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Suddenly Hawkish on Humanitarian Wars

Clinton Team Spared Quick-Trigger Negativity of News Coverage of Grenada, Libya, Panama, Gulf War

The NATO air strikes against Yugoslavian targets may be the subject of some confusion, but already the Clinton administration has been spared the quick-trigger media negativity that's been common in the first days of several Republican military actions:

When the Reagan administration authorized the liberation of Grenada, The Washington Post wouldn't call it liberation. It reported on October 27, 1983: "The United States, its military conquest of Grenada complete..." Two days later: "The officials said the Marines would probably depart within a week, leaving an occupation force of about 5,000 Army soldiers."

NBC commentator John Chancellor on Nicaragua, January 15, 1987: "The Duke of Wellington, one of England's greatest soldiers, once said 'There is no such thing as a little war for a great nation'....The Johnson administration became obsessed with Vietnam, the Kremlin became obsessed with Afghanistan and the Reagan administration became obsessed with Nicaragua. That led to bad troubles for the Reagan administration. Big countries have to pick their fights very carefully. Victory has to be certain in a fight with a small enemy. If not, things can get out of hand."

CBS reporter Wyatt Andrews covering the Panama invasion, December 21, 1989: "Having launched one of the largest invasion forces since the days of the Vietnam War, Mr. Bush is erasing his old image of being timid, but the new question now, almost overnight, is whether this President is exhibiting signs of being reckless."

Los Angeles Times reporter Barry Bearak in a December 18, 1989 news analysis on Reagan's 1986 air raids on Libya: "Democrats by and large remained uncritical of this occasional gunplay. After all, Sheriff Reagan mostly fired in the air, harmlessly busting up the bullies on a weekend drunk. And besides, in the heat of a national pep rally, any downbeat voice was easily scored as whiny and defeatist."

CBS reporter Bob Simon on the Gulf War, August 7, 1990: "While Americans say they're moving tonight in support of little nations, that's not how it will be perceived or described over here. From the poor people in these little nations, Americans will hear these old phrases, old accusations: gunboat diplomacy, imperialism, the arrogance of power."

Bryant Gumbel on the August 7, 1990 Today: "The Persian Gulf crisis is already resulting in higher gas prices at the pump, exposing the [Bush] administration's lack of an energy policy. We'll talk of just how much that figures to cost him."

Lisa Myers on the August 15, 1990 NBC Nightly News: "The problem is that slow but steady progress on energy conservation came to a screeching halt in the mid-1980s, which is a big reason Iraq has us over a barrel today...What derailed the conservation effort? Two things: a sharp drop in oil prices, and the Reagan administration." Myers eight days later: "Almost daily, the President is out on a gas-guzzling cigarette boat which gets one and a half miles to the gallon. Saving energy is not something he likes to talk about.... Energy analysts call the lack of action irresponsible."

Gumbel to a Saudi Arabian editor on August 20: "I need not elaborate on the differences between your culture and ours, but how much of a threat to the Saudi way of life do you think the presence of American forces represents?"

Dan Rather to Saddam Hussein on August 29, 1990: "Mr. President, do you think this is a Vietnam in the sand for the United States?" - Tim Graham