By Norman Solomon
The current anniversary of the invasion should be a time for sober reflection about the U.S. war effort in Iraq. But we shouldn’t expect much insight from the pundits who applauded when the United States went to war three years ago.
Researchers at the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (where I’m an associate) have exhumed statements made by prominent media cheerleaders for war in the spring of 2003. Frequently showing elation as Baghdad fell, U.S. journalists often lavished praise on the invasion and aimed derisive salvos at American opponents of the military action.
One of the most gleeful commentators on network television was MSNBC’s “Hardball” host, Christopher Matthews. “We’re all neocons now,” he crowed on April 9, 2003, hours after a Saddam Hussein statue tumbled in Baghdad.
Weeks later, Matthews was still at it, making categorical declarations: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple.”
Simplistic was more like it. And, in the rush of stateside enthusiasm for war on Iraq, centrist pundits like Matthews—apt to sway with the prevailing wind—were hardly inclined to buck the jingoistic storm.
Pseudo-patriotic hot air remained at gale force on Fox News Channel, still blowing strong several weeks after the invasion. “Tommy Franks and the coalition forces have demonstrated the old axiom that boldness on the battlefield produces swift and relatively bloodless victory,” Tony Snow told viewers in late April. “The three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics’ complaints.”
What passes for liberalism on Fox also cheered and gloated. Sean Hannity’s weak debating partner, Alan Colmes, threw down a baiting challenge on April 25. “Now that the war in Iraq is all but over,” Colmes demanded, “should the people in Hollywood who opposed the president admit they were wrong?”
The zestful willingness of so many high-profile journalists to serve as boosters for the magnificent war in Iraq three years ago provides important clues as to why—even now—so few are willing to directly challenge the continuing U.S. war effort. In the midst of pervasive militarism, eagerness to take the path of least resistance is a reflex in mainstream U.S. journalism.
While sometimes criticizing the president for tactical mistakes or even outright dishonesty, the vast majority of the war’s journalistic critics seem disappointed that the U.S. forces in Iraq are not winning. It’s a good bet that few of those critics would be complaining much about the war if the U.S. military had succeeded in crushing Iraqi resistance to the occupation.
In war, as in so many other ventures, the conventional media wisdom is that nothing succeeds like success. But the president’s policies are not egregious because they have failed to result in a U.S. victory. The deeper problem, win or lose, has to do with launching an illegitimate war—based on deceptions and violations of international law—in the first place.
Norman Solomon’s latest book, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” has just been published. To find out more about Norman Solomon and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate’s Web page at www.creators.com.