Opinion » Ted Rall

Fire The War Pimps

Zero tolerance for Iraq war pundits


NEW YORK—A year and a half late and 30,000 lives short, supporters of the war in Iraq finally admit that they were wrong.

When I appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show recently, his bellicose bravado was MIA. We argued about Bush and war, but he studiously avoided talking about Iraq. The Fox News demagogue limited his attacks to my opposition to the war against Afghanistan. To his credit O'Reilly, formerly a ferocious advocate of the Iraqi invasion, was one of the first media war promoters to concede that Iraq had never been a threat to the United States. "I was wrong," he told ABC in February. "I think every American should be very concerned" that weapons of mass destruction have not been found.

Over at The New York Times, two pro-war columnists who repeatedly parroted the Bush party line—arguing that Gulf War II was a noble experiment in Middle Eastern democracy, accusing opponents of appeasing Saddam and repeatedly ridiculing skeptics as knee-jerk pacifists who didn't care about the long-suffering Iraqis—have ordered up a heaping plate of crow. "We went into Iraq with what, in retrospect, seems like a childish fantasy," allows Republican war pimp David Brooks. "We were going to topple Saddam, establish democracy and hand the country back to grateful Iraqis. We expected to be universally admired when it was all over. For us to succeed in Iraq," he concludes now, "we have to lose [to the insurgency]."

"I supported the war and now I feel foolish," says CNN's Tucker Carlson.

Thomas Friedman, a 1949-style Cold War liberal who spilled tens of thousands of words pushing a war sold using lies, confesses that he projected good intent on a White House where idealism was in short supply: "I thought the administration would have to do the right things in Iraq—from prewar planning and putting in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of defense for incompetence—because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the country. But I was wrong."

Back in August 2002, Newsweek hawk Fareed Zakaria argued: "Done right, an invasion would be the single best path to reform the Arab world. Were Saddam's totalitarian regime to be replaced by a state that respected human rights, enforced the rule of law and created a market economy, it could begin to transform that world." And if done right, tax cuts could have stimulated the economy. But Bush hadn't done anything right when Zakaria wrote that. The Administration's brazenly dishonest and inept post-9/11 record—not the right's fictional knee-jerk "Bush-bashing"—is why half the country never trusted his blandishments about WMDs, the fictional Saddam-Osama link, or nation-building.

Ah, but the new and improved Zakaria finally gets it: "On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq, [Bush's] assumptions and policies have been wrong. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw."

We're supposed to be grateful that Zakaria and his fellow war pimps are—finally!—recognizing reality. At least they're better than Bush, who still thinks torture can convert the Iraqis to democracy: "I won't yield," he said May 13. But these prominent pundits too have blood on their hands.

Had they stood firmly against the war and Bush, on the right side of history, they might have helped slow or even reverse the rush to war during the winter of 2002-3. Their failure to accurately assess the case for war, coupled with their willful blindness to this Administration's neofascist tendencies, contributed to needless carnage, attacks on individual rights and the creation of dozens of covert CIA gulags around the world. Every time someone was raped at Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base or Gitmo, Tom Friedman and Christopher Hitchens and Bill O'Reilly and David Brooks were de facto accomplices.

The WordPerfect Warriors' journalistic failings are even more pronounced than their moral ones. On an issue with enormous political and historical ramifications for our country, they got the story wrong. They believed in WMDs at a time when the vintage of the government's evidence (none of it was more recent than 1998) ought to have tripped BS detectors. They trusted the White House's promises to rebuild Iraq despite its dismal record in Afghanistan. They never considered that removing a dictator who had killed all of his major opponents might open up a power vacuum. And they never questioned Bush's original sin, his partisan politicization of 9/11.

They should have known better—lots of us did. Or they did know better and lied about it. Whether their integrity or their intelligence was compromised, they should never again be taken seriously.

The pro-war pundits got the biggest story of their careers dead wrong. Now a lot of people are wrongly dead. The fact that this sorry lot still draw paychecks is a tribute to America's infinite capacity for forgiveness.