In commemoration of 9/11, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller penned a hand-wringing article in the Sunday magazine explaining why he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while admitting that Iraq "had in the literal sense, almost nothing to do with 9/11" and recognizing that the war has resulted in untold death and misery of its own.
The article, "My Unfinished 9/11 Business," is filled with rationalizations about his post-9/11 feelings and those of other members of what Keller dubbed the "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club," pundits and intellectuals who rallied to President George W. Bush's conquest of Iraq as a more fitting response to 9/11 than simply occupying Afghanistan or hunting down al-Qaeda.
Yet what is perhaps most striking about Keller's article is what's not in it. There is not a single reference to international law, or to the fact that Bush undertook the invasion in defiance of a majority on the United Nations Security Council and in violation of longstanding U.S.-enunciated principles against aggressive war.
At the Nuremberg Tribunals after World War II, the chief U.S. prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, called a war of aggression "not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
Jackson also promised that the tribunals, in condemning Nazi officials and their propagandists for engaging in aggressive war and other crimes, were not simply acting out victor's justice but that the same rules would apply to the nations sitting in judgment.
That, however, has turned out not to be the case. Though Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair undertook the invasion of Iraq without UN approval and under false pretenses, there has been no serious attempt to hold the invaders and their subordinates accountable.
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other former U.S. officials have even admitted to ordering acts of torture (such as water-boarding prisoners), again in violation of international law, with little or no expectation that they will be punished. Nor presumably do Keller and other pro-invasion pundits foresee any adverse consequences from their own propagandistic support for the war.
If the Nuremberg principles were to be fully applied to the United States and Great Britain, the propagandists would share the dock with the political and military leaders. But Keller and his fellow "club" members apparently believe their worst punishment should be writing self-obsessed articles about how distraught they are over the war's unintended consequences.
For Keller's part, his article offers excuses for his war support ranging from his desire to protect his daughter who was born "almost exactly nine months after the attacks" on 9/11 to his accompaniment in his pro-war propaganda by "a large and estimable" group of fellow liberal hawks.
His list included "among others, Thomas Friedman of The Times; Fareed Zakaria, of Newsweek; George Packer and Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker; Richard Cohen of The Washington Post; the blogger Andrew Sullivan; Paul Berman of Dissent; Christopher Hitchens of just about everywhere; and Kenneth Pollack, the former C.I.A. analyst whose book, The Threatening Storm, became the liberal manual on the Iraqi threat."
These "club" members expressed various caveats and concerns about their hawkishness, but their broad support for invading Iraq provided a powerful argument for the Bush administration which, as Keller noted, "was clearly pleased to cite the liberal hawks as evidence that invading Iraq was not just the impetuous act of cowboy neocons."
Indeed, this "liberal-hawk" consensus further marginalized the few skeptics who tried to warn the American people that the WMD evidence was thin to non-existent and that occupying a hostile Arab nation was a fool's errand that would start a new cycle of violence.
As the Iraq invasion was unleashed in March 2003 with all its "shock and awe" and the killing of young Iraqi soldiers and many civilians, Keller's article recalled his satisfaction in having taken the side of American military might.
When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was driven from power three weeks later, Keller said he and nearly all other "club" members were "a little drugged by testosterone. And maybe a little too pleased with ourselves for standing up to evil and defying the caricature of liberals as, to borrow a phrase from those days, brie-eating surrender monkeys."
Keller does allow that he and his "club" under-estimated the difficulties of installing "democracy" in Iraq and over-estimated the competence of Bush's team. In retrospect, given the costs in blood and treasure among Americans and Iraqis, he acknowledges that "Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental blunder."