I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Death of Shame in our Pundit Class

(updated below)

With virtually all of the predictions made by proponents of the Iraq invasion having been proven false, with a true strategic disaster on our hands, and with most of the country having concluded that the war was a mistake, war supporters have been desperately searching around for some way to salvage their reputations. On Thursday, John Hinderaker unleashed this self-justifying plea:

In truth, we likely won't know whether the Iraq war was a success or a failure, a good idea or a bad idea, for another twenty or thirty years, when the consequences of the effort not only in Iraq, but throughout the region, become clear. For now, we can only guess.

So even though it looks like everything war supporters said before the invasion was false and the war looks like a huge mistake, we can't actually know for sure until 2 or 3 decades from now, so we should check back with them in around 2026 or so. But that wasn't what Hinderaker - or his fellow Bush followers -- were saying back in April, 2003, a time when they were triumphantly proclaiming instantaneoues victory and insisting that those who opposed the invasion should forever hang their heads in shame because of how wrong they were.

Hinderaker's plea that we won't know for 20 years if the Iraq war was a good idea prompted me to go and read what he was saying in April, 2003, which then led me to the comments he was excitedly pointing to during that time from the likes of Charles Krauthammer, Ralph Peters, Victor Davis Hanson and other similar types who were publicly engaged in all sorts of triumphant chest-beating war dances.

Until you go back and actually read what was being said at the time, you don't really appreciate just how intense and deceitful was the propaganda and falsehoods spewing forth from every corner. People like Victor Davis Hanson and the Powerline buddies were not just wrong in what they were saying, although they were that. And it's not just that their judgment was severely flawed, although it was.

Far worse than that is the fact that they really were living in a world that did not exist -- a fantasy world so plainly free of facts and reality that it is truly disturbing to recall that so much of the country was propagandized into believing it. Going back and reading it really creates the sensation of people who were living in a world that combines the worst elements of Disney World and Pravda. Our experts and pundits were literally describing a world that did not exist and making claims that could not have been any further removed from reality. Put simply, anyone who read them, listened to them or believed them at the time was completely misguided and misinformed about reality.

If there were any intellectual honesty in our political dialogue, people like Hinderaker and Peters and Hanson would be disgraced into silence. The falsity of their factual claims and the monumental error of their judgments are tantamount to a surgeon who removes the wrong organ, or a lawyer who sleeps through a murder trial, or a journalist who invents facts for his stories. Certain errors are so fundamental, embarrassing and reflective of a deficiency in judgment and an lack of trustworthiness that they stay with those individuals as an albatross around their necks for many years -- and rightfully so, because they are so credibility-destroying.

There is real value in examining this record. Despite their humiliating mistakes and deceit, people like Hinderaker, Hanson, Charles Krauthammer and others have not been disgraced into silence; to the contrary, they are still claiming the right to dictate how we proceed with our foreign policy, both in Iraq and beyond. I recently wrote a post at C&L comparing the prescient and wise judgments of Howard Dean regarding the war to the fundamentally false claims made at the time by war proponents, and said this:

This is worth noting not because this is a time for recriminations or because of the satisfaction which one can derive from a celebratory "I-told-you-so" moment. It is critical to focus on who was right about this war because this country, right now, has extremely difficult choices to make with regard to the disaster it has created in Iraq – and the first choice is whose judgment and foreign policy wisdom ought to be listened to and accorded respect.

FAIR (h/t Atrios) recently compiled some truly amazing examples of what our pundit class was saying about the Iraq was in April and May of 2003. Following are some excerpts from those who continue to hold themselves out as military and political experts -- those who insisted back in April, 2003 that war opponents had the obligation to keep quiet and admit their shattering defeat, but who refuse to apply those standards to themselves in light of their horrendous, incredibly destructive errors:

Powerline, April 25, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson for National Review Online suggests that the war against Saddam Hussein may actually have been the "hard part" and that there are many good reasons for optimism about what lies ahead in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

Powerline, April 22, 2003

The end of the Iraq war
has slowed, but by no means stopped, "antiwar" activity.

Brendan Miniter, Assistant Editor, Wall St. Journal's Opinion

It's amazing that more than two weeks into the liberation of Iraq--as residents in Basra are cheering British forces and Americans occupy Baghdad's airport and Saddam Hussein's main presidential palace--the antiwar crowd is still spinning a doomsday scenario. But it's getting harder and harder to take seriously the claim that freeing Iraq will make it harder to win the war on terrorism.

Indeed, there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. U.S. forces apparently found chemical weapons yesterday.

Victor Davis Hanson, National Review Online, April 25, 2003

Iran may think it smart to use its fundamentalist agents to undermine the American achievement in Iraq. But look at the newly constituted map, where it suddenly finds itself surrounded by reformist movements. The omnipresence of the United States, twenty years of failure inside Iran, and the attractions of American popular culture will insidiously undermine the medieval reign of the mullahs faster than it can do harm to the foundations of democracy in Baghdad. . . .

We also must keep the projected costs in perspective. Despite the frenzied charges, we probably so far have spent no more $30 billion on the military operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom — not the "hundreds of billions" forecast by alarmists who sometimes slipped into "trillions."

Victor Davis Hanson, National Review Online, April 17, 2003

A fair historical assessment will soon emerge that attributes our victory not to Iraqi weaknesses per se. Rather it was the American ability on the ground and air in a matter of hours to decapitate the command-and-control apparatus of the Baathist regime that alone allowed bridges, oil wells, power plants, and harbors to be saved, and chemical weapons not to be used.

Powerline, April 26, 2003

It is easy enough in nearly all cases to determine who has won a war. However, I do not know of any criteria for determining who has won a peace. No doubt, this is why liberals have recently embraced the phrase. They can't deny that President Bush has won his two wars, and won them resoundingly. But liberals still can make the nebulous, unverifiable claim that he has lost, or will soon lose, the peace.

Powerline, April 21, 2003

Judith Miller, writing in Monday's New York Times, records what could be a breakthrough in the search for illicit weapons of mass destruction.

Some time ago, an Iraqi passed a note to American soldiers saying that he was a scientist who had worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program. The note languished for a while because the troops were fighting and because similar tips had proved to be blind alleys. But a few days ago, a MET Alpha chemical weapons detection team from the 101st Airborne tracked the man down, and he led them to buried chemical weapons components. So far, his story seems to check out--and if what is now being reported is true, it's dynamite.

The scientist stole documents, samples, and other evidence of the program that he worked on, and buried them in his back yard. He says that in the days before the war started, major efforts were undertaken to either destroy, bury or otherwise hide Iraq's illicit weapons. He reportedly has led American soldiers to at least one site where such weapons (or weapons components) are buried.

Powerline, on Dick Morris, April 15, 2003

"Never before have Americans had the chance to watch the establishment media while also seeing events unfold for themselves, live, on television. Our collective understanding of the dissonance between the two is breeding a distrust of the major news organs that will likely long outlast this war."

Morris' view is that establishment media like the New York Times, CBS, NBC and ABC have been shown to be absurdly pessimistic and wildly inaccurate:

"Each morning, we sat reading our copy of The New York Times, The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times and ruminated on their prophecies of doom and quagmire. Then we looked up to see, on television, correspondents actually embedded with our troops reporting quick advances, one-sided firefights, melting opposition and, finally, welcoming crowds."

Hinderaker in particular posted joyous and glorious photograps almost on a daily basis showing how our trimphant troops were welcomed as liberators by Iraqis, and they usually included captions from Hinderaker like this, from April 30, 2003:

With the war in Iraq winding down, the daily photos in Army Times include scenes of joyful homecomings.

Charles Krauthammer, April 19, 2003

"The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper Westside liberals, and a few people here in Washington."

Given all of this profoundly false misinformation they were being fed, it is no wonder that the vast majority of Americans -- both Democrats and Republicans -- strongly supported the war. As Powerline celebrated back then:

The latest Fox News poll data are out, based on interviews conducted April 8-9. No surprises; 81% support the military action in Iraq, and 68% strongly support it. The President's approval rating is positive by a 71% to 20% margin. General satisfaction with the progress of the war and with our military is no surprise.

And Hinkeraker's comment from April 15, 2003 reminds us of the disgusting climate which these deceivers created -- where those who (accurately and wisely) questioned the war or disputed the war proponents' false propaganda were stigmatized with the worst labels possible:

I don't think we're at the point yet where Bill Clinton can officially be called a traitor, but he certainly is making a career out of giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

It is truly difficult to understand how these same people can continue to pompously opine on these matters, and still claim an entitlement to be listened to, without at least confessing their errors. The magnitude of misinformation and deceit in which our country was drowning during that time is difficult to convey. And from the fact that 70% of the country had been falsely persuaded that Saddam personally participated in the planning of the 9/11 attacks to the way in which our media mindlessly swallowed and regurgitated outright military fiction such as the Jessica Lynch fantasies, this carousel of shame and deceit is virtually endless.

There are not many episodes in our national history which can compete with the invasion of Iraq in terms of the profound failures of every one of our institutions -- failures which allowed this sort of deceit and detachment from reality to persist. But until we identify those responsible and end the influence which they continue to exert over our political dialogue, we will continue to be at risk of following them down these same deceitful, destructive paths.

UPDATE: One of the points to emphasize here, which may not have been sufficiently clear, is that these war advocates were not content to simply run around clucking about how right they were, but were insistent that those who oppose the war admit their error and be ashamed. Here is a particularly illustrative example from Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, on April 11, 2003 (h/t Zack and Tom Tomorrow):


Yeah, there has been a lot of pro-war gloating. And I guess that Dawn Olsen's cautionary advice about gloating is appropriate. So maybe we shouldn't rub in just how wrong, and morally corrupt the antiwar case was. Maybe we should rise above the temptation to point out that claims of a "quagmire" were wrong -- again! -- how efforts at moral equivalence were obscenely wrong -- again! -- how the antiwar folks are still, far too often, trying to move the goalposts rather than admit their error -- again -- and how an awful lot of the very same people who spoke lugubriously about "civilian casualties" now seem almost disappointed that there weren't more -- again -- and how many people who spoke darkly about the Arab Street and citizens rising up against American "liberators" were proven wrong -- again -- as the liberators were seen as just that by the people they were liberating. And I suppose we shouldn't stress so much that the antiwar folks were really just defending the interests of French oil companies and Russian arms-deal creditors. It's probably a bad idea to keep rubbing that point in over and over again.


At least as far as I know, Glenn Reynolds has never corrected any of this, confessed error, or apologized to his readers for so drastically misleading them.

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