Publisher's Note — April 18, 2013, 11:48 am

No Reward for Being Right on Iraq

Where were the voices of conscience on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War?

A version of this column originally ran in the Providence Journal on April 18, 2013.

What’s the use of being right, in journalism or politics? I gave a lot of thought to this question during the tenth anniversary of the American–British invasion of Iraq, and I’ve come to the conclusion that being right is not much use at all, at least as far as career advancement goes.

I feel I speak with some authority. Having described as early as October 2002 key elements of the Bush White House’s fraudulent portrayal of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capability — and again in numerous published pieces and television and radio interviews right up until the bombardment of Baghdad began the following March — I’m struck by how little credit was accorded my fellow dissidents and how well, relatively, the wrongheaded hawks fared after President George W. Bush posed in front a sign declaring “mission accomplished.”

Setting the tone was the New York Times, which did so much to promote Bush’s (and Tony Blair’s) scam by publishing the “reporting” of Judith Miller and Michael Gordon. The headline of its March 20 story summed up America’s willful amnesia: “Iraq War’s 10th Anniversary Is Barely Noted in Washington.” So too was it barely noted in the Times — the article appeared on page A10, with no reference made to it on the front page.

But worse than the Times’s institutional indifference was its choice of “critics.” In this, the paper of record was on a par with other media, but it’s still remarkable that the principal opponents of Bush’s corrupt enterprise were almost nowhere to be found in U.S. retrospectives.

Where, for example, was Hans Blix, redoubtable leader of the U.N. inspection team that failed to find any evidence to support the White House fantasy that Saddam was on the verge of launching nuclear missiles at Tel Aviv, London and New York? Why didn’t we hear from Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Commission, who would not toe the Dick Cheney/Paul Wolfowitz/Donald Rumsfeld line? And what about Scott Ritter, the courageous former U.N. Special Commission inspector and ex-Marine, who tried his utmost to halt the rush to war armed only with fact and reason?

My copybook is blotted by decades of media criticism, so I didn’t expect to be invited on American talk shows to talk about Iraq and the failure of the press to counteract the propaganda campaign (though I did appear on a French radio program, Le Grand Bain). But where were Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, and ?John Walcott, the ace reporters for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, who separated themselves from the gullible pack and early on contradicted many of the major Bush fabrications? Why not publish recollections by Bob Simon and Solly Granatstein, who on the Dec. 8, 2002, 60 Minutes broadcast (on which I also appeared) permitted the physicist David Albright to demolish the fiction fomented by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were destined for use in building nuclear weapons? I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but I’m not aware that any of these stellar citizens were given the time of day by the U.S. media.

In the Times news story we did encounter one critic of the invasion, an ex-Army lieutenant colonel named ?John Nagl, whose chief qualification for being interviewed by reporter Peter Baker seemed to be that he fought in Iraq (which evidently gave him moral credibility) and that his op-ed piece was published in the same edition on Page A23. But despite his posture as a “critic,” Nagl managed to find in the Iraq invasion a “silver lining” in the form of “three flickers of light that offer some hope that the enormous price was not paid entirely in vain.”

Among the “flickers” was the “enormous distinction” exhibited in the war by our all-volunteer military. With due respect to the poor soldiers sent on this mission impossible, and to their families, it will take a few more years of research and analysis before we can make such a grand generalization.

Nagl’s op-ed, “What America Learned in Iraq,” would have been better addressed by two Vietnam combat veterans, Andrew Bacevich and former senator Jim Webb, who served honorably in a war only slightly less pointless and self-destructive than Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bacevich’s and Webb’s sons both served in Iraq — the former’s died, the latter’s survived — so one would think they possessed sufficient prestige for the task. But instead of Bacevich or Webb, Fareed Zakaria hosted Wolfowitz on his CNN show to “discuss the human and opportunity costs of what the U.S. won and lost in Iraq.”

For the proponents of war and their press agents, I’d say life is pretty good. Wolfowitz might still be running the World Bank were it not for a scandal involving his girlfriend’s salary. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are enjoying peaceful retirements, apparently unburdened by excessive guilt. Colin Powell has expressed regret for his false testimony before the U.N. Security Council, but I’m not aware that he’s experienced genuine remorse as he shills for a Silicon Valley venture-capital firm. And Hillary Clinton, who voted in the Senate to authorize Bush’s insane project, is the choice of 57 percent of Americans to run for president in 2016, according to a Washington Post poll taken in December.

Meanwhile, the supposedly disgraced Judith Miller is doing just fine as a Fox News contributor, while Gordon continues to work for the New York Times. Jeffrey Goldberg, who promoted the phony Al Qaeda–Saddam connection in The New Yorker, seems to be thriving at the Atlantic. George Packer, everyone’s favorite liberal interventionist, is still shoveling received wisdom at The New Yorker, after publishing a commercially successful mea-culpa book about how wrong he was on Iraq.

And Scott Ritter? Well, Scott Ritter is doing one to five in the Laurel Highlands State Correctional Institution, in Somerset, Pennsylvania, convicted of trawling the Internet for underage girls. I don’t know if he was entrapped, as he claims, but I do know his interview last year with The New York Times Magazine is worth citing: “What’s the relevance of being right 10 years ago? I don’t know — talk about all the dead Americans. It’s relevant to their families, I would think. Talk about the tens of thousands of wounded Americans and the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis. . . . Everybody who lied about the war got rewarded because they played the game. Tell the truth about the war, you don’t get rewarded.”

Share
Single Page
is the publisher of Harper's Magazine. This column was originally published in the Providence Journal.

More from John R. MacArthur:

Publisher's Note December 13, 2019, 5:40 pm

The Art of Persuasion

“Making fun of the negative interest rates offered by some European banks, Trump sniggered, ‘Give me some of that…I want some of that money.’ In my corner of the hall, around table 121, several merry-faced brokers and accountants applauded.”

Publisher's Note November 11, 2019, 2:34 pm

A Fatal Rift

“In her quest for her party’s nomination, has Warren concluded a non-aggression pact with Hillary Clinton?”

Publisher's Note October 3, 2019, 4:07 pm

The Fourth Estate

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2020

Click Here to Kill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vicious Cycles

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Oceans Apart

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Forty-Year Rehearsal

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Whale Mother

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Click Here to Kill·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a sunny July day in 2018, Alexis Stern was sitting behind the wheel of the red Ford Fusion her parents had given her the previous year when she’d learned to drive. Robbie Olsen, the boy she’d recently started dating, was in the passenger seat. They were in the kind of high spirits unique to teenagers on summer vacation with nothing much to do and nowhere in particular to go. They were about to take a drive, maybe get some food, when Stern’s phone buzzed. It was the police. An officer with the local department told her to come down to the station immediately. She had no idea what the cops might want with her. “I was like, am I going to get arrested?” she said.

Stern had graduated from high school the month before, in Big Lake, Minnesota, a former resort town turned exurb, forty miles northwest of the Twin Cities. So far she had spent the summer visiting family, hanging out with her new boyfriend, and writing what she describes as “action-packed and brutal sci-fi fantasy fiction.” At sixteen, she’d self-published her first novel, Inner Monster, about a secret agent named Justin Redfield whose mind has been invaded by a malevolent alter ego that puts the lives of his loved ones at risk. “It isn’t until his inner demon returns that he realizes how much trouble he really is in,” the synopsis reads. “Facing issues with his girlfriend and attempting to gain control of his dark side, the tension intensifies. Being the best agent comes at a price, a price of kidnapping, torture and even death.

Article
Oceans Apart·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I had been in Domoni—an ancient, ramshackle trading town on the volcanic island of Anjouan—for only a few summer days in 2018 when Onzardine Attoumane, a local English teacher, offered to show me around the medina. Already I had gotten lost several times trying to navigate the dozens of narrow, seemingly indistinguishable alleyways that zigzagged around the old town’s crumbling, lava-rock homes. But Onzardine had grown up in Domoni and was intimately familiar with its contours.

Stocky in build, with small, deep-set eyes and neatly trimmed stubble, Onzardine led me through the backstreets, our route flanked by ferns and weeds sprouting from cracks in the walls and marked by occasional piles of rubble. After a few minutes, we emerged onto a sunlit cliff offering views of the mustard-colored hills that surround the town, dotted with mango, palm, and breadfruit trees. We clambered down a trail, past scrawny goats foraging through piles of discarded plastic bottles, broken flip-flops, and corroded aluminum cans, toward a ledge where a dozen young men were waiting for the fishing boats to return to shore, gazing blankly out across the sea.

Article
Vicious Cycles·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

This is what I feared, that she would speak about the news . . . about how her father always said that the news exists so it can disappear, this is the point of news, whatever story, wherever it is happening. We depend on the news to disappear . . .
—Don DeLillo, “Hammer and Sickle”

What a story. What a fucking story.
—Dean Baquet, on the election of Donald Trump

a circular conversation

What is the news? That which is new. But everything is new: a flower blooms; a man hugs his daughter, not for the first time, but for the first time this time . . . That which is important and new. Important in what sense? In being consequential. And this has been measured? What? The relationship between what is covered in the news and what is consequential. Not measured. Why? Its consequence is ensured. Ensured. . . ? It’s in the news. But then who makes it news? Editors. Editors dictate consequence? Not entirely. Not entirely? It matters what people read and watch—you can’t bore them. Then boredom decides? Boredom and a sense of what’s important. But what is important? What’s in the news.

Article
The Forty-Year Rehearsal·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On the evening of May 8, just after eight o’clock, Kate Valk stepped onstage and faced the audience. The little playhouse was packed with hardcore fans, theater people and artists, but Kate was performing, most of all, for one person, hidden among them, a small, fine-boned, black-clad woman, her blond-gray hair up in a clip, who smiled, laughed, and nodded along with every word, swaying to the music and mirroring the emotions of the performers while whispering into the ear of the tall, bearded fellow who sat beside her madly scribbling notes. The woman was Elizabeth LeCompte—known to all as Liz—the director of the Wooster Group, watching the first open performance of the company’s new piece, Since I Can Remember.

It had been a tense day, full of opening-night drama. Gareth Hobbs, who would be playing a leading role, had been sick in bed for days with a 103-degree fever, and he’d only arrived at the theater, still shaky, at three-thirty that afternoon. During the final closed rehearsal, performer Suzzy Roche fell on her elbow, then felt faint and had to lie prone while her colleagues fanned her and fetched ice. At one point, Erin Mullin, the stage manager as well as a performer, shouted: “We have one hour left, and we’re on page eight of fifty!” Not to mention that the piece still had no ending.

Article
Election Bias·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the spring of 2018, Tequila Johnson, an African-American administrator at Tennessee State University, led a mass voter-registration drive organized by a coalition of activist groups called the Tennessee Black Voter Project. Turnout in Tennessee regularly ranks near the bottom among U.S. states, just ahead of Texas. At the time, only 65 percent of the state’s voting-age population was registered to vote, the shortfall largely among black and low-income citizens. “The African-American community has been shut out of the process, and voter suppression has really widened that gap,” Johnson told me. “I felt I had to do something.”

The drive generated ninety thousand applications. Though large numbers of the forms were promptly rejected by election officials, allegedly because they were incomplete or contained errors, turnout surged in that year’s elections, especially in the areas around Memphis and Nashville, two of the cities specifically targeted by the registration drive. Progressive candidates and causes achieved notable successes, capturing the mayor’s office in heavily populated Shelby County as well as several seats on the county commission. In Nashville, a local measure was passed introducing a police-accountability board.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

The Chevrolet Suburban sport utility vehicle was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today