Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, September 15, 2011 7:05 pm

Why John Cole is better than The New York Times


John Cole was a Republican who supported invading Iraq in 2003.

Bill Keller is the editor of The New York Times, whose flawed reporting contributed significantly to the perception that the U.S. needed to invade Iraq.

Here is what Bill Keller says about his role in that fiasco:

Where does this leave me? The world is well rid of Saddam Hussein. But knowing as we now do the exaggeration of Hussein’s threat, the cost in Iraqi and American lives and the fact that none of this great splurge has bought us confidence in Iraq’s future or advanced the cause of freedom elsewhere — I think Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental blunder.

Whether it was wrong to support the invasion at the time is a harder call. [Emphasis added; see below — Lex] I could not foresee that we would mishandle the war so badly, but I could see that there was no clear plan for — and at the highest levels, a shameful smugness about — what came after the invasion. I could not have known how bad the intelligence was, but I could see that the White House and the Pentagon were so eager to go that they were probably indifferent to any evidence that didn’t fit their scenario. I could see that they had embraced Chalabi, the exile cheerleader for war, despite considerable suspicion within the State Department and elsewhere that he was a charlatan. I could have seen, had I looked hard enough, that even by the more dire appraisals of Hussein’s capabilities he did not amount to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called in a very different context “a clear and present danger.” But I wanted to be on the side of doing something, and standing by was not enough.

And here is what Cole — who, by the way, is no longer a Republican — says about what Bill Keller says:

What a bunch of mealy-mouthed bullshit, particularly the highlighted part. The war has been a complete and total disaster, and you don’t just get to grant yourself absolution by claiming it was a tough call. The simple fact of the matter is that warmongering cheerleaders like me and Keller got it wrong. The difference between me and Keller is I have the balls to admit I was wrong. Lots and lots of people with the exact same information we had got it right. Not only did they get it right, but they were chided and derided by folks like me, and in some cases were investigated by the CIA or had their covert cover blown.

So STFU, Keller. You were wrong then, as was I, and you haven’t learned a damned thing in the decade since other than the most important thing in our modern political and media environment is to never admit you were wrong.

For the record, I, too, supported the invasion, mainly because of the claims that Saddam had or was close to getting nuclear weapons and because I naively believed that the U.S. government wouldn’t lie us into a war again (remember the Gulf of Tonkin?). And I, too, was wrong. I apologize for that. I take a little comfort in the fact that I didn’t chide or deride those who disagreed with me, but not much.

And I think Cole’s larger point is crucial. Those who were right — about Iraq, about the housing bubble, about the widespread mortgage fraud — are still being chided and derided. Certainly they were not being given positions of responsibility and authority as a reward for their having been correct. Hell, they’re almost never even showing up on the Sunday-morning talk shows. Meanwhile, toads and worse like Doug Feith and John Yoo are rewarded for their wrongness. (Keller, for his part, should have lost his job over Judy Miller alone.)

Behavior like that is not how a great country stays great.

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