Objectivity in reporting always gets news folks to leap onto their soapbox and regale us with how hard they work toward being objective or “fair and balanced”. This one small example, which I stumbled upon in just a few minutes of internet searching demonstrates that truly most Americans, reporters to be included, are intellectually lazy and easily lulled by titles. My own search was precipitated by a curiosity about the ethnic background of this woman’s last name, which I never did ascertain, but I did stumble upon this other fact that seems rather pertinent to the matter at hand.
In recent weeks, I’ve seen this young woman, Elizabeth O’Bagy, on Fox News, talking about her research into the disposition on the Syrian rebel forces and she cites her numerous trips to the region and actually talking to the rebel groups fighting. In a Wall Street Journal piece on August 30, 2013, she wrote about her findings and also included a map where she delineates the areas controlled by various rebel forces in Syria. (WSJ article here). At the end of this article and on Fox News Ms. O’Bagy is identified as a “senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War”, which makes her sound rather important and unbiased, because truly “the Institute for the Study of War” sounds like a serious academic undertaking on studying war (and it might be). Right here is the Institute for the Study of War mission statement, taken straight from their “Who We Are” page:
“The Institute for the Study of War advances an informed understanding of military affairs through reliable research, trusted analysis, and innovative education. We are committed to improving the nation’s ability to execute military operations and respond to emerging threats in order to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. ISW is a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization.”
That mission statement makes it clear that their goal is to do research to aid US strategic objectives and this observation isn’t to pick on GEN Jack Keane, whom I admire greatly, but my point is to show how easily we get lulled into accepting information as factual and unbiased by placing trust in titles. GEN Keane offered some reasoning yesterday that sounded almost verbatim like Ms O’Bagy’s research she presented from her recent trips to Syria and in her WSJ article. Straight from ISW’s Who We Are page: “General Jack Keane (U.S. Army, Ret.), the Chairman of ISW’s board, also played a central role in developing the intellectual foundation for this change of strategy in Iraq, and supported the formation of the Institute in 2007.” (link here).
My few minutes searching on Elizabeth O’Bagy turned up this interesting fact. Ms O’Bagy was/is (not sure since her name is still listed) the political director for a group called Syrian Emergency Task Force, a pro-regime change group. (here she is listed on their Washington DC staff page – with her photo). My point is she may be a loyal American citizen, but her attachment to a foreign resistance movement illuminates a warning light on taking her objectivity on this matter as ironclad. Connections, like hers to this group, should make serious reporters ask more questions and at the very least disclose this connection upfront, rather than let her present her “facts” perched on a less than fully-disclosed personal bio. Yes, her academic credentials are top-notch and she holds a bachelor’s degree in Arabic language and Arabic Studies from Georgetown, and a master’s degree and Ph.D in Arabic Studies and political science from Georgetown too. However, on the Institute for the Study of War bio page there is no mention of her affiliation with this Syrian Emergency Task Force group. (here’s her ISW bio page).
Instead of relying on press reports or being swayed by the American press’s take on Syria, our President should work toward making serious, well-researched decisions. Who he should be consulting on the situation on the ground in Syria are the Israelis. The Israeli intelligence folks make it a priority to know the most minute details of their neighbors, because while they most certainly detest Assad, they remain very careful in advocating regime change in their neighborhood. The Egyptian mess (throwing Mubarak under the bus & embracing the Muslim Brotherhood), where a decades old reliable security blanket was ripped away by reckless American foreign policy gambits of this administration, you can be sure the Israeli intelligence assets are working overtime to understand every nuance of this Syrian conflict, because for them the outcome could be existential. You don’t see President Obama doing much consulting with any foreign governments. He makes rash statements like he is the emperor of the world and then he wonders why other world leaders react like they do to his pronouncements. He has treated the Israelis like they are unwelcome interlopers in Mid-East matters, when they are (or used to be) our closest ally in the region. And since the Russians already play an active role in Syria, propping up Assad, it would behoove President Obama to engage in some one-on-one talks with Vladimir Putin to look for avenues toward building some consensus on Syria too.
A mature American foreign policy attitude would serve American interests much better than this President’s self-absorbed vanities on how much smarter he is than the rest of the world. We need to move away from a personality driven, celebrity magazine take on foreign leaders and start teaching Americans to look at maps, read some history and most importantly to become skeptics when it comes to news reporting – look for conflicts of interest, look for hidden agendas, look for some facts and then do some independent fact-checking. This huge potential conflict of interest in Ms. O’Bagy’s resume took me less than five minutes to stumble upon and I was just curious if she is of Syrian ancestry. Most importantly, as I always told my kids, “Think For Yourself”!!!