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The Media Doesn’t Get a Do-Over on Iraq

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The Charles Koch Institute, in conjunction with RealClearDefense, recently issued a fascinating though unsurprising study of American public opinion about the Iraq War. Almost four in 10 of respondents—36 percent—said the war made America “less safe,” while 47 percent said the war made the Middle East “less stable.” Just 32 percent said they supported from the start.

Times certainly have changed people’s minds and memories. A Gallup poll conducted in late March 2003 found 72 percent of Americans supported the war, which was only a few weeks old. Though it is clear that many Americans “misremember” the moment their support for our endeavors in Iraq started to wane, it’s clear that after having taken measure of the fighting and the bloody occupation that followed, most Americans are rightly skeptical of it.

Judging from the words and actions of most pundits, America’s elite also believes the Iraq War was a mistake. Despite their public repudiation of the Iraq War—and the endless denouncements of George W. Bush from that time—the majority of pundits and journalists in the media served as cheerleaders to the George W. Bush effort to invade Iraq. Yes, there were those who were always skeptical in the press. But they were by no means the majority.

Syndicated columnist Jamie Stiehm attributed the media’s cheerleading of the Bush Administration in the run-up to Iraq as the result of “hero worship” of such Desert Storm figures as Colin Powell and Dick Cheney. She might be onto something.

During Desert Storm—the “good war” in Iraq—the United States overcame that pesky Vietnam syndrome with a 100-hour military campaign that resulted in the destruction of the fourth largest army in the world. Desert Storm also affirmed America’s global military dominance, and it liberated Kuwait. It was a good time to be an American, and that euphoric period created a sense of nostalgia even among America’s cynical press corps following the atrocity of 9/11.

Powell, the popular retired general who led the war in 1991, was secretary of state under President George W. Bush at the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Powell gave a stunning performance at the United Nations, which confirmed the most salacious claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He was known to the press as a moderate—even liberal—Republican who opted not to run for president in 1996 because of his pro-choice stance on abortion. Powell’s liberal bona fides helped to get the mainstream media’s support for the war.

Moreover, Vice President Dick Cheney had a positive reputation among the press when it came to foreign policy in the lead up to the war. While he had engendered some animosity from the Left during the contentious 2000 presidential election, all was forgiven after 9/11—for a little while anyway. The Beltway establishment had always viewed Cheney as a realist in foreign policy. As the secretary of defense under former President George H.W. Bush, Cheney was the man who convinced Bush, Sr. to end the war after America liberated Kuwait, rather than pressing on to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. If even Cheney, the realist, and Powell, the dove, would support George W. Bush’s “war of choice” in Iraq, then the media would, too.

After 9/11, the United States was looking for someone else to bloody up in the Middle East. The war in Afghanistan had gone by too quickly. America’s seeming victory over the Taliban was not big enough for the Washington political class to reap any rewards from it. And, besides, Osama bin Laden remained at large. According to the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke (who served under both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld complained there weren’t “enough targets [to bomb] in Afghanistan.”

Iraq would be different.

Most of the mainstream media folks who supported the war—from Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria to Joe Scarborough and David Ignatius—ultimately turned on it within a year of the invasion. But the media elite, the so-called thought leaders, were wrong from the beginning. Their initial support and public cheerleading for the war was a major reason why so many Americans took the Bush Administration’s claims about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons at face value.

Looking back on his outspoken support for the Iraq War recently, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said that he wished he could take back all of the columns that he wrote on the eve of the war.

Sorry, David—no do-overs.

The very people who pushed us into Iraq (and now have supreme regrets about it) now are agitating against Donald Trump’s presidency. Every single one of these pundits and “experts” in the media should be ignored and lampooned every day for the rest of their lives for the damage that they have done—and continue to do—to our republic.

The Washington Post says, “Democracy dies in darkness.” Well, democracy today is being smothered by ignorance—and the mainstream media spreads this ignorance every day.

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Photo credit: Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

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