"It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction," the editorial said. Hiatt's judgment was echoed across the Post's op-ed page, with Post columnists from Right to Left singing the same note of misguided consensus.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq on March 19-20, 2003, and months of fruitless searching for the promised WMD caches, Hiatt finally acknowledged that the Post should have been more circumspect in its confident claims about the WMD.
"If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction," Hiatt said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. "If that's not true, it would have been better not to say it." [CJR, March/April 2004]
Concealing the Truth
But Hiatt's supposed remorse didn't stop him and the Post editorial page from continuing its single-minded support for the Iraq War. Hiatt was especially hostile when evidence emerged that revealed how thoroughly he and his colleagues had been gulled.
In June 2005, for instance, The Washington Post decided to ignore the leak of the "Downing Street Memo" in the British press. The "memo" -- actually minutes of a meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his national security team on July 23, 2002 -- recounted the words of MI6 chief Richard Dearlove who had just returned from discussions with his intelligence counterparts in Washington.
"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," Dearlove said.
Though the Downing Street Memo amounted to a smoking gun regarding how Bush had set his goal first -- overthrowing Saddam Hussein -- and then searched for a sellable rationalization, the Post's senior editors deemed the document unworthy to share with their readers.
Only after thousands of Post readers complained did the newspaper deign to give its reasoning. On June 15, 2005, the Post's lead editorial asserted that "the memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration's prewar deliberations. Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002."
But Hiatt was simply wrong in that assertion. Looking back to 2002 and early 2003, it would be hard to find any commentary in the Post or any other mainstream U.S. news outlet calling Bush's actions fraudulent, which is what the "Downing Street Memo" and other British evidence revealed Bush's actions to be.
The British documents also proved that much of the pre-war debate inside the U.S. and British governments was how best to manipulate public opinion by playing games with the intelligence.
Further, official documents of this nature are almost always regarded as front-page news, even if they confirm long-held suspicions. By Hiatt's and the Post's reasoning, the Pentagon Papers wouldn't have been news since some people had previously alleged that U.S. officials had lied about the Vietnam War.
Not a One-Off
In other words, Hiatt's Iraq War failure wasn't a one-off affair. It was a long-running campaign to keep the truth from the American people and to silence and even destroy critics of the war. The overall impact of this strategy was to ensure that war was the only option.
And, in that sense, Hiatt's history as a neocon war propagandist belies his current defense of fellow neocon pundits who are rallying opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. While Hiatt claims that his colleagues shouldn't be accused of "lusting for another war," that could well be the consequence if their obstructionism succeeds.
It has long been part of the neocon playbook to pretend that, of course, they don't want war but then put the United States on a path that leads inevitably to war. Before the Iraq War, for instance, neocons argued that U.S. troops should be deployed to the region to compel Saddam Hussein to let in United Nations weapons inspectors -- yet once the soldiers got there and the inspectors inside Iraq were finding no WMD, the neocons argued that the invasion had to proceed because the troops couldn't just sit there indefinitely while the inspectors raced around futilely searching for the WMD.