Two days ago I did a post citing all the mainstream reporters who went along with the Iraq war disaster– who were wrong on the biggest foreign-policy call of their careers. Some followup:
Speaking on WNYC, Brooke Gladstone of “On the Media” defended those reporters by saying they had no political cover to oppose war because Congress wasn’t questioning the war. She stood up for David Remnick and the New Yorker Magazine, which pushed the war, and implicitly for her husband Fred Kaplan of Slate, who reached the same grievously-wrong judgment. But as commenter Kathleen points out, many Congresspeople were doing just that: 23 Senators and 133 Representatives voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002.
Only two senators voted against Lyndon Johnson’s Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964–which was more than enough for The New Yorker to oppose that war.
Many of those Vietnam New Yorker pieces were written by Jonathan Schell. And Schell has an astoundingly-good piece up at the Nation right now saying that the pretext for the Iraq war is a principle that the U.S. long rejected, but that Israel bestowed on us, the idea of using force to prevent a country from getting nuclear weapons:
Israel has followed a policy never adopted by any other nuclear power: it seeks to maintain, by military means, sole possession of nuclear weapons in its region. (The policy is not officially articulated, owing to another remarkable Israeli innovation in nuclear policy: the government’s silence regarding all aspects of its large nuclear arsenal.) In all other regions, there are nuclear competitors who seek to maintain some sort of balance among themselves.
It is true that the idea of maintaining a nuclear monopoly by pre-emptive attack was entertained by the United States during the brief period of its nuclear monopoly, from 1945 to 1949 (when the Soviet Union tested an atomic bomb), but it was always firmly rejected
Back at Schell’s former perch, The New Yorker has a tenth-year-anniversary roundup post called “The Iraq War in The New Yorker,” in which Joshua Rothman completely leaves out Jeffrey Goldberg’s famously-erroneous arguments for war in that magazine’s pages. But Rothman does mention Remnick’s stance:
Many people wrestled with the question of whether or not to go to war—including The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, in a February 3, 2003, Comment called “Making a Case.”
File that under, How to please the boss. You’d think Remnick had penned a on-the-one-hand/on-the-other piece. No. Go back to Remnick’s piece. It is true that he wrestles with the arguments against war, for a paragraph or two. But having pinned those arguments to the mat, Remnick gets on to the urgent business of that February, lining up the tin soldiers and echoing that other establishment liberal hawk, Kenneth Pollack, who was pushing the war in the New York Times and in a big book.
Pollack wrote that Saddam supported terrorism so as “to play a role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Remnick echoes that argument, states that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and that his “nuclear ambitions are clear,” and that he vows to liberate Jerusalem. Remnick:
More effectively than Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz or any other of the hawkish big thinkers in the Administration, Kenneth Pollack, in his book “The Threatening Storm,” presents in almost rueful terms the myriad reasons that an aggressive policy toward Iraq now is the least bad of our alternatives. As Bush did at the U.N., Pollack carefully describes the Stalinist character of Saddam’s state: the pervasive use of torture to terrorize and subdue the citizenry and insure the loyalty of the Army and the security apparatus; the acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing; the use of chemical weapons on neighbors and his own citizens; the sponsorship of terrorist groups; the refusal to relinquish weapons of mass destruction despite the humanitarian and economic cost the Iraqis pay through international embargo. We are reminded, too, of Saddam’s vision of himself as the modern Saladin, the modern Nebuchadnezzar II, who (after massacring the Kurds, invading Kuwait, and attacking the marsh Arabs of the south) vows to “liberate” Jerusalem, vanquish the United States, and rule over a united Arab world. Saddam is not a man of empty promises. His territorial aggression is a matter of record, his nuclear ambitions are clear.
…The United States has been wrong, politically and morally, about Iraq more than once in the past; Washington has supported Saddam against Iran and overlooked some of his bloodiest adventures. The price of being wrong yet again could be incalculable. History will not easily excuse us if, by deciding not to decide, we defer a reckoning with an aggressive totalitarian leader who intends not only to develop weapons of mass destruction but also to use them.
Saddam’s abdication, or a military coup, would be a godsend; his sudden conversion to the wisdom of disarmament almost as good. It is a fine thing to dream. But, assuming such dreams are not realized, a return to a hollow pursuit of containment will be the most dangerous option of all.
At alternet, Michael Ratner mentions other mainstream reporters who were wrong on the most important call of their careers:
Even more alarmingly, in the months preceding the start of the war, the pages of the New York Times would greet us with more banging of the drums: a demand by Thomas Friedman that France be kicked out of the Security Council for its refusal to join up, or a startling piece of war propaganda by then soon-to-be Executive Editor Bill Keller, fantasizing about the impact of a one-kiloton nuke detonated in Manhattan – 20,000 incinerated, many more dying a “gruesome death from radiation sickness.” But make no mistake: although the New York Times has a shameless history of supporting war after war, other prominent mainstream journalists and intellectuals were eager to ride the bandwagon. These names include George Packer of the New Yorker… Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, Fareed Zakaria, Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Paul Berman to name a few.
The late Tony Judt sized up this whole lot most aptly with the label “Bush’s Useful Idiots.” The “useful idiots,” he said, were those from within the liberal establishment who, either through a misguided attempt to project strength, willfully played along with preposterous WMD claims, or simply allowed themselves to get carried away with the imperialistic fervor surrounding a new call to war, abdicating the responsibilities upon which liberal ideology is based. Instead, they aligned their positions with the neo-conservative architects of the Iraq War.
Judt’s piece on the useful idiots of the liberal establishment appeared in the London Review of Books– and also named Remnick.
Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick and other prominent figures in the North American liberal establishment – have focused their regrets not on the catastrophic invasion itself (which they all supported) but on its incompetent execution. They are irritated with Bush for giving ‘preventive war’ a bad name.
Of course notwithstanding Brooke Gladstone’s establishment focus, many other journalists distinguished themselves in those dark days. Writes a friend:
The other day, Christiane Amanpour interviewed Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. She pointed out how lonely their accurate reports in McClatchy had made them, in the run-up to the Iraq war. They said, (quietly, without a trace of self-pity), that they weren’t much more attended to now with all the retrospective comment on 2003. Hers was the only news program of any note they’d been interviewed for.
So there you have it: the only TV network reporter who got it right in 2003 interviews the only newspaper reporters who got it right, and she’s still the only one paying attention. (Give partial credit to Chris Matthews in 2003; I remember some angry outbursts by him; he said the war was a phony, that Bush didn’t care about evidence, he was going to do it because he wanted to; but in the course of the war itself, afterward, he frequently reined himself in.)
Calling reporters out on this is not just a matter of score-settling. The issue is Iran: will the United States undertake another brutal folly, in some measure because Israel and its supporters think it’s wise policy. As Jonathan Schell writes:
Israel, the pioneer in the use of force to roll back weapons of mass destruction, pushed Obama at every turn during the election, with its politically powerful supporters in the United States, to commit himself to military action. And Obama did.
P.S. A friend says that David Remnick is atoning for his error by considering that the road to Baghdad and Cairo and Tehran leads through Jerusalem– by mounting resistance to neoconservative policy on Iran and by taking on the Israeli occupation in a series of spectacularly-good essays and reports on the new Israel, lately revealing Naftali Bennett to be a crazed zealot. Certainly Remnick deserves tremendous credit for these reports. But this discussion won’t end, and he knows it, till there is a conversation inside the Jewish community and beyond about Zionism, and the extent to which American Jewish adherence to an anachronistic belief system enabled the collapse of the liberal antiwar opposition inside the establishment.