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Stale Voices on ‘Mission Accomplished’

Why no war opponents in the NYT’s op-ed feature?
May 5, 2008

Yesterday, to mark the five-year anniversary of President Bush declaring “Mission Accomplished,” the New York Times op-ed page asked nine “experts in military affairs” for their thoughts on how to improve things in Iraq.

Here are the nine experts that the Times picked:

Paul Bremer, Anthony Cordesman, Paul Eaton, Nathaniel Fick, Fred Kagan, Richard Perle, Danielle Pletka, Ken Pollack, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Of these nine, three (Kagan, Perle, and Pletka) are neoconservative ideologues who argued vociferously in favor of invading Iraq. (Perle, of course, as chair of Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board, was particularly influential in pushing for war.)
Another, Bremer, is a Bush administration loyalist who has been widely criticized for his performance as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. And a fifth, Pollack, wrote a 2002 book that helped convince many liberals of the need to invade, and since then has generally favored continuing the war. (Check out Mike Massing’s excellent examination of how Pollack still gets tapped by the press for his thoughts on Iraq despite being wrong repeatedly about the U.S. involvement there.)

The remaining four have all offered thoughtful and informed commentary on Iraq over the last few years. But none forthrightly opposed the invasion from the start, and even more important, none has unequivocally called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Of the nine writers, only Slaughter could fairly be called a liberal.

Meanwhile, in the real world, a clear majority of Americans now judges the war to have been a mistake. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 68 percent of Americans say they oppose the war, and 56 percent favor withdrawal.

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Of course, part of the problem here was the question. By asking “experts on military affairs” about “How to See This Mission Accomplished” (the forum’s title), the Times essentially wrote war opponents—who argue that the mission can’t be accomplished at an acceptable cost—out of the exercise. Asking a wider range of military and foreign policy thinkers (see here for some not-so-obscure suggestions) to consider all the options for what we should do about Iraq would have been a much more worthwhile exercise.

This isn’t just about the Times. Even after everything that’s happened, the media’s approach to the ongoing Iraq question consistently gives more weight to the views of those who got Iraq wrong, and who continue to be out of step with public opinion, than to those who got it right. Given how badly the country has been served over the last five years by the standard “experts,” you’d think that the guardians of the public debate would be interested in seeking out some new ones.

Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.