The Washington Post Goes to War

On Sunday, Aug. 18, 2002, the Washington Post ran an editorial, an ombudsman column, and three op-eds about a potential U.S. attack on Iraq, as well as two related articles. One article, placed on the top of the front page, reported on a memo that “Defense” Secretary Rumsfeld sent to the White House and the media. “Defense” officials were worried that countries such as Iraq or Iran could use cruise missile technology to attack “U.S. installations or the American homeland.” The article admitted that “no particular piece of new intelligence prompted the warning.”

So, the United States government places soldiers and weapons in and near other countries, worries that someone might attack them (or the “American homeland”), and persuades its quasi-state-newspaper to present that as news. Why, if not to manufacture a lame excuse to attack another country?

The second Post article on August 18 urged the U.S. “President” to hurry up and argue for an attack on Iraq before opponents of such an attack raised their voices too loudly. The headline was, “White House Push for Iraqi Strike Is On Hold: Waiting to Make Case for Action Allows Invasion Opponents to Dominate Debate.” While the article did touch on some of the opponents’ arguments, it mainly focused on arguments about how best to persuade the American public and European politicians to support a war.

The Post’s editorial also urged the White House to make its case for war, and advised it to do so on the grounds that Hussein had refused to get rid of weapons. Here’s the last paragraph of the editorial:

“A preemptive war carries another danger: that it will seem to legitimize aggression by any stronger nation against a weaker regime in disfavor. It has long seemed to us that targeting the weapons of Saddam Hussein carries a legitimacy that other such attacks would not, because the U.N. Security Council more than a decade ago demanded that he rid himself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and he has refused to do so. That is also a case that the administration must make more persuasively.”

The danger, of course, lies not in seeming to legitimize imperialistic violence, but in engaging in it and further enraging that majority of the planet that rightly sees it as illegitimate. Well, that and the danger of killing thousands of people.

Is a demand by the U.N. Security Council really a good enough excuse to bomb people? What, after all, have we done to promote peace in the past decade? We’ve deprived Iraqis of drinkable water and otherwise driven them to illness and death through malnutrition and disease. We’ve abandoned those who assisted in the last war. We’ve sent spies to Iraq under the guise of weapons inspectors. We’ve recalled our weapons inspectors and then claimed falsely that Hussein kicked them out. We’ve maintained troops throughout the region. And we’ve labeled the nation of Iraq “evil.” What if the U.N. Security Council were to demand that the United States rid itself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? Clearly, the United States has all three, while Iraq might not. Clearly, the United States would refuse such a demand. But then, it will never be made, because the United States sits on the U.N. Security Council while most countries do not.

The Post’s ombudsman column was titled “Covering the War Before it Starts,” and lamented the Post’s biased coverage in favor of attacking Iraq. Unfortunately, this admirable observation was overshadowed by three much longer op-eds on the next page.

The best of them, David Broder’s, questioned the accuracy of CIA information on Iraq, briefly mentioned a few concerns, and then joined the chorus urging the “President” to make his case.

The worst of the op-eds — which was placed at the top and center of the page and illustrated by a clenched fist with an Uncle Sam sleeve pounding on a map of Iraq — was by former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. The title was “If We Must Fight