There are longterm dangers in the war we don't fully see yet
This week in Washington, war fever fully took hold. At briefings this week, members of the White House press corps took turns trying to find new ways to push the US into a direct military conflict with Russia. A few months ago, as things were winding down in Congress, I started going to the White House press briefings more often. It’s been interesting to watch the contrast between those briefings and press conferences on Capitol Hill. The biggest difference is the way in which White House reporters ask the same question over and over even if they know they’re not going to get an answer. On the Hill, if a reporter asked Chuck Schumer, for instance, if he planned to put the voting rights bill on the floor, and he said no, it wouldn’t really occur to other reporters to ask the question again. But that’s often what happens at the White House.
I’m told that one reason for this is that White House reporters all need video footage not just of Jen Psaki answering a question, but also of themselves asking it. They’re not competing against other reporters, they’re competing for air space on their evening news against other news events. So in February, there would be endless questions about when Biden was going to name a Supreme Court justice, even though the answer was obvious: Soon, but not yet.
That might not be the most edifying way to carry out a press briefing, but it’s at least not actively harmful. When the questions are about war – and specifically why the hell aren’t you waging one?! – the White House press corps’ collective action problem becomes a potential global nuclear problem.
My colleagues Travis Mannon and Lauren Feeney put together two mashups (first, second) of the rabid push for war in the press room, and no matter how jaded you already are, they’re truly hair raising. (I make a cameo in the first one, asking at the end about the US posture toward peace negotiations. The next day I didn’t get a question, which is standard.)
Deconstructed this week, meanwhile, looks closely at another risk of the war that isn’t getting enough attention, and that’s the way that the wild price swings in commodities – most importantly, oil and wheat – are going to reverberate around the globe, producing hunger, suffering, and unrest for months or years. The potential damage is incalculable, and is one more reason to get to a diplomatic solution as soon as possible.
I spoke on the podcast with sociologist Rupert Russell, author of the fascinating new book “Price Wars: How the Commodities Markets made our Chaotic World.”
The podcast is here — or free on any podcast platform by searching for Deconstructed.