4 Leading Newspapers Laying the Groundwork for Another Disastrous Regime Change War
The drums of war are beating anew. Republicans and Democrats, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike are calling on the Trump administration to pursue regime change in Syria. And as is so often the case, the U.S. corporate media is playing a pivotal role in amplifying the demands for more military intervention.
In the first article in this two-part series, AlterNet analyzed how prominent pundits pushing for the overthrow of Syria's government did the same for Muammar Qaddafi's in Libya six years ago.
A 2011 NATO regime change war, justified on putative "humanitarian" grounds, obliterated Libya's government and pushed the oil-rich African country into a bloody civil war that has displaced millions, killed thousands and destabilized an entire region.
Africans are now being sold in open slave markets in "liberated" Libya, and women are banned from traveling alone in the east, where a CIA-linked warlord is exercising de facto power. ISIS rules over swaths of territory while hard-line Islamists vie for control of entire cities. A failed state by any measure, Libya is a case study of the destruction that so-called humanitarian interventions inevitably bring.
During the run-up to the war of regime change in Libya, the major organs of the U.S. media went all in for war. Little has changed since. The same papers that cheered the destruction of Libya are happily applauding the Trump administration's April 6 attack on a Syrian air base — and calling for more.
Analysis by the media watchdog Fairness in Accuracy in Reporting found that, of the 47 of the top 100 U.S. newspapers that published editorials on Trump's missile strike, just one opposed it.
Here are four major newspapers that invited regime change in Libya and are laying the groundwork for an all-new disaster in Syria.
The New York Times
The New York Times perhaps did more than any other publication in helping to sell the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq. It may hence be unsurprising that the paper continues to defend U.S. military intervention today.
In March 2011, the Times editorial board strongly endorsed military intervention in Libya, saying Qaddafi had "long been a thug and a murderer who has never paid for his many crimes." It called the United Nations Security Council resolution allowing military intervention "an extraordinary moment in recent history," noting Western nations "acted with astonishing speed to endorse a robust mandate that goes far beyond a simple no-fly zone."
The editorial board explicitly pushed for regime change, writing, "At a minimum, they [Western governments] must be ready to maintain indefinite sanctions on [Qaddafi's] regime while helping the rebels set up a government, should they actually win."
Fast forward six years later, and the editorial board of the U.S. newspaper of record is just as hawkish. "It was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction, and justice done, when American cruise missiles struck an airfield in Syria," it wrote on April 7.
"Tactically, it may help persuade Mr. Assad (and other problematic leaders, like those in North Korea) that using weapons of mass destruction will not go unpunished," the editorial board continued.
In another article on April 10, the Times editors criticized the Trump administration for its inconsistencies and contradictions on Syria policy, but refused to condemn its attack on the Syrian government.
Back in August of 2011, the Times published a report titled "The Scramble for Access to Libya's Oil Wealth Begins." It noted, "Western nations — especially the NATO countries that provided crucial air support to the rebels — want to make sure their companies are in prime position to pump the Libyan crude."
"Qaddafi proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands," the article added. "A new government with close ties to NATO may be an easier partner for Western nations to deal with."
USA Today cheered on regime change in Libya, just as it welcomes the U.S. attack on Syria today.
In March 2011, the major newspaper's editorial board insisted the U.S. was moving "deftly in Libya," claiming intervention appeared "smartly played."
The editorial board also made it clear that it wanted regime change, writing, "if Gadhafi maintains power, the intervention will be an embarrassing failure, and Libya will be at serious risk of becoming a failed and divided state."
In October, after Qaddafi was captured and brutally killed by extremist rebels, sodomized with a bayonet, the USA Today editors declared, "It's hard to recall a time when so many tyrants and terrorists met such fitting ends." The newspaper subtly compared the late Libyan leader to Dracula and stated openly, "Let's celebrate."
It concluded the editorial, which was titled "Gadhafi's death is only the beginning," calling for regime change in Syria, misspelling its leader's name and writing that "Bashir [sic] Assad is the next likely candidate to join the list."
Today, Libya has become the failed and divided state the paper vowed intervention would prevent, but the editorial board has not learned its lesson.
The USA editorial leadership supported the Trump administration's strike on the Syrian government, calling it "appropriate."
"The U.S. response was measured and proportional, allowing Trump options for expanded attacks on other Syrian airbases should Assad fail to get the message," the paper wrote. "Americans, and leaders around the world, have now learned that the new president is willing to deploy U.S. military power more aggressively than his predecessor. That might prove useful in dealing with this and other conflicts."
The Washington Post
Populated by a collection of neocons, liberal interventionists and the columnist who represents the most reliable voice of the American national security state, David Ignatius, the editorial board of the Washington Post has been among the most militaristic of any major paper. In April 2011, after NATO had already begun a campaign of airstrikes against the Libyan government, the Post editorial leadership insisted the bombing was not aggressive enough.
"If more steps can be taken to save Libyans — the redeployment of U.S. planes, weapons for the opposition, ground spotters to call in airstrikes — Mr. Obama should authorize them," the board wrote. Incredibly, it offered this solution while simultaneously noting that NATO intervention had already threatened the lives of many civilians and interrupted the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Six years later, the Post editorial board remains just as hawkish. On April 11, it proposed that, if the Trump administration is not going to "destroy the rest of the Syrian air force" and "cripple the Assad regime," it should consider a "partition" of Syria — a longtime imperial dream that has echoes of the colonial 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement that divided the region up in the first place.
In a separate editorial on April 13, the board insisted Americans should "celebrate" Trump's hawkish reversal on foreign policy in Syria and beyond.
"The NATO alliance has been a force for peace and freedom for decades, and Mr. Trump is right to welcome its enlargement and work toward its improvement," it wrote, adding, "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a 'butcher,' and it is hugely important that the United States recognize as much."
A day before, the Post editorial board had suggested the U.S. attack was a justified "lesson" for Syria.
Unlike many other major newspapers, and to its credit, the Washington Post did publish an editorial in January 2015 acknowledging, "Libya spirals downward as the West looks the other way."
"As 2015 begins, Libya is well on its way to becoming the Middle East’s second war zone — with the same side effects of empowering radical jihadists and destabilizing neighboring countries," the editorial leadership wrote.
And yet like the neoconservatives, the Post did not blame NATO regime change, but rather "swift withdrawal and subsequent failure to assist in stabilizing the country." Again, the problem, according to the editorial board, was not foreign military intervention, but rather not enough foreign military intervention.
The Wall Street Journal
The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal is a base of ultra-conservatism, providing a strikingly ideological contrast to the content featured in the rest of the paper.
In June 2011, the Journal noted it "supported President Obama's policy to oust Moammar Gadhafi before Mr. Obama did, and we aren't about to abandon that effort now." Yet it criticized the Obama administration for, in its view, not being hawkish enough and leading "from behind."
Before the NATO intervention began, the Journal published an op-ed by Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who helped the U.S. illegally invade his country, leading to its destruction and to the destabilization of the region. In the February article, Chalabi called on the UN to create a so-called no-fly zone in Libya, paving the path for regime change there.
At the end of the NATO war in October of that yeart, the Journal editorial board published a piece by neoconservative congressmen John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk and Marco Rubio, who rejoiced at "The Promise of a Pro-American Libya." The hard-right hawks insisted Libya was now "free," and claimed Libyans "cheered and thanked America and our NATO allies."
In 2017, while "free" Libya descends further and further into violent chaos, the Journal remains unapologetic. On April 7, it published an editorial declaring Trump's decision "to launch a retaliatory missile strike is an important first step to save lives, enforce global order, and improve the strategic outlook for the U.S. and its allies."
The Trump administration should "reassert U.S. influence with diplomacy and military force," the board suggested. It proposed that the U.S. "destroy [Syria's] air power," and called for "safe zones."
As a supposed solution, the Journal also floated the idea of "partition into ethnic enclaves." Now it appears the paper's neo-imperial dream has been realized, all thanks to ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the assortment of warlords that NATO intervention has empowered.
The lesson is clear: For the mainstream American media, the Libyan catastrophe is not a cautionary tale but a blueprint for Syria and the wider region.