In 2016, the Republican primary will include a debate about the best approach to foreign policy. The rank-and-file can choose to ally with the neoconservative faction that urged the Iraq War, a Tea Partier who opposes lavish spending on wars of choice, or a compromise candidate who draws supporters from both camps. But conservatives accustomed to getting their information from talk radio should beware. The medium is at its most unreliable on the subjects of war and peace.
Once the primaries begin, examples will abound. For now, to illustrate how foreign policy topics are distorted on talk radio, I offer a specific example from this week.
I refer to the widespread mockery of Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, for an interview that she gave MSNBC's Chris Mathews on how to defeat ISIS. As someone who has written dozens of articles criticizing President Obama's foreign policy, I am always open to critiques of anyone in his administration. But the particular critique offered on talk radio this week is nonsense. To understand why, begin with a transcript of the remarks in question.
I've emphasized some relevant passages:
Marie Harf: Right now, what we're doing is trying to take their leaders and their fighters off the battlefield in Iraq and in Syria. That's really where they flourish.
Chris Matthews: Are we killing enough of them?
Harf: We're killing a lot of them, and we're going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians. So are the Jordanians. They're in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our
way out of this war. We need, in the longer term, medium and longer term, to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it's lack of opportunity for jobs, whether--
Matthews: We're not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime, or 50
lifetimes! There's always going to be poor people. There's always going
to be poor Muslims. And as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet's
blowing! They'll join. We can't stop that, can we?
Harf: Well, we can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.
You're right, there is no easy solution in the long term to preventing and combatting violent extremism, but if we can help countries work at the root causes of this—what makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47
instead of trying to start a business? Maybe we can try to chip away at
this problem, while at the same time going after the threat, taking on ISIL
in Iraq, in Syria, and helping our partners around the world. I mean—
Matthews: This sounds like we're going to get rid of juvenile delinquency
in America over time by erasing poverty, improving education. Sure, over
time. But the American people, I think, are getting humiliated morally by
this. We are seeing these pictures—what are you supposed to say, I'm
going to think about something else?
Harf: Not at all.
Matthews: What are the American people supposed to do about this right
now?Harf: I think, I think—
Matthews: They're watching right now.
Matthews: What are they supposed to do to stop these indecent killing of
people, these—this—the burning alive of the good pilot, the—
whatever they did to the American woman over there, whatever they did,
whatever they're doing to all these people, beheading them, beheading them
—what are we doing to stop this? It sounds like we can't stop it.
Harf: Well, I think they should know that the United States military is taking direct action in Iraq and in Syria. We're taking their leaders out. We're taking out their financing. We're talking out their training camps. This is a long fight, Chris. But I also think—not to take it to
politics for a second—they should tell their elected leaders to support the AUMF that we sent to Congress--
Matthews: Yes, OK.
Harf:—to speak to the world that we are behind this effort.
Matthews: I'm with you on that. I'm with you on that, Marie, because I
think that there's a lot of politicians left, right, and center hiding in
the bushes right now. They don't want their fingers on this war because
they're afraid it might not be pleasant. Thank you.
To summarize the position that this State Department spokeswoman is defending: She is an advocate of the U.S. military killing ISIS leaders and fighters. Indeed, she explicitly calls on Congress to pass an AUMF, otherwise known as a declaration of war, against ISIS. In addition, she believes that the U.S. government should pursue a longer-term strategy, whereby it tries to reduce the number of people that ISIS successfully recruits. How does she propose to do this? By improving the conditions under which potential recruits live—that is to say, the quality of their political systems and the jobs available in their economies.