Wrong again and again
When I first started writing commentary more than a decade ago, my self-imposed standard was: Write what you know. That gave me two broad areas to explore. As a lifelong journalist I could offer my perspective on how the news media functions. And having spent much of my life reporting from overseas, I could credibly write about foreign affairs, wars and diplomacy.
Nowadays, I rarely write about the news media. So much has changed since my days as a network television news correspondent that when I look at today’s journalism, I feel somewhat like Christopher Columbus might, should he sail into today’s New World.
Still, sometimes I cannot contain myself. And the way the mainstream media have covered the resurgence of the Iraq war is one of those times. After 4,500 American military deaths, tens of thousands of seriously injured and ultimate total costs now estimated at $2 trillion, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq is indisputably high among the greatest strategic blunders this country has ever committed.
And for that we have to thank President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and a rogues gallery of Pentagon neo-cons, plus the super-hawks in Congress led by Sen. John McCain, who evidently has never seen a war he didn’t want America to jump into.
Yet even as the violent Sunni insurgents now calling themselves the Islamic State are viciously restoking the fires of sectarian killing in Iraq, to whom do the media turn for wisdom about how America should respond? Well, of course, you know. These Iraq “experts” have flooded the networks’ airwaves and captured the headlines in most of the country’s major newspapers.
At the risk of re-plowing old ground, let me remind those who need reminding, of just some of the things these “experts” said before and during the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
— “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.” Aug. 20, 2002.
— “I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will in fact, be greeted as liberators … I think it will go rather quickly … weeks rather than months.” March 16, 2003.
— “If we had to do it over again, we would do exactly the same thing.” Sept. 13, 2006.
Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary:
— “Some of the higher-end predictions … such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark.” Feb. 27, 2003.
— “The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator.” March 11, 2003.
— “There’s a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” March 27, 2003.
Bill Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and leading neo-conservative intellectual:
— “This is going to be a two-month war, not an eight-year war.” March 28, 2003.
— “There has been a certain amount of pop sociology ... that the Shi’a can’t get along with the Sunni ... There’s almost no evidence of that at all.” April 4, 2003.
— “The first two battles of this new era are now over. The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably.” April 28, 2003.
These are samples of the wisdom and foresight of three of the leading proponents of the invasion of Iraq. In spite of this, these are the people the American news media instantly turned to in the wake of the new crisis. The op-ed column by Cheney and his daughter Liz in The Wall Street Journal is compelling evidence of the shameless re-writing of history now being engaged in by those responsible for the debacle of the Iraq war
Cheney asserts, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” He was not talking about President George W. Bush. He was referring to President Barack Obama, whom he blames completely for the new Iraq crisis. In Cheney’s words, “President Obama seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.”
Meantime, the news media ignored prominent critics of the war and those who voted against it — including Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders among others — and went instead for the controversy a Cheney/Wolfowitz /McCain quote would be certain to provoke. Shoddy reporting. And that’s not just my opinion.
Even the New York Times public editor has acknowledged Times’ readers are complaining that the paper “is amplifying the voices of hawkish conservatives.” And based on her own analysis, “on the Op-Ed pages and in the news columns, there have been very few outside voices of those who opposed the war the last time or those who reject the use of force now.”
A final note: All this and much more was part of a spirited discussion I had over lunch the other day with Gregory Gause, for two decades, a noted professor of political science at the University of Vermont. He is an internationally recognized Middle East expert and someone I consider a thoughtful and valued friend. I am happy to report ( happy for him — sad for me because I’ll miss our regular talks) that he is about to head up the International Affairs Department of the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Greg was selected by Ryan Crocker, the dean of the Bush School and one of this country’s most experienced and respected diplomats. It speaks most highly of professor Gause to be chosen for this prestigious academic post.
Barrie Dunsmore is a former foreign correspondent for ABC News. He lives in Charlotte.