by Norman Solomon
www.antiwar.com, March 17, 2006
The third anniversary of the Iraq invasion
is bound to attract a lot of media coverage, but scant recognition
will go to the pundits who helped to make it all possible.
Continuing with long service to the Bush
administration's agenda-setting for war, prominent media commentators
were very busy in the weeks before the invasion. At the Washington
Post, the op-ed page's fervor hit a new peak on Feb. 6, 2003,
the day after Colin Powell's mendacious speech to the U.N. Security
Post columnist Richard Cohen explained
that Powell was utterly convincing. "The evidence he presented
to the United Nations - some of it circumstantial, some of it
absolutely bone-chilling in its detail - had to prove to anyone
that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction
but without a doubt still retains them," Cohen wrote. "Only
a fool - or possibly a Frenchman - could conclude otherwise."
Meanwhile, another one of the Post's syndicated
savants, Jim Hoagland, led with this declaration: "Colin
Powell did more than present the world with a convincing and detailed
X-ray of Iraq's secret weapons and terrorism programs yesterday.
He also exposed the enduring bad faith of several key members
of the U.N. Security Council when it comes to Iraq and its 'web
of lies,' in Powell's phrase." Hoagland's closing words banished
doubt: "To continue to say that the Bush administration has
not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied
in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken
in by manufactured evidence. I don't believe that. Today, neither
Impatience grew among pundits who depicted
the U.N.'s inspection process as a charade because Saddam Hussein's
regime obviously possessed weapons of mass destruction. In an
essay appearing on Feb. 13, 2003, Christopher Hitchens wrote:
"Those who are calling for more time in this process should
be aware that they are calling for more time for Saddam's people
to complete their humiliation and subversion of the inspectors."
A few weeks later, on March 17, President
Bush prefaced the imminent invasion by claiming in a televised
speech: "Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the
American people can know that every measure has been taken to
avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it."
In the same speech, noting that "many
Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast,"
Bush offered reassurance. "I have a message for them: If
we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against
the lawless men who rule your country and not against you."
The next day, Hitchens came out with an
essay featuring similar assurances, telling readers that "the
Defense Department has evolved highly selective and accurate munitions
that can sharply reduce the need to take or receive casualties.
The predictions of widespread mayhem turned out to be false last
time - when the weapons [in the Gulf War] were nothing like so
accurate." And, he added, "it can now be proposed as
a practical matter that one is able to fight against a regime
and not a people or a nation."
With the full-scale attack underway, the
practicalities were evident from network TV studios. "The
American public knows the importance of this war," Fox News
pundit and Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes proclaimed
a few days after the invasion began. "They are not as casualty
sensitive as the weenies in the American press are."
And what about the punditry after the
ballyhooed "victory" in Iraq? Researchers at the media
watch group FAIR (where I'm an associate) have exhumed statements
made by prominent media cheerleaders who were flush with triumph.
Often showing elation as Baghdad fell, U.S. journalists lavished
praise on the invasion and sometimes aimed derisive salvos at
American opponents of the military action.
One of the most gleeful commentators on
network television was MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris
Matthews. "We're all neocons now," he crowed on April
9, 2003, hours after a Saddam Hussein statue tumbled in Baghdad.
Weeks later, Matthews was still at it,
making categorical declarations: "We're proud of our president.
Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little
swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton
or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They
want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president.
Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having
a hero as our president. It's simple."
Simplistic was more like it. And, in the
rush of stateside enthusiasm for war on Iraq, centrist pundits
like Matthews - apt to sway with the prevailing wind - were hardly
inclined to buck the jingoistic storm.
Pseudo-patriotic hot air remained at gale
force on Fox News Channel, still blowing strong. "Tommy Franks
and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that
boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless
victory," Tony Snow told viewers in late April. "The
three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics'
What passes for liberalism on Fox also
cheered and gloated. Sean Hannity's weak debating partner, Alan
Colmes, threw down a baiting challenge on April 25. "Now
that the war in Iraq is all but over," Colmes demanded, "should
the people in Hollywood who opposed the president admit they were
Part of this article has been adapted
from Norman Solomon's latest book, War Made Easy: How Presidents
and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For information, go to: