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[xmca] seven years


War in Iraq, Seven Years On


March 19, 2010

The seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq war dawned today with very
little notice in the media, despite the huge (and ongoing) costs of the war,
not the least of which the nearly 4400 dead US military personnel and at
least 100,000 deceased Iraqi civilians. What we have heard from
commentators, again, this year is that the US went to war with the
overwhelming support of the public and the press. Actually, this is a myth.

It's true that polls showed that Americans believed Saddam had WMD--and no
wonder, given the deceitful propaganda from the Bush administration--and
that they backed an invasion if it came to that. But most surveys also
showed a clear split between those who wanted to go to war soon, and those
who wanted to wait for more diplomacy or to give the United Nations
inspectors more time to work (remember, they had found nothing and then were
withdrawn by the president).
Another myth: the nation's newspapers on their editorial pages backed the
invasion strongly.

You may be surprised to learn that, precisely five years ago, at least
one-third of the top newspapers in this country came out against President
Bush taking us to war at that time. Many of the papers may have fumbled the
WMD coverage, and only timidly raised questions about the need for war, but
when push came to shove five years ago they wanted to wait longer to move
against Saddam, or not move at all.

"For apparently the first time in modern history, the US government seems
poised to go to war not only lacking the support of many of its key allies
abroad but also without the enthusiastic backing of the majority of major
newspapers at home," Ari Berman (then my chief intern, later a Nation
stalwart) and I wrote at Editor & Publisher on March 19, 2003. Berman had
just completed his fifth and final prewar survey of the top 50 newspapers'
editorial positions.

I had certainly been critical of overall press coverage of the war--and the
editorial writers and pundits largely backed the adventure for years--but at
least there was some sense of protest on the eve of the invasion.

Following Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein on March 17, newspapers
took their last opportunity to sound off before the war started. Of the 44
papers publishing editorials about the war, roughly one-third reiterated
strong support for the White House, one-third repeated their abiding
opposition to it, and the rest--with further debate now useless--took a more
philosophical approach.

But, in the end, the majority agreed that the Bush administration had badly
mishandled the crisis. Most papers sharply criticized Washington's
diplomatic efforts, putting the nation on the eve of a pre-emptive war
without U.N. Security Council support--and expressed fears for the future
despite an inevitable victory.

Once equivocal editorial pages got straight to the point. "This war crowns a
period of terrible diplomatic failure," The New York Times argued,
"Washington's worst in at least a generation. The Bush administration now
presides over unprecedented American might. What it risks squandering is not
Americans' power, but an essential part of our glory."

Other papers were even more blunt. The Sun of Baltimore, consistently one of
the most passionate dissenters on the war, began their editorial with the
sentence, "This war is wrong. It is wrong as a matter of principle, but,
more importantly, it is wrong as a matter of practical policy."

USA Today asked Bush to finally disclose risks, costs, and democratic
government estimates for Iraq while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wondered
"what 'the peaceful entry' of 280,000 troops would look like." The Arizona
Republic in Phoenix said that Bush and his "coalition of the willing," with
prodding by the French, "have left the United Nations in tatters."

The Houston Chronicle said it remained "unconvinced" that attack was
preferable to containment, and The Orange County Register of Santa Ana,
Calif., declared it was "unpersuaded" that the threat posed by the "vile"
Hussein justified military action now. The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News
wrote, "War might have been avoided, had the administration been sincere
about averting it."

Even a hawkish paper expressed criticism. "The war will be conducted with
less support than the cause should have commanded," the Washington Post, in
backing the attack, wrote. "The Bush administration has raised the risks
through its insistence on an accelerated timetable, its exaggerated rhetoric
and its insensitive diplomacy; it has alienated allies and multiplied the
number of protestors in foreign capitals."

There was always in the run-up a group of roughly a dozen papers that
strongly supported regime change as the only acceptable vehicle toward
Iraq's disarmament. They included The Wall Street Journal, New York Post,
New York Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, and Boston Herald. They continued
their praise of the president this week and celebrated the fact that "the
regime of Saddam Hussein is doomed," as The Kansas City (Mo.) Star put it.

The majority of papers, however, remained deeply troubled by the position
the U.S. found itself in. Even large papers such as the Los Angeles Times,
The Oregonian in Portland, and Newsday of Melville, N.Y., which have long
advocated (or at least accepted) using force to disarm Hussein, criticized
their president as he prepared to send young men and women into battle.

"The road to imminent war has been a bumpy one, clumsily traveled by the
Bush administration," The Buffalo (N.Y.) News wrote. "The global coalition
against terror forged after the atrocities of 9/11 is virtually shattered.
The explanation as to why Iraq presents an imminent threat requiring
immediate action has not been clear and compelling."

Many papers expressed hopes that a better world could prevail. "So the
United States apparently will go to war with few allies and in the face of
great international opposition," the L.A. Times said. "This is an uncharted
path ... to an uncertain destination. We desperately hope to be wrong in our
trepidation about the consequences here and abroad."


Greg Mitchell's new blog for The Nation, Media Fix, will be launched next
month. His Twitter feed is already up @MediaFixBlog. He is the author of
nine books, including So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and
the President Failed on Iraq.

About Greg Mitchell
Greg Mitchell, editor and writer of Media Fix on TheNation.com, was editor
of the newspaper trade publication Editor and Publisher and is co-author,
with Robert Jay Lifton, of Hiroshima in America and Who Owns Death?. more...
Copyright © 2009 The Nation

Michael D. Boatright
Graduate Assistant
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Language and Literacy Education
University of Georgia
125 Aderhold Hall
Athens, GA 30602
mdb@uga.edu (currently being forwarded to)
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