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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Posted: March 25, 2008 10:31 AM

David Brooks: No Apologies 5 Years Later


Given the current tragedy in Iraq -- hell, given the past five years -- you would think the many pundits who agitated for an attack on Iraq, largely on false pretenses, would have take the opportunity of the arrival of the fifth anniversary of the war (or the 4,000 dead milestone) to drop to their knees, at least figuratively, and beg the American public for forgiveness. With more than 60 percent of their fellow Americans now calling the war a "mistake" and agitating for troop withdrawals -- and the president's approval rating still heading south, thanks to their war -- it would seem to be the right thing to do. We won't even mention the maiming of more than 20,000 young Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Let's take David Brooks of The New York Times, for example, and what he wrote exactly five years ago when he was writing for The Weekly Standard. Ironically, he even attacked his present employer, The Times. The Weekly Standard, of course, was edited by Bill Kristol, who has an even worse track record on the war. Naturally, not one, but both, of them were later rewarded with key New York Times op-ed slots. Two for the price of -- two!

Brooks is among those who have long argued that they actually got the war right, but Donald Rumsfeld made it wrong. In other words, war good, Rummy bad. He has emphasized that he and many of his fellow pundits had it right at the time in urging more boots on the ground. They were "prescient," he relates. But Rumsfeld and his crowd "got things wrong, and the pundits often got things right."

He never cites any of his own views at the time, obviously hoping that readers will place him among those pundits that "got things right." And also: please forget that he was a strong supporter of the invasion to start with.

In fact, he bears special blame -- shame -- not only for his writing, but for serving as senior editor of the most influential pro-war publication, The Weekly Standard.

He may want you to forget what he wrote five years ago, but here's a trip down memory lane with Our Mr. Brooks.

From his column in The Weekly Standard, March 10, 2003:

"The American commentariat is gravely concerned. Over the past week, George W. Bush has shown a disturbing tendency not to waffle when it comes to Iraq. There has been an appalling clarity and coherence to his position. There has been a reckless tendency not to be murky, hesitant, or evasive. Naturally, questions are being raised about President Bush's leadership skills.


"Meanwhile, among the smart set, Hamlet-like indecision has become the intellectual fashion. The liberal columnist E. J. Dionne wrote in The Washington Post that he is uncomfortable with the pro- and anti-war camps. He praised the doubters and raised his colors on behalf of 'heroic ambivalence.' The New York Times, venturing deep into the territory of self-parody, ran a full-page editorial calling for 'still more discussion' on whether or not to go to war.

"In certain circles, it is not only important what opinion you hold, but how you hold it. It is important to be seen dancing with complexity, sliding among shades of gray. Any poor rube can come to a simple conclusion -- that President Saddam Hussein is a menace who must be disarmed--but the refined ratiocinators want to be seen luxuriating amid the difficulties, donning the jewels of nuance, even to the point of self-paralysis.

"But those who actually have to lead and protect, and actually have to build one step on another, have to bring some questions to a close. Bush gave Saddam time to disarm. Saddam did not. Hence, the issue of whether to disarm him forcibly is settled. The French and the Germans and the domestic critics may keep debating, which is their luxury, but the people who actually make the decisions have moved on to more practical concerns. . . ."


From his Weekly Standard column two weeks later:

"The president has remained resolute. Momentum to liberate Iraq continues to build. The situation has clarified, and history will allow clear judgments about which leaders and which institutions were up to the challenge posed by Saddam and which were not.


"Over the past 12 years the United States has sought to disarm or depose Saddam -- more forcefully since September 11 than before. Throughout that time, France and Russia have sought to undermine sanctions and fend off the ousting of Saddam. They opposed Clinton's efforts to bomb Saddam, just as they oppose Bush's push for regime change. Through the fog and verbiage, that is the essential confrontation. Events will show who was right, George W. Bush or Jacques Chirac.

"What matters, and what ultimately sprang the U.N. trap, is American resolve. The administration simply wouldn't let up. It didn't matter how Hans Blix muddied the waters with his reports on this or that weapons system. Under the U.N. resolutions, it was up to Saddam to disarm, administration officials repeated ad nauseam, and he wasn't doing it. It was and is sheer relentlessness that has driven us to where we are today.

"Which is ironic. We are in this situation because the first Bush administration was not relentless in its pursuit of Saddam Hussein. That is a mistake this Bush administration will not repeat."

Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It has been hailed by our Arianna, Bill Moyers, Glenn Greenwald and others, and features a foreword by Joe Galloway and preface by Bruce Springteen.