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Slamming intellectuals who backed Iraq war, Hedges says he lost job at ‘NYT’ for opposing it

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Wow. I’ve been waiting for this. Chris Hedges on “America’s Sell Out Intellectuals,” at truthdig and alternet. I didn’t know this about Hedges at the Times; and I can’t wait for Iraq-war supporters George Packer, Al Franken, David Remnick, and Bill Keller to account for themselves. That’s the thing about an intellectual being wrong about the biggest foreign-policy call of his/her generation: people are not going to forget till the intellectual explains why he/she got it wrong. I notice that Andrew Sullivan is not on Hedges’s list. I believe he’s been more forthcoming. But Peter Beinart? 

The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as  Bill KellerMichael IgnatieffNicholas KristofDavid RemnickFareed ZakariaMichael WalzerPaul Berman,Thomas FriedmanGeorge PackerAnne-Marie SlaughterKanan Makiya and the late  Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.

These apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times,  attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.

The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve….

Leslie Gelb, in the magazine Foreign Affairs, spelled it out after the invasion of Iraq.

“My initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility,” he wrote. “We ‘experts’ have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we ‘perfect’ the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common—often wrong—wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.”

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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36 Responses

  1. Les on April 2, 2013, 10:45 am

    They call themselves liberals. But then Hitler called himself a socialist.

  2. marc b. on April 2, 2013, 10:53 am


    The first slippery slope now is the growing demand from the usual tiny group of interventionists for the U.S. to start supplying arms to the Syrian rebels. On the surface, this seems quite reasonable. President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Army is much better equipped, so why not at least equalize the fight against the dictatorial regime?

    is that the starting point for US foreign policy, ‘equalizing the fight against dictators’?

    and could someone define ‘intellectual’ for me? I haven’t a clue what it means in the context of a conversation about

    • marc b. on April 2, 2013, 11:05 am

      ope. ‘conversation about friedman, remnick, franken et al.’

    • American on April 2, 2013, 1:15 pm

      “and could someone define ‘intellectual’ for me?”….marc

      in·tel·lec·tu·al ( n talk ch – l). adj. 1. a. Of or relating to the intellect. b. Rational rather than emotional.

      Intellectual means nothing except to separate people who are capable of thinking ‘rationally’ from those who can’t think rationally because of their ’emotions’.
      If you’re gonna use it to apply to people who are capable of thinking rationally then it should be used only to describe them as either ‘intellectually dishonest’ or ‘intellectually honest”.
      If you apply it to some people like Dershowitz who is obviously ‘capable’ of thinking rationally but doesn’t because of his “emotions” then he is intellectually dishonest.

  3. Bill in Maryland on April 2, 2013, 10:57 am

    Thanks Phil. Chris Hedges is a principled journalist indeed. Here is a report that Hedges is turning down a speaking engagement next month at the PEN World Voices Festival and resigning from the human rights organization PEN in protest of PEN’s naming of Suzanne Nossel to be Executive Director of the PEN American Center. Says Hedges:

    The suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation and the plight of those caught up in our imperial wars in countries such as Iraq are not abstractions to me. Nossel’s relentless championing of preemptive war—which under international law is illegal—as a State Department official along with her callous disregard for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and her refusal as a government official to denounce the use of torture and use of extra-judicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization…

  4. Nevada Ned on April 2, 2013, 10:59 am

    This is a great piece. Someone should compile a database of pro-war spokesmen (and -women), and post it online, complete with links and quotes. Let the War Party know that there are some consequences for helping to lie us into war.

  5. pabelmont on April 2, 2013, 11:01 am

    So correct, so necessary. One of the instruments of governance by oligarchy (the BIGs, such as BIG-OIL and BIG-MILITARY (and BIG-ZION), which promoted the war) is their ability and willingness to distort (and destroy) “democracy” by shutting down discussion and criticism.

    Important as that is in the case of the Iraq war, and USA’s support for Israeli lawlessness, it is far more important as regards USA’s paralysis as to climate change.

    • Citizen on April 3, 2013, 8:14 am

      @ pabelmont
      And at least as important as regards the drum beat for war on Iran. Have you heard a single liberal elite voice pointing out that progressively more draconian economic sanctions on Iran, coupled with the constant threat “all options remain on the table,”
      with absolutely no soft carrots coupled with these heavy sticks–may just be counterproductive?

  6. MRW on April 2, 2013, 11:05 am

    “I didn’t know this about Hedges at the Times”

    I wrote about it here in the last month with a link to Christopher Lydon’s 2010 interview about exactly this issue. Well worth listening to even though two years old.

    • marc b. on April 2, 2013, 1:27 pm

      it was well worth listening to. I need to go back to lydon more often. he is sorely missed locally.

  7. Walker on April 2, 2013, 11:09 am

    Excellent link.

    Wow. I’ve been waiting for this.

    Something I’ve been waiting for from Hedges is a detailed account of how I/P news was edited at the NYT. I suspect he has stories to tell. However, he’s probably bound by contract.

    How I/P news is edited across the media spectrum is something I’d like to hear much more about. It’s a bit much to expect that new Columbia Journalism Review editor Steve Coll will address this immediately. He was, after all, managing editor at WaPo during the Iraq invasion. However, it would be wonderful if someone would undertake to tell this story. It would have to be a brave person.

  8. MRW on April 2, 2013, 11:11 am

    Everything Hedges writes about the Iraq War applies to criticism of Israel. Wonder who the younger generation will be naming and shaming for their lies in 15 years.

  9. Donald on April 2, 2013, 11:32 am

    I don’t think Kristof was for the war–in fact, I remember a column where he said that Iraqis would probably oppose our occupation. His sin (I read the link Hedges gave) was concern trolling–he was oh so upset that antiwar opponents were being too mean about President Bush when they could criticize him in more measured ways. What comes out with Kristof is that civility meant more to him than the fact that someone started a war on false pretenses and then engaged in torture.

  10. seafoid on April 2, 2013, 11:38 am

    “writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman,Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.”

    “the attention i need is much more serious
    a kind of weight you couldn’t lift
    even if your cheap career
    depended on it
    i need someone much more

    ‘The dominant retain their position by constantly changing their stance’- Bourdieu

  11. ckg on April 2, 2013, 11:59 am

    The departure of Hedges from the NYT in 2003 followed the paper’s formal reprimand of him for his commencement address at Rockford College that spring. The prescient and eloquent anti-war address, which also touches on the plight of Palestinians, can be viewed on youtube and is shocking for the hostility displayed by the graduating class and their family members. His microphone was cut off twice, much of the audience stood and turned their backs, the stage was rushed, fog-horns and jeers drowned out his words, and he was booed from the stage. In retrospect, it is a classic.

    • ckg on April 2, 2013, 2:06 pm

      The Rockford College speech on Youtube:
      Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.
      Text of the speech
      Democracy Now coverage of the speech.

    • MRW on April 2, 2013, 4:04 pm

      Here’s the transcript of the Rockford speech.

    • Donald on April 2, 2013, 4:05 pm

      “His microphone was cut off twice, much of the audience stood and turned their backs, the stage was rushed, fog-horns and jeers drowned out his words, and he was booed from the stage. In retrospect, it is a classic.”

      That illustrates what I meant the other day when I said the US was insane in the period from 2002-2003, or more accurately, Sept 11, 2001 until sometime in 2004 or a little later. Not all of us were crazy, of course, but there was a McCarthyite atmosphere that dominated the public arena and many so-called liberals or lefties participated in it, Christopher Hitchens being the most famous, but he wasn’t the only one, not by a long shot. Any objection to US militarism was seen as near-treason, and if you said that Islamic terror had any connection with US or Israeli crimes you were considered to be an apologist for al Qaeda. I’d read about periods of history like that, and of course mainstream America (meaning the politician and pundit class) is generally never very honest, but I’d never lived through any period as intensely dishonest and hysterical as that one. As Hedges said, the “liberal class”, with some honorable exceptions, was worthless or worse than that–they were part of it.

      I think the antiwar voices finally started to break through after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke–then we returned to our usual level of hypocrisy.

  12. DICKERSON3870 on April 2, 2013, 2:02 pm

    RE: “I can’t wait for Iraq-war supporters George Packer, Al Franken, David Remnick, and Bill Keller to account for themselves. That’s the thing about an intellectual being wrong about the biggest foreign-policy call of his/her generation: people are not going to forget till the intellectual explains why he/she got it wrong.”

    MY COMMENT: I believe Keller has blamed his support for the Bush/Blair/Cheney/Howard invasion of Iraq on a lethal bout of postpartum/postnatal, reverse male menopause! Apparently, that is today’s equivalent of the (Hostess) Twinkie® defense.
    Don’t laugh, Dan White was only convicted of manslaughter and spent less than five years in prison for murdering two people!


    Consider one of Keller’s first excuses, what I call his Daddy Defense, which he offers up just a few paragraphs into the piece. Sounding something like a neo-Gothic horror novelist, he writes, “I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism. By the time of Alice’s birth I had already turned my attention to Iraq . . .”

    SOURCE –

    P.S. Those men and their raging hormones! Perhaps it would be best if they stayed at home and looked after the children.

  13. American on April 2, 2013, 2:17 pm

    Any intellectuals here that want to explain to me the rationality of increasing military aid to Israel while cutting the US military budget.
    Now what will Zionist intellectuals say?….oh yea…it must be that Israel ‘ needs it more’ than the US does…a la Eric Alterman’s American patriotism…”let the US take the hit for Israel”.
    But we all know it’s one thing and one thing only, the Israeli fifth column and it’s death grip on the US.
    Not until the msm talks about the ‘money’ will there be a real public backlash against The Lobby.
    That’s why they don’t tell the public about this aspect of US-Isr.

    Obama to increase aid to Israel: $4 billion per year beginning 2017 – http://www.councilforthenation

    While cutting US military budget…

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Hagel warns of big squeeze at the Pentagon
    By Thom Shanker
    New York Times

    ‘… Hagel did not hide the quiet storm that is gathering, one that will test his empathy with the enlisted ranks as he begins to make tough calls over coming weeks about further shrinking the Pentagon after more than a decade of war and free spending.
    Even more, as President Barack Obama — who has placed some of the military’s long-favored weapons programs in his sights — continues to negotiate with Congress over a spending and revenue deal, Pentagon officials acknowledge they are bracing for a protracted period in which they may have to manage even larger budget reductions than anticipated.
    ”There will be changes, some significant changes,” Hagel warned at a news conference last week. “There’s no way around it.”
    Senior military commanders know the meaning of those words from Hagel: the former soldier may have to fire more soldiers and reduce or reject more weapons programs.
    Hagel is expected to begin outlining those changes in a major speech this week that will differ in tone and substance from the dire warnings about budget cuts heard before his arrival. The message is that while the leadership hopes to dampen the impact of across-the-board spending cuts, there is a new Pentagon reality, and everyone must deal with it. Hagel, whose acceptance of the need to shrink the Pentagon is in step with Obama’s self-declared strategy to avoid large overseas land wars, will start to outline a rethinking of military policy to fit smaller budgets.
    Already, Hagel directed Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ashton B. Carter, the deputy defense secretary, to conduct a sweeping “Strategic Choices and Management Review” due by the end of May”

  14. Keith on April 2, 2013, 2:28 pm

    PHIL- Further on in the article Hedges says: “The liberal class, in fact, is used to marginalize and discredit those, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, who have the honesty, integrity and courage to denounce Israeli war crimes.”

    What? You are a liberal and Mondoweiss is liberal. When has Mondoweiss or any significant number of commenters ever criticized Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein? Go figure.

  15. goldmarx on April 2, 2013, 3:41 pm

    Hedges leaves out one noted writer from his list – Andrea Dworkin, who announced her support for the Iraq War at a dinner she and her husband John Stoltenberg attended. At the dinner were, among others, David Frum, Maggie Gallagher (National Organization for Marriage leader) and Hitchens. Dworkin denounced the anti-war movement for being “soft” on Hussein, whose overthrow she applauded.

    This omission is important, because elsewhere, Hedges has expressed unmitigated admiration for Dworkin. In his book, “Empire of Illusion”, he approvingly cites Dworkin’s wholesale damnation of the Left: “the new pornography…is where the Left has gone to die…” I’ve always wondered why Hedges hangs out at events like the Left Forum, where he delivered a keynote address in 2012. Does he see have a morbid fascination with dead movements, as if he were a political necrophile?

  16. ryan-o on April 2, 2013, 4:27 pm

    Not a big fan of the “career killer” excuse no matter how true it is. It means they are spineless cowards with blood on their hands. Proof that there is no freedom of the press. Well in theory there is, in reality there is a (state-run) monopoly that dictates the headlines.

    Noticed a lot of the same so-called liberal journalists beating the Iran war drum. It’s really amazing that they not only lied about reasons to go to war where everything that went wrong did (and we’re broke because of it), they want to do it again. Like I said, they have blood on their hands and one day they’ll have their day in court. Hopefully. At the very least I hope all the Iraq war architects are held accountable for their crimes. It’s also amazing that they not only continue to be free, but that Americans allow them to. Mostly out of ignorance because I can almost guarantee the average American is not aware that they were lied to. In real life I know people who still think it was about 9/11

  17. wondering jew on April 2, 2013, 5:23 pm

    Not to beatify Christopher Hitchens. Of course his rhetoric towards his opponents was over the top, when was his rhetoric not over the top? But to accuse him of careerism for supporting the war, is really off target. He became a believer in the need to destroy the enemy of the Kurds and he became a believer in opposing those who conceded higher motives to Osama Bin Laden. If he was mistaken it was a mistake he never conceded, and certainly not one he made out of careerism.

    • Donald on April 2, 2013, 7:48 pm

      “he became a believer in opposing those who conceded higher motives to Osama Bin Laden.”

      More McCarthyism. It may have escaped your notice, though I’m not sure how it could if you’ve lived in Israel, but killers often claim to have higher motives and may even believe it themselves. Osama bin Laden claimed to be outraged by American and Israeli atrocities–well, a fair number of American and Israeli murderers claim to be outraged by atrocities carried out by Muslims. There’s no particular reason to doubt them. Why is it noble to “oppose” people who point out that Muslim terrorists often claim to be motivated by moral outrage over Western crimes? It doesn’t mean one supports their vicious crimes. To me it seems incredibly stupid and dishonest to close one’s eyes to facts. But in a vicious and dishonest period of history a propagandist like Hitchens can earn a lot of mileage telling lies.

      As for Hitchens, it was careerism to some extent. Or a level of hypocrisy that transcends the already high level normally set by pundits.

      On September 13, 2001, Hitchens wrote this–


      He never wrote anything like that again. Instead, he trashed anyone and everyone who wrote things like that. Before 9/11 he was something of a fringe figure, a little kooky on the subject of Bill Clinton, liked by most lefties, but his career really took off once he decided to trash his former friends. He wasn’t stupid–if anything, it takes a certain level of marketing brilliance to posture as the second coming of George Orwell, the brave dissenter, while being lionized by the mainstream for supporting American military might. And he wasn’t just crude in his attacks on others–he reveled in violence against his favorite new enemies, the “Islamofascists”.

      The best summary of what Hitchens became was written by Glenn Greenwald–


      But nice of you to have conceded that Hitchens, with his crude glorification of violence and his apologetics for the dumbest set of war criminals ever to grace the White House, may have been mistaken. But if he didn’t concede this, how does that prove he wasn’t a careerist?

    • ckg on April 2, 2013, 7:50 pm

      You have a point. Hitchens is not guilty of careerism. He is guilty of eloquent stupidity.

    • marc b. on April 2, 2013, 8:50 pm

      yfred, not to piss on his grave, but hitchens was loathesome. he didn’t just ‘believe in the need to destroy the enemy of the kurds’, he was a fan boy for bush and blair long after saddam was dethroned, and long after it was clear that the wars (plural) lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and it was also learned that the factual bases for the wars were fabricated. and he supported the wars because that’s what ‘journalists’ did in the day. belatedly, he and his mildly retarded american doppelganger, tfriedman, began to realize that unequivocal support for the wars might be taken as evidence of bad journalism, and turned a critical eye on events. the newly critical hitchens, for his part, was responsible for one of the most embarassing bits of journalism in the history of modern journalism with his blubbering, pants-pissing display 10 seconds into his voluntary adventure in water boarding. ‘yes, it’s torture’, he opined afterwards, as if any objective person couldn’t have concluded that multiple, forced near drownings were ‘torture’ without the narcissistic theatrics.

      good riddance.

  18. eGuard on April 2, 2013, 5:33 pm

    … and their liberal apologists

    Of course this includes liberal Zonists, like Beinart.

  19. eGuard on April 2, 2013, 5:42 pm

    In German: Ich habe es nicht gewußt.

  20. ToivoS on April 2, 2013, 8:55 pm

    These centrist liberals never change. In the early 1950s they were as rabidly anticommunist as the Republicans they only got upset with McCarthy because he gave anticommunism a bad name.

    They were loyal supporters of the war in Vietnam in the early 60s. I remember when Diem was greeted by the liberals as a liberator of the Vietnamese people. I certainly remember them attacking the antiwar student movement before Tet in 1968. Yes the Chris Hitchens of that day were calling commie symps.

    They were vile then, they were vile 10 years ago and they are vile today.

    Be prepared for tomorrow. This same liberal camp will be rallying behind Hilary Clinton for President in 1916. I am puzzled how Hedges managed to leave her off of his list.

  21. gamal on April 2, 2013, 9:27 pm

    “But to accuse him of careerism for supporting the war, is really off target.” because it cost him so much and rendered no benefits in terms of lionization and Vanity Fair gigs etc, the brief conversation between Hitchens and George Galloway prior to Galloway’s senate appearance is one the saddest things i have seen on the media, but then i recall Hitchens from the seventies, he was always a very privileged young man but he was also an excellent orator, of a kind, and was often gloriously unrestrained and vituperative, his decline was sudden and tragic, recall Chomsky’s remark after the first outing of the neo-Hitchens, that he, Chomsky, refused to believe that H was now a Bush follower.
    R. Seymour has written a book about him. Unhitched, perhaps you could review it.

    “He became a believer in the need to destroy the enemy of the Kurds”.. I bet he did, and those enemies would be? I myself feel a fervent need to support the destruction of the Athapascan (Athabascan) speakers enemies, it just came to me, may Gernomino triumph in the end.

    “and he became a believer in opposing those who conceded higher motives to Osama Bin Laden.” what were his motives? ah you mean, pace Blair, the false sense of grievance, when understanding is a threat to faith, it may be time to dump the faith.

  22. hughsansom on April 3, 2013, 9:13 am

    I thought Hedges had lost his NYT job because of that Harper’s essay in which he recounted his experience seeing IDF troops toss candy out to lure Palestinian children into the open so the soldiers could terrify them by firing on them.

    If I remember right, Sydney Schanberg was also forced out of the Times for his failure to obediently support some war Times editors adored.

  23. Sumud on April 3, 2013, 10:28 am

    To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.

    I love Chris Hedges. White hot indignation.

    Speaking of career ending moves: another recent article by Hedges on the dumping of Phil Donahue by MSNBC (because he was opposed to the Iraq War) and the huge profits MSNBC’s parents companies made from that war:

    The Day That TV News Died

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