When Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets that you'd have to be crazy to commit U.S. troops to wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, media commentators quickly detected a slap at his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who oversaw those conflicts.
But what about everyone else in the U.S. power structure who went along with those insane and bloody wars? Shouldn't such people -- whether they acted out of ideology or opportunism -- be kept away from levers of authority that might get others killed?
For instance, what about the top editors at the Washington Post, the New York Times and a host of other establishment publications and TV outlets who hopped on the pro-war bandwagon and mocked anyone who suggested that negotiations or some less violent means might be preferable?
If even a long-time war hawk like Gates recognizes the obvious -- that committing U.S. land forces to such conflicts is nuts -- then what's to be said about the Post's editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt or the Times' executive editor Bill Keller or a host of other senior media executives and pundits who endorsed the wars and have suffered no dents in their shiny careers?
These hot-shots got the biggest stories of their lives dead wrong -- and countless thousands have paid with their lives, not to mention the $1-trillion-plus drain on the U.S. Treasury -- yet they float along as if nothing happened. Amazingly, Keller even got a promotion to the top editorial job at the Times after he was bamboozled by President George W. Bush's bogus case for invading Iraq.
In 2001, Keller had lost out in a corporate battle with Howell Raines for the job of executive editor and retreated to a post as a senior writer focusing on New York Times Magazine articles. There, he reinvented himself as a liberal second-thoughter regarding the use of American military might.
When the dogs of war were straining at their leashes in February 2003, Keller wrote an influential article in the Times magazine describing his proud new status as a member of what he called "The I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club."
He boasted about the club's distinguished membership, including "op-ed regulars at this newspaper [the New York Times] and The Washington Post, the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate, columnists in Time and Newsweek."
The "Irrefutable" Powell
Keller was right about where many of the "smart" media types stood. For instance, after Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his dishonest United Nations speech justifying war with Iraq on Feb. 5, 2003, the next day's Washington Post editorial and op-ed pages presented a solid phalanx of pro-invasion consensus.
Speaking for that conventional wisdom, the lead Post editorial judged Powell's presentation as "irrefutable," adding: "it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."
Keller also was wowed by Powell's speech, which he hailed as a "skillful parsing of the evidence" on Iraq's WMD. (Powell would later admit his speech was replete with falsehoods and was a "blot" on his record.)
Keller got pretty much every pre-invasion prediction wrong, too. He bet that President Bush would seek and win a second U.N. resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Just weeks later, however, Bush realized the Security Council was prepared to reject that resolution so he pulled it and pressed forward with his "coalition of the willing."
In his February 2003 magazine article, Keller also envisioned Al Jazeera being forced to broadcast scenes of unalloyed joy among Iraqis welcoming the U.S. invaders "as liberators." Keller imagined, too, that "the illicit toxins are unearthed and destroyed" and that the Kurds and Shiites "suppress the urge for clan vengeance."
History will record that events didn't exactly play out that way.
Keller recognized, too, that he and his war-hawk colleagues were advocating violations of international law, even though they were uncomfortable with the full imperial scope of the muscular "Bush Doctrine."