NPR Spins Trump’s ‘Restrained’ Foreign Policy–Ignoring Threats, Bans and Escalation

 “What gives the US the right to determine the missile capacity of other countries?” is not a question NPR would ever busy itself with. But even granting the US’s inalienable right to involve itself in the affairs of these countries, the piece veers into outright spin for the Trump White House.   

By Adam Johnson  FAIR  February 24, 2017

NPR: US Rivals Test Trump, and So Far the Response Is RestrainedNPR’s institutional compulsion to find “both sides” of every topic ill-equips them to deal with the unique challenge of the Trump administration, as FAIR has noted previously—with NPR’s refusal to describe lies as “lies” (1/26/17) and its reliance on increasingly far-right think tanks to defend the far-right president  (2/7/17). This problem is again on display in a piece by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre (2/18/17) that dubiously describes Trump’s foreign policy approach as “restrained”:

US Rivals Test Trump, and So Far the Response Is Restrained


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Myre began by framing weapon tests and military exercises—of the sort that would be considered utterly unremarkable if carried out by US armed forces—as deliberate and overt acts of aggression aimed at testing Trump, because they were performed by official enemy states:

Iran tested a ballistic missile barely a week into Donald Trump’s presidency. North Korea then shot off a missile of its own. A Russian warship has been hanging out about 30 miles off the US East Coast, and Moscow’s fighter jets recently buzzed a US warship in the Black Sea.

That these acts were both unusual and provocative was never questioned; it’s simply asserted, so that the US, per usual, can be positioned as the party responding to threats rather than the one making them:

President Trump has been in office less than a month, and US adversaries have already tested him on several fronts. So far, Trump’s responses have been out of the traditional foreign policy playbook, and he’s largely refrained from the bluster of his campaign, when he threatened radical action against a host of rivals—and even some allies….

Yet in his first few weeks, Trump has opted for limited, moderate responses to events that had the potential to escalate.

Here NPR uses “traditional foreign policy playbook” interchangeably with “moderate,” the implication being that the baseline aggressiveness of US foreign policy seen under Barack Obama, George W. Bush and earlier presidents was not blustering or extreme.

“What gives the US the right to determine the missile capacity of other countries?” is not a question NPR would ever busy itself with. But even granting the US’s inalienable right to involve itself in the affairs of these countries, the piece veers into outright spin for the Trump White House:

After the ballistic missile test by Iran, the Trump administration added additional sanctions to 25 individuals and companies, which was seen as a modest response. Trump tweeted that “Iran was playing with fire.”

But since taking office, the president has not yet given any indication that he will tear up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as he promised to do during the campaign.

Left unmentioned is the fact that, according to NPR’s own reporting, Iran did not violate the Iran nuclear deal. Also left unmentioned was then–National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s blustering press conference where he put Iran “on notice.” Myre asserts that Trump’s response was “seen as a modest response,” but doesn’t say by whom. Certainly not by the Iranians, who called Trump “an extremist” and responded with further military drills. Or by the Washington Post  (2/2/17), for that matter, which described Trump’s first week of US/Iran relations as marked by “taunts and threats.”

Nor is there discussion of Trump’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, which Iran also saw as an act of aggression, so much so that it—along with Iraq, the US’s supposed partner against ISIS—banned Americans from traveling to their countries in return. This, according to Myre, is all very “restrained.”

The NPR story mentions the US-backed Yemen catastrophe, but only in the context of the botched January 29 raid, which it euphemistically says had “mixed and disputed results,” without mentioning that those results included the death of an eight-year-old girl—a US citizen—and dozens of other civilians (though the linked article does, ten paragraphs down).

NPR glosses over the January raid by insisting it was “planned during Barack Obama’s final days” (again, that which is bipartisan must therefore be normal and moderate and good) but even this is misleading. Lots of things are “planned” by the military; whether a president greenlights them depends upon their disposition and, yes, restraint. Members of Obama’s inner circle have denied “planning” such a raid at all.

On the subject of Yemen, Myre ignores completely the devastating US-backed Saudi war against the Shiite-led government that has killed over 10,000 that Trump has signaled he will double down on.

The piece continues:

The US military campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have remained on the same trajectory that Trump inherited from Obama, though the new president has ordered a revamped plan for the battle against the Islamic State.

Again, the wisdom of the CIA’s billion-dollar-a-year fueling of the Syrian conflict is never examined, nor is the decade-and-a-half-long occupation of Afghanistan. These are all routine, normal, moderate—out of the “foreign policy playbook.”

This recap of Trump’s foreign policy “restraint” likewise excludes Trump’s greenlight for Israel to ramp up of settlements in the West Bank, and his abandonment of decades of US support for a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict—radical departures from the “traditional foreign policy playbook” that are ignored by Myre.

Other actions not typically associated with “restraint” that are missing from this piece: Trump hanging up on the president of Australia and threatening to invade Mexico.

Never mind; NPR’s main focus appears to be reassuring the listener that on the topic of Russia and the broader operation of American empire, things are mostly back to normal. If Trump’s foreign policy involves support for the total colonization of Palestine, increased tensions with Iran, further bombing and starving of Yemeni civilians and veiled threats to Mexico—well, those are the sort of things that happen on the margins of empire, and don’t really register on NPR’s “restraint” radar.


Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.

You can contact NPR ombud Elizabeth Jensen via NPR’s contact form or via Twitter@ejensenNYC. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.


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One comment

  1. What do you expect from National Puffpiece Radio?

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