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Reading the news about Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame these days, one would come away thinking that if not for Judith Miller, the United States would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003. The New York Times reporter gets routinely pilloried for her close ties to administration officials and the way they supposedly used her to put false stories into the mainstream media. She gets almost no credit or sympathy from her own industry for spending three months in jail for defending a principle that all of them see as critical to their profession, that of the protection of confidential sources as key to a free press. Instead, people at her own paper (who have their own legitimacy and truthfulness issues) call her names and sneer at her work.
However, Robert Kagan reminds Washington Post readers that Miller hardly started the WMD-in-Iraq reporting. In fact, that theme began in a number of influential media sources, including the Times pre-Miller, and it didn't start with the Bush administration, either:
There is a big problem with this simple narrative. It is that the Times, along with The Post and other news organizations, ran many alarming stories about Iraq's weapons programs before the election of George W. Bush. A quick search through the Times archives before 2001 produces such headlines as "Iraq Has Network of Outside Help on Arms, Experts Say"(November 1998), "U.S. Says Iraq Aided Production of Chemical Weapons in Sudan"(August 1998), "Iraq Suspected of Secret Germ War Effort" (February 2000), "Signs of Iraqi Arms Buildup Bedevil U.S. Administration" (February 2000), "Flight Tests Show Iraq Has Resumed a Missile Program" (July 2000). (A somewhat shorter list can be compiled from The Post's archives, including a September 1998 headline: "Iraqi Work Toward A-Bomb Reported.") The Times stories were written by Barbara Crossette, Tim Weiner and Steven Lee Myers; Miller shared a byline on one. ...
From 1998 through 2000, the Times editorial page warned that "without further outside intervention, Iraq should be able to rebuild weapons and missile plants within a year" and that "future military attacks may be required to diminish the arsenal again." Otherwise, Iraq could "restore its ability to deliver biological and chemical weapons against potential targets in the Middle East." "The world," it said, "cannot leave Mr. Hussein free to manufacture horrific germs and nerve gases and use them to terrorize neighboring countries." ...
Another Times editorial warned that containment of Hussein was eroding. "The Security Council is wobbly, with Russia and France eager to ease inspections and sanctions." Any approach "that depends on Security Council unity is destined to be weak."
In fact, the Clinton administration had made a big case about Iraq's WMD capabilities as part of its policy of continuing military expenditures in maintaining containment of Saddam Hussein. Russia, China, and France wanted to end the sanctions on Iraq in order to resume their lucrative oil contracts within the country. Anti-war activists had shifted their focus from spotty military action to the sanctions, claiming that Clinton's policies were killing 5,000 Iraqis a month through starvation. The Exempt Media at the time responded by writing many such stories -- Kagan offers more references in his column -- in order to support the Clinton policy of engagement.
The result, as Kagan notes, was that the media and public accepted the Clinton intelligence on Saddam's WMD capability as definitive -- and it matched that of Germany, France, and a number of other countries as well. Bush inherited the same information and the same conclusions, and during the first nine months of his term, continued the same policies as Clinton on Iraq. When 9/11 happened, he and Condoleezza Rice had almost completed what they called "super sanctions" as their new Iraq policy, but what amounted to a small modification in the old policy to attempt to close a few loopholes.
People keep forgetting how much 9/11 affected the calculus of thought in the administration. The surprise attacks showed that superpowers could not expect to see attacks coming in a frontal manner, or even with any warning at all. A handful of terrorists -- or foreign agents of other kinds -- could sneak into the country and wreak any kind of havoc. The US had only two strategies for stopping them: wait until they came here and arrest them, or stop the threats before they got here through military action. Given that the WMD everyone knew Saddam had withheld could be used by Saddam or his terrorist associates for devastating sneak attacks, and that he had refused to meet the terms of both the Gulf War cease-fire and sixteen UN resolutions, it now seemed much more prudent to remove him and use a strategy of democratization in the Middle East to pre-empt such attacks.
That history has been forgotten by the Exempt Media whose extensive Clinton-era reporting on the massive and imminent dangers of Saddam's WMD programs has gotten conveniently overlooked in order to condemn Judith Miller and the Bush administration. The Times need look no further than their own archives and by-lines to see that Miller had ample reason to trust what her sources told her. After all, the Paper of Record had consistently reported the same thing and the editorial board had urged stronger action in response for years before she began to get her own bylines there.
That's the New York Times, though -- the paper that has ever been ready to rewrite history in order to meet its own peculiar needs.Sphere It View blog reactions
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