As for his position on the invasion itself, Pollack maintained that he had not been a strong advocate for the war but rather a “tortured” one. “I know I wrote a number of pieces that were very helpful to the Bush administration in making its case,” he said. “But that’s not why I wrote them.” In The Threatening Storm, he told me, “I said that this wasn’t a war we needed to fight right away, that there were other things we needed to do first, like work on the Middle East peace process…and run down al Qaeda….I don’t like to characterize myself as a supporter of the invasion.” Yet his book contains a whole chapter titled “The Case for an Invasion.” In it, he states flatly that “the only prudent and realistic course of action left to the United States is to mount a full-scale invasion of Iraq to smash the Iraqi armed forces, depose Saddam’s regime, and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.”

And what about those hawkish op-eds in the Times? “I did write those op-eds, and I believed everything I put in them, but that was simply making one side of the case,” he said. “Often I was responding to arguments against going to war, which I felt were very weak.” He added: “I’ve learned over the course of time that op-eds are an imperfect medium for expressing complex views on a subject. That’s why I’ve greatly diminished the op-ed writing I’ve done.” Such sentiments, however, had not stopped him from writing his July op-ed about the merits of the surge.

Pollack did acknowledge that he had been wrong on one key issue—WMD. And, he said, it was fair to take that into account when evaluating his current writings. But, he observed, “I don’t think you should make a judgment about my work based on any [one] particular thing I’ve done. I would argue that if you went back and looked over my grand record on Iraq going back to the 1980s, I’ve actually got a very good track record.” He asked: “Should Churchill have been disqualified forever because of Gallipoli? I’m not trying to put myself in the same category as Churchill, but the point is that one mistake should not forever hang over a person’s head.”

It’s a valid point. If the Gallipoli standard were applied to Iraq, much of our foreign-policy commentariat would be out on the street. Christopher Hitchens would have to give up his column at Vanity Fair and Thomas Friedman would lose his perch at the Times. Half the columnists at The Washington Post would have to find a new line of work, and The New Republic would probably have to shut down. In the simple interest of journalistic employment, some slack must be allowed. It’s healthy, though, to be reminded of what these prognosticators have said in the past, especially when they continue to turn out such one-dimensional and one-sided assessments as the one that Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon published in the July 30 Times. 

 

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Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.