Ira Straus

Media Redefine ‘Escalation’ at Israel’s Expense

The media have been redefining the words “escalation” and “retaliation” to put the blame on our side in conflicts and excuse our enemies.

Thus, the media are almost universally using the word “escalation” against Israel at this moment, for making the first significant strike against Iran since Iran began its campaign of attacking the U.S. and its allies. In reality, Iran has been escalating time after time with its attacks. Neither the U.S. nor Israel has ever yet responded at the level of Iran’s escalations. But every time the U.S. or Israel does respond, it is called an “escalation” by the media. At least, it is called this if it goes even an inch beyond our past inadequate responses; never mind that it still falls far short of Iran’s escalations.

The media tell this same lie regularly against Ukraine as well. It shows a mentality at work here: “escalation” is conceived as something our side does. Psychologists could debate whether this reflects a mentality of guilt for our side asserting itself in any way, or on the contrary a spirit of aggression on the part of our media, expressed in the paradoxical, or projective, form of accusing our side of committing aggression.

Thus, Ukraine is said to be “escalating” if it ups its response to Russia’s actual escalations. Russia always threatens to “retaliate” when Ukraine does this, i.e. Russia threatens to actually escalate some more. Our media cite this with a straight face as, simply, retaliation to Ukraine’s “escalation”. And Biden warns against the danger of this “escalation”.

This is a big part of the explanation for why Biden always responds inadequately to our enemies’ escalation, no matter whether in Europe, in the Mideast, or in Asia.

It’s as if the media and Biden have redefined the word “escalation” to mean: any step by our side in a conflict.

They’ve mostly redefined the word “retaliation”, too — now it means, any action by our enemies against us, as long as our enemies call it a response to some action of ours or some historical grievance that they hold against us.

Will the media never learn that this is getting words upside-down? We are in serious mental danger if they won’t.

Will Biden never learn that this is getting international realities upside-down? Our countries are in serious geopolitical danger if he won’t.

About the Author
Chair, Center for War/Peace Studies; Senior Adviser, Atlantic Council of the U.S.; formerly a Fulbright professor of international relations; studied at Princeton, UVA, Oxford. Institutions named above for identification purposes only; views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author.