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Ear to the Ground

Krugman: Political Elites, News Media Learned Nothing From Iraq War

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Posted on Mar 18, 2013
AP/Francisco Seco

Ten years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans now believe the war was a mistake. And as Paul Krugman noted in his latest New York Times column, those who never favored war in the first place were vindicated after what was—and what wasn’t—discovered once American forces went in.

“There were, it turned out, no weapons of mass destruction; it was obvious in retrospect that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war,” Krugman writes. “And the war—having cost thousands of American lives and scores of thousands of Iraqi lives, having imposed financial costs vastly higher than the war’s boosters predicted—left America weaker, not stronger, and ended up creating an Iraqi regime that is closer to Tehran than it is to Washington.”

Although the opinions of the masses may have largely changed, Krugman argues that the political elites and pundits who perpetuated the Bush administration’s disinformation and calls for war seem to have learned nothing from that experience. That’s troubling, to be sure, given that they occupy an important sphere of influence in American society.

As an example of what he deems the “dangers of groupthink,” Krugman points to the disconcerting similarity between the runup to the Iraq War and the “deficit obsession” that has dominated the political and news media landscape these last few years.

Paul Krugman via The New York Times:

Now, I don’t want to push the analogy too far. Bad economic policy isn’t the moral equivalent of a war fought on false pretenses, and while the predictions of deficit scolds have been wrong time and again, there hasn’t been any development either as decisive or as shocking as the complete failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Best of all, these days dissenters don’t operate in the atmosphere of menace, the sense that raising doubts could have devastating personal and career consequences, that was so pervasive in 2002 and 2003. (Remember the hate campaign against the Dixie Chicks?)

But now as then we have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials. And now as then the press often seems to have taken sides. It has been especially striking how often questionable assertions are reported as fact. How many times, for example, have you seen news articles simply asserting that the United States has a “debt crisis,” even though many economists would argue that it faces no such thing?

...What we should have learned from the Iraq debacle was that you should always be skeptical and that you should never rely on supposed authority. If you hear that “everyone” supports a policy, whether it’s a war of choice or fiscal austerity, you should ask whether “everyone” has been defined to exclude anyone expressing a different opinion. And policy arguments should be evaluated on the merits, not by who expresses them; remember when Colin Powell assured us about those Iraqi W.M.D.’s?

Unfortunately, as I said, we don’t seem to have learned those lessons. Will we ever?

Read more

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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