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By Emily Shields

It’s not a new political tactic for an incumbent president to blame his predecessor for problems. However, most of the problems are directly related to the presidental position, such as national debt. George W. Bush left President Obama with a unique problem and that problem is convincing the public that there is a credible reason for going to war. Obama is a president that has been championed for his social media use in the traditional sense, connecting with voters, but Obama can also benefit from social media to build credibility for military intervention in Syria.

When Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2004, administration officials gave many interviews and speeches to explain the rationale behind the war, claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This rationale, used to persuade and garner the public to support the war, was later found to be exaggerated. And here begins the problem that Obama has inherited.

After information came out that there was no evidence to believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, public support for the Iraq war dropped from 73 to 53 percent, according to Gallup. When asked “Why the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war over?,” the majority of respondents said that the reason was “fraudulent claims/no weapons of mass destruction/ lied to people about them” (Moore).

These fraudulent claims created a public distrust in the Bush administration which has now translated to distrust behind the Obama administration’s rationale for military intervention in Syria. Like Bush, Obama’s rationale behind Syria involves weapons. Obama claims that Syrian President Bashar Assad conducted a chemical weapon attack against citizens. And like Bush, there are doubts about how creditable the evidence is and whether it is enough to substantiate war.

British Prime Minister David Cameron summed up general consensus that people have about Syria when he said “The well of public opinion was well and truly poisoned by the Iraq episode and we need to understand the public skepticism” (Associated Press).

But here’s where Obama may be able to beat the problem that Bush created and win back the public’s trust in war. Technology has changed since the Iraq war with worldwide statistics showing that one in four people use some form of social networking (Kaplan, Haenlein). People turn to Twitter, Youtube and Facebook to share anything and everything. However, shared content that is coming from people in Syria shows how social media can evolve from an entertainment and news source to a provider of legitimate pieces of evidence to substantiate war.

An intelligence summary released by the Obama administration cited “local social media reports that indicated the chemical attack began at 2:30 a.m. and “ thousands of social media reports on this attack from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area.” The report also said that “multiple accounts described chemical-filled rockets impacting the opposition-controlled areas” (Hirsch). Bush’s evidence leading to his rationale for war involved shady and secretive intelligence.

According to Michael Haenlein and Andreas Kaplan, social media requires people to be honest because we’re now dealing with some of the most technology sophisticated people on the planet and it is therefore, fairly hard to lie without consequence (Kaplan, Haenlein). If Haenlein and Kaplan’s theory is true, and Obama is substantiating his war rationale on other people’s social media accounts, he may be able to overcome the credibility issue that Bush left him with. Since everyone has access to social media and can see any evidence for themselves, Obama may have an easier time convincing the public that military intervention in Syria is warranted. Social media is available to anybody in the public sphere, creating a type of transparency that Bush never had access to. With this transparency, the American public is able to view evidence for themselves and if that evidence is substantial enough, it may be what Obama needs to quiet the fears that Americans have about entering another seemingly never ending war under false pretenses.

If social media can successfully act as substantial evidence in the case against Syria, it not only changes the scope and magnitude of the digital age, it gives Obama a chance to win the trust of the American people, just as it helped him win both presidential elections. It gives Obama a chance to overcome the Bush problem.

-Emily Shields

References:

Associated, Press. “Iraq haunts Obama as he mulls Syrian strike, despite differences over evidence, consequences”  Washington Post 1 Sep. 2013. <http:// www.washingtonpost.com/politics/iraq-haunts-obama-as-he-mulls-syrian-strike-despite- differences-over-evidence-consequences/2013/08/31/7ebbe0b2-1259-11e3- a2b3-5e107edf9897_story.html>.

Kaplan, Andreas and Haenlein, Michael. “Users of the world, unite” Science Direct. n.d. n. page. Web. 1 Sep. 2013. <http://michaelhaenlein.com/Publications/Kaplan, Andreas – Users of the world, unite.pdfon-syria/279230/>.

Hirsch, Michael. “How Social Media Could Help Obama Make His Case on Syria” Atlantic. 30 08 2013: n. page. Web. 1 Sep. 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/ archive/2013/08/how-social-media-could-help-obama-make-his-case-on-syria/279230/>.

Moore, David. “Fewer Say Iraq Worth Going to War Over.” Gallup. (2003): n. page. Web. 1 Sep. 2013. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/8761/Fewer-Say-Iraq-Worth-Going-War-Over.asp&xgt;.

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