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  • Conservative media want you to believe Trump has been “tough” on Russia. They’re not telling the full story.

    Secretary of State Pompeo echoed right-wing media talking points on Trump’s toughness. In reality, Trump has undercut a number of actions Congress and his administration have tried to take against Russia.

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following President Donald Trump’s disastrous bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, the president’s administration flacks and conservative media lackeys quickly scrambled to his defense, arguing that Trump has been “tough” in his “actions against Russia” and rattling off a series of actions he has taken since 2017 that supposedly support such a claim. The president himself and administration officials have also parroted the talking points in an attempt to dispel the idea that he is somehow in the pocket of the Russian government. But a closer look at the actions Trump shills have pointed to reveals a foreign policy that is more concerned with posturing for media than being “tough” in the face of Russian aggression.

    On July 16, Trump met with Putin for a meeting behind closed doors in which no other American -- except an interpreter -- was present, and they emerged more than two hours later to give a wide-ranging press conference. When asked whether he holds the Russian government accountable for its multifaceted interference campaign during the 2016 elections, Trump repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. (The president would later claim to have gotten “would” and “wouldn’t” confused.)

    To counter the deluge of negative press in the wake of the meeting, right-wing media and administration officials pointed to various foreign policy and military responses to Russian aggression that the United States and its allies have undertaken during Trump’s presidency to argue that the president’s “actions” actually “have been tough.” About a week after the bilateral meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s conservative media defenders as he faced senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisting Trump “has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow” and that he has been “tough on Russia” as president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the meme, as did the president himself.

    Trump’s defenders have pointed to sanctions against Russia that were imposed under Trump, the American strikes against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in 2017 and 2018, the March 28 expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of a Russian consulate, Trump’s demands for other countries to increase their NATO spending, the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine to fend off the Russian military and rebels in the eastern portions of the country, and the pressure Trump put on German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed natural gas pipeline from Russia, among other specific actions. But Trump’s defenders are not telling the full story behind these actions.

    Sanctions

    In the aftermath of Trump’s meeting with Putin, a number of the president’s defenders touted sanctions that were imposed against Russia as evidence of Trump’s clear-eyed approach with regard to Russia. But, not only were the sanctions drawn up and passed by Congress while the Trump administration loudly opposed the move, the administration also dragged its feet in implementing them, missing a deadline to begin the implementation and only taking action after Congress demanded it do so. Moreover, Trump left United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley out to dry by walking back, without explanation, an announcement she made regarding additional sanctions against Russia.

    Additionally, one of the first official actions the Trump administration attempted was “to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election.” The effort to remove sanctions that were already on the books appeared to continue into Trump’s presidency, as one of his top fundraisers and former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, Elliott Broidy, reportedly offered in 2017 to “help a Moscow-based lawyer get Russian companies removed from a U.S. sanctions list.”

    Syria

    Right-wing media have also cited U.S. airstrikes conducted against the Syrian regime as evidence that Trump has stood up to Russian aggression. But, in 2017, Trump “notified Russia in advance of” the strike, “giving time for both Russian and Syrian forces to avoid casualties in an attack,” and by the very next day, Syrian warplanes were using the airfield that was targeted. Additionally, in 2018, the strikes Trump authorized against the Syrian regime targeted chemical weapons infrastructure, “and not the bases where the Russians and Iranians are.”

    Trump’s defenders have also pointed to an American counterattack on Russian mercenaries and Syrian military personnel in February, saying Trump “authorized” the attack. While the U.S. military did in fact fend off a Russian-backed attack after “repeatedly” warning about the “growing mass of troops,” the strike was an “act of self-defense.” Citing the incident as evidence that Trump is countering Russian interests in Syria does not address the larger picture that, under Trump, Russia has become even more entrenched, further solidifying its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, as Trump lacks a coherent overarching strategy for the war-torn country. Not to mention the fact that, in May 2017, Trump disclosed sensitive “code-word information” originating from Israeli intelligence services to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.

    Expulsion of Russian diplomats

    Trump sycophants are additionally highlighting the March 26 expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence operatives who were in the United States under diplomatic cover and the closure of a Russian consulate as further proof of Trump’s tough stance on Russia. But the expulsion of diplomats is an expected reaction that “represent[s] more symbol than substance.” And Trump also berated administration officials for expelling too many Russian officials, as he was reportedly “furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia” as compared to European allies, who joined the United States in the symbolic gesture.

    Moreover, in a still-unexplained proposition in the early days of the Trump administration, officials looked at “handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.”

    Weapons to Ukraine

    In what has emerged as a favorite talking point for Trump defenders in the wake of the meeting with Putin, conservative media are touting an arms deal with Ukraine. The deal, which the Obama administration had resisted, is meant to bolster Ukrainian defenses against the Russian military and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. Except Trump stooges in right-wing media fail to mention that the Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager’s shady business dealings in that country conspicuously stopped just “as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles.” Not to mention the fact that, during the 2016 campaign, Trump made the laughable claim that the Russian military is “not going into Ukraine,” even though it effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. According to Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Ukrainian officials were “tearing their hair and running around like crazies” when Trump was elected because of fears over what it would mean for the country.

    NATO spending

    Trump’s Fox News sycophants have also insisted that by “beating up the NATO allies” at the 2018 NATO summit, Trump succeeded in getting allies to “cough up more money” for the alliance when in fact Trump’s efforts had little to do with members’ increases in direct spending on their national military budgets. According to The New York Times, “each NATO member pledged in 2014,” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year by 2024. … As a share of G.D.P., spending by European members and Canada began to rise before Mr. Trump took office.”

    Nord Stream 2

    Conservative media have also pointed to Trump’s critical comments to Merkel at the 2018 NATO summit over the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany as confirmation that Trump is “tough” in dealing with Russia. But previous administrations and a bipartisan group of senators also opposed Nord Stream 2, and Trump himself toned down his criticism after meeting with Putin, conceding that the United States cannot block Germany’s domestic energy decisions. The German Marshall Fund’s Ulrich Speck said the president’s attacks against Merkel “looked as if Trump is looking for ammunition against Germany. If he would have been serious on pushing against Nord Stream, he would probably have brought this up much more forcefully with Putin.” Indeed, a “tough” U.S. policy toward Russia would avoid driving such a wedge between the United States and an ally that has disregarded domestic business concerns to wrangle European Union member states, which had their own economic apprehensions, to join sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

  • Sunday shows spent plenty of time talking about Trump bombing Syria, but almost entirely ignored Syrian refugees

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On Friday, April 13, President Donald Trump announced joint cruise missile strikes with the U.K. and France against several Syrian chemical weapons facilities in retaliation for an apparent April 7 chlorine gas attack in Douma, Syria. Over the weekend, the Sunday morning political talk shows had plenty to discuss about the airstrikes, but not much to say about the ongoing plight of Syrian refugees.

    On Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week all failed to mention Syrian refugees while discussing the airstrikes. The only mention of Syrian refugees on any of the Sunday morning political talk shows was on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, when host Chris Wallace asked UN Ambassador Nikki Haley just one question about them. 

    A few other Sunday morning programs on cable news channels did better in discussing concerns about refugees: There were segments on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and New Day Sunday, which played (albeit briefly) a clip of earlier commentary from a Syrian chemical attack survivor. The Sunday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend also featured two passing mentions of the refugees across its four-hour broadcast; in both instances, the guests brought up the subject unprompted. 

    On MSNBC however, AM Joy did two segments concerning Syrian refugees, including this excellent example of how media should discuss the subject, particularly in light of American military action that is likely to displace more people:

    JOY REID (HOST): So, a truly humanitarian approach would be to welcome refugees to a democratic country that has the resources to protect and shelter them from the dangers they're trying to escape, yeah? Instead, the Trump administration says it initiated airstrikes as a symbol of support and solidarity for Syrians after the chemical attacks orchestrated by the Syrian president. But with only 11 Syrian refugees accepted into the United States this year -- not 1,100; 11 -- the Trump administration's concern for the Syrian people rings rather hollow.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of the word “refugee” on Sunday morning political talk and/or news shows on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Broadcasting Co., CBS, NBC, and ABC between 06:00 and 12:00. 

  • European "alt-right" ship tries to stop refugee rescue missions, fails miserably

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The campaign of Defend Europe, a European white nationalist “Identitarian” movement, to disrupt humanitarian search-and-rescue missions for migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, ended yesterday after months of problems, from its ship’s mechanical failure to the crew’s sea-sickness. Despite the group’s claims of total and undisputable success, its campaign was nothing more than a stunt, and a failed one at that.

    Here’s a list of mishaps the campaign suffered over the past four months, as reported by HuffPost UK, the U.K.-based anti-extremism research and education group HOPE Not Hate, and others:

    • In May, pro-Trump troll Lauren Southern and three Defend Europe members were detained by the Italian Coast Guard after they attempted to block a search-and-rescue ship travelling to Sicily.
    • In June, the group’s PayPal account, through which it was soliciting donations, was frozen for violating the service’s terms
    • In July, the group’s ship, C-Star, was reportedly detained by Egyptian authorities in the Suez Canal due to a “lack of documentation and papers”; this detainment delayed the ship’s effort to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
    • Shortly after, several individuals linked to Defend Europe had their Patreon accounts suspended for violating the company’s terms by soliciting donations for “activities that are likely to cause loss of life.”
    • In late July, the ship’s captain and owner were detained in Northern Cyprus, and the crew was investigated for possible human trafficking. Following a two-day detention, the Defend Europe members were then deported from the port “for alleged people-smuggling.”
    • In several countries, regional government authorities, NGOs, and citizens protesting the group’s racist activities prevented the C-Star from resupplying, docking, and refueling at ports in Italy, Tunisia, Crete, Greek Cyprus, and Malta.
    • In August, the C-Star broke down and had to be rescued by a real refugee rescue ship.

    And, as HuffPost UK noted, the "successes" the group took credit for were actually spurred by regional governments and humanitarian organizations. Specifically, the recent decline in migrant crossings of the Mediterranean Sea was spurred by Italian and Libyan Coast Guard missions, Islamic State group clashes along the Libyan coast, and the weather -- not by a motley crew of anti-refugee 20-year-olds.

    As the outlet also documented, the actual activities of members of Defend Europe amounted to little more than shouting at faraway ships, unfurling anti-immigrant banners, and interviewing each other to promote their online brands. One thing is clear from Defend Europe’s months long operation -- it was an embarrassing failure.

  • Former Top George W. Bush Aide Explains How U.S. Counterterrorism "Efforts Are Undermined By Declaring Islam Itself To Be The Enemy"

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Former top aide to President George W. Bush and Washington Post opinion writer Michael Gerson denounced "U.S. politicians" who are "declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists." In the past week, this anti-Muslim posture has been exhibited primarily by GOP politicians and right-wing media. 

    In the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, a number of Republican presidential candidates, governors, and media figures have used the violence to fearmonger about Muslims and Islam. With many on the right calling for the U.S. to deny entry to Muslim Syrian refugees, Newscorp. and 21st Century Fox executive co-chairman Rupert Murdoch suggested that the United States "make [a] special exception for proven Christians." Others have pressed Muslim advocacy groups to accept "responsibility" for the Paris attacks and have advocated for the "profiling" of Muslims on U.S. soil.

    In a November 16 Washington Post op-ed Gerson described the dangers of "politicians defin[ing] Islam as the problem" -- namely that they are "feeding the Islamic State narrative" and "materially undermining the war against terrorism." From the op-ed:

    As careful as we should be in drawing lessons from tragedy -- and there is something particularly disgraceful in mounting a political soapbox at a funeral -- the horrors experienced in Paris demand a renewed dedication to the prevention of such attacks .

    Islamic State terrorists have goals beyond a blood-drunk love of carnage: to discredit the Syrian refugees (whom they hate) and to encourage the perception of a civilizational struggle between Islam and the West. They are succeeding at both.

    [...]

    They are stoking religious conflict between Muslims and Christians in order to attract recruits, including from Western countries. And one way to encourage the appearance of civilizational conflict is through spectacular acts of murder that somehow (horribly) appeal to a Sunni Arab sense of historical disempowerment.

    [...]

    All our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists. Instead of blaming refugees, we need to make sure our counterterrorism and intelligence policies give us a chance to screen and stop any threat (which means keeping the post-9/11 structures of surveillance in place). But if U.S. politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative. They are materially undermining the war against terrorism and complicating the United States' (already complicated) task in the Middle East. Rejecting a blanket condemnation of Islam is not a matter of political correctness. It is the requirement of an effective war against terrorism, which means an effective war against the terrorist kingdom in Syria and western Iraq.