, Emi Mahmoud is the 2015 World Poetry Slam Champion and the Women of the World co-Champion of 2016. From a young age Emi...
Lessons in the Calais Jungle: Teaching Life Stories and Learning About Humanity
Aura Lounasmaa · 1,158 views today · I am part of a team of academics teaching a course to residents in the Calais Jungle, a camp for migrants and refugees outside the French city. Life Stories in the Jungle has...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 1,147 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
The Important Difference Between Love and Being Loved
2 min · 1,114 views today · We talk of love as if it were just one thing: in fact, it’s two very different moves, Loving and Being Loved. You start to grow up when you stop focusing on the latter and get...
Introversion Is Not a Personality Fail
Cat Elz · 864 views today · A few years ago, I got into an argument with my now mother-in-law over my supposedly “backwards” ways. My transgression? I did not attend a party of my now husband’s (then...
The Untold History of Palestine & Israel
22 min · 857 views today · Previewing Abby Martin’s on-the-ground investigation in Palestine, The Empire Files looks at the long history of Zionist colonization, expansion and expulsion of Palestine’s...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 856 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 689 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Obama Plays a Dove in NPR's Historical Fiction