This appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette:
When the Trump White House revoked one of CNN’s nearly 50 permanent press passes, many Washington reporters reacted as if President Donald Trump had unilaterally revoked the First Amendment.
When Trump dumped a box of fish food in a Japanese fish pond, Twitter exploded with journalists’ lamentations about his gaucheness (before everyone realized he was following the lead of Japan’s prime minister).
Repeatedly, when Trump blocked 11th-hour regulations issued by his predecessor, preserving the status quo that had existed during Barack Obama’s entire eight years, the “Chicken Little” media treated it as some radical departure.
The drumbeat of ersatz alarm that Trump is destroying democracy and threatening America has been so insistent that it has become impossible not to tune it out. As we’ve written before, it’s a case of news media crying wolf.
In this noisy environment where outrage inflation has debased media credibility, most of the nation never noticed that, last month, Trump took an action that truly might be dangerous, announcing the precipitous withdrawal of all 2,000 American troops from Syria.
There’s plenty to debate about our military presence there. Its primary mission was to destroy the caliphate that the Islamic State claimed, and this has been accomplished. Secondary missions there are unclear in their purpose or feasibility, considering the complexities of Syria’s civil war. There’s reason to fear our troops there could both trigger and become enmeshed in a broader war, to depose the tyrant, Bashar Assad, or clash with his backers in Iran. Both should be avoided.
Neither a perpetual deployment in Syria, nor a shooting war with the regime, is in America’s interest.
But these facts do not amount to a case for immediate withdrawal. For one thing, the Islamic State still exists and is a danger. It no longer holds land, but the remnants of the organization are still armed and dangerous. Former President Barack Obama’s hasty retreat from Iraq helped al-Qaida metastasize into ISIS, and this error should not be repeated.
Also, we are abandoning our Kurdish allies in the region to what could be a grisly fate. Anything that Assad, Iran’s mullahs and Russian President Vladimir Putin see as a victory ought to give Americans pause. Reports that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, perhaps the most highly regarded member of the Trump administration, opposes the move is enough to prompt worry about it.
Amid this uncertainty on the substantive question of the U.S. troop presence in Syria, we are certain that the White House shouldn’t be pulling the troops out so quickly, shouldn’t have come to this decision so rapidly and shouldn’t be announcing it so cavalierly. When the president tweets about this withdrawal, how does it come across to Kurdish fighters in Syria who are now exposed?
The decision seems rash and hasty, and the consequences may be dreadful. That’s why some lawmakers, reporters and commentators have reacted strongly to the news.
But after two years of seeing every action — down to feeding some fish — evoke a media freak-out, we can’t blame readers and viewers who imagine this is a minor matter or another tempest in a teapot.
We wish our president were more sober and careful in making decisions. We wish our media were more sober and careful in covering him.