Jun 1 2008

NYT Iraq War ‘Debate’ Excludes Critics

Paper’s panel features nine hawkish ‘experts’

Photo Credit: New York Times

Photo Credit: New York Times

The New York Times’ “Week in Review” has now offered two panels of opinion on the Iraq War—one on March 16 pondering the fifth anniversary of the invasion, the other on May 4 commemorating George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech—that completely excluded the views of those who opposed the war in 2003.

The March 16 Times explained to readers:

To mark this week’s fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the Op-Ed page asked nine experts on military and foreign affairs to reflect on their attitudes in the spring of 2003 and to comment on the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wished they had considered in the prewar debate.

The nine “experts” who were asked to contribute were all initial supporters, to varying degrees, of the Iraq War, and most have since evinced no regret about their errors. The neoconservative American Enterprise Institute provided three of the nine columnists: Richard Perle, Fred Kagan and Danielle Pletka, all among the strongest advocates for the invasion. The Times also gave space to the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack, another strong supporter of the invasion.

Featured as well were former Iraq envoy L. Paul Bremer and retired Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who trained Iraqi military early in the war. Former Marine Nathaniel Fick of the Center for a New American Security, who took part in the invasion of Iraq as a platoon leader, was also included.

Another Times panelist was Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who served as an on-air defense analyst for ABC News. Cordesman often warned of planning or logistical problems with the invasion, but supported it nonetheless: “I endorse this war, but I do so with reluctance and considerable uncertainty,” Cordesman declared in testimony prepared for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (2/12/03).

The final columnist was Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, generally considered a “liberal hawk.” Like Cordesman, Slaughter was less supportive of the Iraq War than other hawks. But in a column for the New York Times just prior to the invasion (“Good Reasons for Going Around the U.N.,” 3/18/03), Slaughter argued that the Bush administration’s decision to bypass a Security Council vote could work out once weapons of mass destruction were found, and the Iraqi people rallied behind the U.S.-led intervention.

None of these commentators, looking back on the war’s fifth anniversary, concluded that the United States ought to stop occupying Iraq. Pletka’s piece begins, “The mantra of the antiwar left—‘Bush lied, people died’—so dominates the debate about the run-up to the Iraq war that it has obscured real issues that deserve examination.” But the “debate” in the New York Times completely excluded the antiwar perspective, left-wing or otherwise.

On May 4, the “Week in Review” section featured the exact same line-up of “experts,” in order to look back at Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech through the eyes of people like Perle—who, five years ago, penned an op-ed for USA Today (5/2/03) headlined “Relax, Celebrate Victory”—and Pletka, who five years ago declared on CNBC (5/2/03), “We just won a war in Iraq.”

The Times said it had asked the panel to “identify a significant challenge facing the American and Iraqi leadership today and to propose one specific step to help overcome that challenge.” As FAIR asked in an open letter to the Times (5/6/08), “Why is the Times only interested in hearing Iraq War advocates address those issues?”

New York Times op-ed page editor David Shipley (7/31/05) has described the op-ed page as “a venue for people with a wide range of perspectives, experiences and talents,” writing that he aims for “a lively page of clashing opinions, one where as many people as possible have the opportunity to make the best arguments they can.” It’s hard to see how Shipley can argue that his assembly of pro-war voices looking back on the war’s milestones merits that description.