After doing an item yesterday on Kenneth Pollack’s incredible
endurance as an expert in the op-ed pages of the NY Times even after being
dead wrong about Iraq, I went on the Times site and typed in the name
The realist scholar at U of Chicago used to be a Times regular.
Starting in the late ’80s, the most important newspaper in the world granted
him status as a sober expert on foreign relations. Quoted in articles,
he was also a frequent contributor to the Op-Ed page, publishing pieces
about partition in the Balkans, in favor of India’s nuclear power as a deterrent (twice on that subject; here: India Needs the Bomb), and pushing the Gulf War in ’91. (I forgot about that). After Sept. 11, he held forth on the Afghan war. (He was also a presence in the letters column, here condemning antisemitic comments by a scholar with a Nazi past.)
Then in ’03 Mearsheimer and Harvard prof Stephen Walt published an Op-Ed
in the Times against the Iraq war, in which they argued that the war
party had only produced "slender threads" of evidence to support
preemptive war. The two clairvoyants went on:
In addition to the lives
lost, toppling Saddam Hussein would cost at least $50 billion to $100
billion, at a time when our economy is sluggish and huge budget
deficits are predicted for years. Because the United States would have
to occupy Iraq for years, the actual cost of this war would most likely
be much larger. And because most of the world thinks war is a mistake,
we would get little help from other countries.
then: poof, Mearsheimer hasn’t been on the Op-Ed page since. By my
count, he had about 10 Op-Eds in the decade before that Iraq war piece. (I assume some of these were solicited by the Times.) He has had none since. And this in the prime of his career, doing his most important work.
There are two factors at work here. Being against the Iraq war has
hurt a lot of people’s careers; we’re still waiting for our Debacle
Dividend, a payoff for having good judgment, but it hasn’t come, maybe because all the powerful folks who
supported the war don’t want to be reminded of their error (and cause dweebs like me like to rub it in). And of course
Mearsheimer wrote The Israel Lobby. Is the Times part of the lobby? Yes
and no. The lobby must be understood as a Mississippi River of
pro-Israel orthodoxy which pervades political culture– from the
Clintonites to every elected official in New York to the neocon
financiers of thinktanks. Taking on the lobby is the equivalent right
now in media culture of throwing in with the Roswell crowd; the Times
finds you dangerous, even as it supplies straw and ale and stables for
Iraq war supporters Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and Bill
I’m not crying for Mearsheimer. He’s a big boy and knew what he was
doing. But it is interesting to consider that the Israel lobby works in
part through the destruction of status. Mearsheimer had elite status
prior to his Iraq argument and Israel lobby book; he has been deprived of (some
of) it since. Again I point to his being censored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in its lineup of important speakers on an uncertain world.
The damage here isn’t so much to an honest man, it’s to the
political discourse. Consider Mearsheimer’s argument for India getting the bomb. I’d never seen that before, and I’m probably against him on this
one. But the vehemence of his belief in Indian nukes makes his argument
in The Israel Lobby that Iranian nukes won’t be the end of the world
both personally consistent and more compelling intellectually–he sure
is a realist. Think about it: He was allowed to hold forth from the
most prestigious soapbox in the land when India wanted nukes, but not now, when Iran wants them.
Our journalism is broken.