While President Bush and his War Cabinet bear full moral responsibility for Iraq, they could not have taken us to war without the complicity of the “adversary press” and “loyal opposition.”
Today, this town is salivating over the prospect that Karl Rove and “Scooter” Libby will be indicted for outing Joe Wilson’s wife as a CIA operative. Thirty months ago, many of those anxious to see the White House brought down were hauling its water. Consider the role played by our newspaper of record, The New York Times.
To stampede us into a war neoconservatives had been plotting for a decade, Douglas Feith, the Pentagon’s No. 3, set up an Office of Special Plans. Its role: Cherry-pick the intel that Saddam was acquiring weapons of mass destruction and was hell-bent on using them on the United States. Then, stove-pipe the hot stuff to the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) and ignore the contradictory evidence.
A primary source of the hot Intel about poison gas vans and nuclear bomb programs was a tight-knit exile group led by Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress and neocon-Pentagon favorite to lead the new Iraq.
But once the hyped Intel suggesting Saddam was an imminent and mortal threat had been extracted, the WHIG needed to run it through a media centrifuge to convert it into hard news.
Enter Judy Miller, self-styled “Miss Run Amok” and the go-to girl for the War Party. Miller took the cherry-picked Intel and planted it on page one, enabling War Party propagandists to hit the TV talk-show circuit and reference ominous stories in The New York Times about how imminent a threat Saddam had become.
These propagandists were parroting their own pre-cooked intel, but it now had the imprimatur of the Times. The White House had seduced the good Gray Lady of 43rd Street into turning tricks for war.
While the Times has played this role before, it was usually in leftist causes. In the early 1930s, Walter Duranty got a Pulitzer for covering up Stalin’s starvation of the Ukrainians. In the late 1950s, Herbert Matthews used the Times‘ front page to introduce Fidel Castro to the world as the “Robin Hood of the Sierra Maestra.” And who can forget the Times columnists who assured us how much better off the Cambodian people would be under the benevolent rule of Pol Pot?
But the indispensable enablers of war are the New Democrats and potential presidential nominees, Sens. Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, Biden, and Bayh. Fearful that Bush and Rove would use their refusal to authorize war in October 2002 to impeach Democrats’ patriotism, they voted to give him a blank check for war. Six months later, Bush cashed it.
The Democratic Senate could have slowed the stampede. And if it could not have stopped it, it might at least have gotten answers to crucial questions. How many troops would be needed? What was the probability of guerrilla war? What was our exit strategy? Instead, the Senate surrendered the war powers the Founding Fathers reserved for Congress to the president and abdicated its constitutional duty.
And what of the punditocracy, which cheer-led us into war? Did they serve their country, or did they service the king and his courtiers by reciting such fairy tales as Mohammed Atta’s secret meeting in Prague with his Iraqi controllers?
In the run-up to war, from left, center and right, voices were asking exactly what threat Saddam posed to America.
His nation had been crushed in six weeks and his army routed in 100 hours in Desert Storm. His weapons factories had been demolished. Terrified of U.S. retaliation, he had not used one WMD. The United Nations had rummaged through Iraq and destroyed other WMD and their factories. He had not imported a tank, plane, or gun in 12 years. Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency had scoured Iraq and found nothing. Saddam had invited the CIA in to have a look.
Though 40,000 U.S.-British sorties had been flown over Iraq since 1991, he had been unable to shoot down a single plane. There was no evidence he or his regime had any role in 9/11, any connection to the anthrax attack, any tie to al-Qaeda, or committed any act of terror against us.
Why, then, was it necessary to go to war?
Whatever the sins of the WHIG in savaging critics, however, at least most of them believed in this war. But what is to be said for those who transmitted to a trusting public what they had to know or at least suspect were propaganda fabrications to dupe the people into sending their sons and daughters to fight and die in an unnecessary war? This is the greater scandal. This is the real scandal.