(ed.note: This is a post I was working on a few days ago but had set aside. But with attention fixing again today on the Post’s editorial page’s egregious record of distortions on Iraq, I thought I’d pull it out of Movable Type oblivion.)
The Iraq fiasco provides few opportunities for mirth. But one is watching Fred Hiatt, czar of the Washington Post editorial page, try to kick up enough dust to wriggle out of his own position on the war.
A necessary preliminary to this discussion is to realize that there is probably no editorial page in the United States that has advocated more influentially on behalf of the Iraq catastrophe at every stage in the unfolding disaster — from the Iraq Liberation Act, the the WMD and al Qaeda bamboozlement, to the lauching of the war, to the longstanding denial of what was happening on the ground to the continuing refusal to brook any real change of course in policy. Other papers have been more hawkish, certainly. But because of its location in the nation’s capital and even more because of its reputation as a non-conservative paper, the Post’s fatuous and frequently mendacious editorializing has without doubt had a greater role in pushing the public debate into the war camp than any other editorial page in the nation.
Which brings us to the unsigned editorial that ran in the paper on Saturday, July 21st. According to the editorial, there’s an prevailing consensus in favor of a major change of course in Iraq. And all that is holding it up is the Democrats’ insistence on polarizing the debate for political gain. According the Post, most senators from both parties, the Baker-Hamilton commissioners and even the president are all part of the same broad consensus.
A large majority of senators from both parties favor a shift in the U.S. mission that would involve substantially reducing the number of American forces over the next year or so and rededicating those remaining to training the Iraqi army, protecting Iraq’s borders and fighting al-Qaeda. President Bush and his senior aides and generals also support this broad strategy, which was formulated by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission. Mr. Bush recently said that “it’s a position I’d like to see us in.”
The problem is insistence on “Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) to deny[ing] rather than nourish[ing] a bipartisan agreement.” And this is so dangerous because we need to be discussing now what we do after September when we learn that the president’s ‘new way forward’ has failed.
The country will desperately need a strategy for Iraq that can count on broad bipartisan support, one aimed at carrying the U.S. mission through the end of the Bush administration and beyond. There are serious issues still to resolve, such as whether a drawdown should begin this fall or next year, how closely it should be tied to Iraqi progress, how fast it can proceed and how the remaining forces should be deployed.
Here we get down to the stem of a whole world turned inside out. ‘Serious issues still to resolve’ — like when to leave, whether to condition leaving on things getting better, how fast to leave and how many should stay and what we should have them do. I would say that covers quite a bit of the debate, doesn’t it? Indeed, that’s the entire debate, which is to say there’s little consensus on anything.
The Iraq debate now turns on two related questions: 1) the importance of Iraq to US national security and 2) whether we want to leave and will do so so long as various conditions in Iraq are met or whether we’ve decided that it is in our interests to leave and will begin to do so now without waiting for conditions to be met. All of the different permutations of the debate can be explained in terms of different answers to those two questions.
So what you have in the Post’s editorial is Mr. Hiatt’s desire to take a nominal and meaningless, a purely semantic point of agreement — that everyone would like to have most US troops withdrawn from Iraq — and stretch it so thin that it can cover most members of the senate, the president and even the Baker-Hamilton report that the president dumped in the trash last winter. Meanwhile the key questions that are the meat of the debate become points of detail that the members of the grand consensus still need to hash out if malefactors won’t keep on cynically injecting politics into the proceedings.
It is truly the world we are living in through the looking glass. And I think the reason for this outlandish contortion is not hard to see. Hiatt and the Post editorial crew can see the writing on the wall as well as anyone and the direction which public opinion is inevitably taking us. But they want to twist and distort and most of all stretch the terms of the debate so far as to appear to come out on the prevailing side of the public debate even as they never actually change their position, which has been a consistent and bullheaded advocacy of the position the entire country is now abandoning. So when troops come out of Iraq — due to the votes of the evil polarizers — Hiatt can say, yes, that was our position and it would have come sooner if Harry Reid would have just butted out of things.
Until then, of course, it’s full speed ahead with the surge.