BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
here's one that's real: Both major party
nominees, as well as the journalists who
cover the election and moderate the
debates, are actively conspiring to avoid
talking about the fact that the United States
is waging war in at least five countries
Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.
In the first two presidential debates, our
involvement in the Syrian civil war was
briefly discussed, as was ISIS in vague
terms, and the Iran nuclear deal, and
Russia's mischief-making in Eastern
Europe and the Middle East, and Libya,
though mostly in the past tense,
focused on our 2011 intervention to
depose Moammar Gadhafi and the
subsequent attack on American government
facilities in Benghazi a year later.
But our role in "advising" the Iraqi army
"a few miles behind the front lines" as
it works to take back territory from ISIS?
Our "secret war" against Shabab militants
in Somalia? Our support for Saudi Arabia's
bloody assault on Houthi rebels in Yemen?
Our air strikes pounding positions in and
around the city of Sirte on the Libyan coast?
Nada. Zip. Nothing.
And everyone involved has powerful
reasons to encourage this conspiracy
of silence — in tonight's final presidential
debate, and beyond.
Republicans have an incentive to avoid a
conversation about our multiple wars because
the GOP finds it more politically advantageous
to portray Barack Obama as a feckless commander
in chief who has made the country less safe
through grandiloquent displays of spinelessness.
To put our wars on the table for discussion and
debate would expose the actual truth, which is
that Obama has very much governed as a hawk
(albeit one who, unlike Republicans, prefers
not to brag about it).
Democrats, on the other hand, have several
reasons of their own to avoid a conversation
about our multiple wars. First, because they
quite understandably fear that the American
people might object if they realized the
Democratic administration was meddling
militarily in so many places. Second, because
the results of and strategic goals at stake in
these interventions are so consistently muddled.
Third, because it would reveal that Democrats
are closely following the foreign policy vision
of their nemesis George W. Bush.
Members of Congress, meanwhile, prefer
to avoid making a fuss about our extensive
military adventures — all of which are apparently
covered by the comically broad Authorization
for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists
passed just after the 9/11 attacks —
because their silence shields them from
having to take partial responsibility for the
consequences of the president's actions.
Better to shirk Congress' constitutional
obligations than risk having to take part
of the blame if something goes wrong.
And finally and most troublingly, the press
has an incentive to avoid a discussion of our
actions in places like Somalia and Yemen
because the details are extraordinarily
complicated — and journalists have no faith
in their own ability to explain the necessary
historical and geopolitical background to each
conflict in a way that will keep an audience
engaged, or faith in the American people to
process and evaluate that information in a
Are they wrong? This is, after all, an election
that's rarely risen above the level of
hyperbolic sloganeering, shrill denunciation,
and outright sleaze-mongering.
Donald "Disaster!" Trump certainly deserves
a lion's share of the blame for this. But
members of the ratings-hungry and
click-greedy press are far from innocent.
It's supposed to be their job to keep the
election from becoming a circus and to
ensure that the conversation remains
focused on reality, even when that reality
is maddeningly complex.
In failing to do so — in allowing Trump to
get away with ignorant ranting, and Hillary Clinton
to avoid having to defend or criticize
President Obama's profligate deployment of
military force across wide swaths of the globe —
the press actively contributes to making our
politics stupider. Instead of enlightening
members of the general public, it entertains
them. And so the wars drag on and multiply,
fought by an all-volunteer army thousands
of miles away, barely touching the lives and
thoughts of the vast majority of voters.
In a political season in which the media
has come in for unprecedented hostility and
abuse, this is its greatest, and least appreciated,
shortcoming: When everybody else decided it
was a good idea to forestall a public debate
about enormously important and complicated
policy questions, the press decided to go along
and let it happen.