The value of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary seems to have depreciated over the last decade or so; New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman received it in 2002, around about the time he was assuring the public that the Bush Administration had a fantastic strategy in place for winning the Afghan war (and noting a couple of months later that the Taliban had been totally and eternally defeated). And then there is Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who shares Friedman's unfortunate record as a prognosticator while lacking his colleague's studied benevolence.
As is demonstrated in my latest Vanity Fair piece, Krauthammer is among those allegedly top-tier pundits who seem to have risen to prominence largely due to inertia. Note, for instance, his dismal record with regards to the U.S.-Kosovo conflict:
When NATO sought to derail another potential Balkan genocide by way of its 1999 air bombing campaign against Serbia, Krauthammer denounced the move as mere wide-eyed liberal amateurism on the part of Clinton, arguing that air strikes would be insufficient to force Milosevic out of Kosovo. Bizarrely enough, he tried to convince his readers that General Wesley Clark agreed, quoting the then-NATO commander as telling Jim Lehrer, "We never thought that through air power we could stop these killings on the ground." But the columnist leaves out the rest of Clark's answer, in which it is explained that "the person who has to stop this is President Milosevic" and that the purpose of the air campaign was to force him to do just that. For good measure, Krauthammer also criticizes Clinton for playing golf in the midst of conflict ("The stresses of war, no doubt"); he seems to have changed his mind on the propriety of such stress-relief measures around 2002 or so.
Even after the Kosovo campaign proved successful, Krauthammer remained ideologically committed to chaos in the Balkans, having also predicted in 1999 that NATO involvement "would sever Kosovo from Serbian control and lead inevitably to an irredentist Kosovar state, unstable and unviable and forced to either join or take over pieces of neighboring countries." When an ethnic Albanian insurgency arose in Macedonia along its border with UN-administered Kosovo in 2001, he felt himself vindicated, announcing that "the Balkans are on the verge of another explosion," making several references to Vietnam, and characterizing our continued presence in the region as a "quagmire." The violence ended within the year, having claimed less than 80 lives. Kosovo has since joined both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; Macedonia is preparing for membership in NATO and the European Union.
Krauthammer is, of course, still at large. Once a pundit is hired, he rarely faces the prospect of being fired. Having achieved a certain level of name recognition, his real job is already done.
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