There was so much to critique in Bill Keller’s notorious column this week at The New York Times on the proper etiquette of cancer patients that most of us could barely mention in passing that this same Keller, now ripping military/battlefield lingo in medicine, has been an ardent war hawk, from Iraq 2003 to Syria 2013.
So let’s spend a little time on that now. Most recent first, torn from the (Web) pages of The Nation. (We won’t even get into Keller’s WikiLeaks record, but you can revisit it here, or consider when he held James Risen’s NSA scoop for a year.)
Back in May 2013, long before the alleged chemical attack by Assad forces three months later, Keller joined some of his colleagues at the Times, both reporters and columnists, in agitating for US intervention in Syria. He was upset that Obama had let Assad cross that “red line,” and now the dictator had to pay. He even titled a column “Syria Is Not Iraq” and suggested that Congress and the public “get over Iraq,” revealing that he has. I wrote:
He says he was gun-shy after his Iraq flub—but no more! Now he derides Obama for “looking for excuses to stand pat.” He also provides several reasons why Syria is “not Iraq,” and how now his hawkishness is based on reality: This time we really can hurt the terrorists gathered there, really can calm tensions in the region, and so on. Instead of a “mushroom cloud,” he warns of the next chemical “atrocity.” And he claims there’s a broader coaiition of the willing this time. He even revives the good old “domino theory,” endorsing the view that if we don’t do something in Syria it will embolden China, North Korea and Iran….
At least Keller provides some comic relief when he admits, “I don’t mean to make this sound easy.”
Obama didn’t do much then—unlike Bush, he didn’t listen to the pundit-hawks like Keller on illegal war-making—but Bill got another chance a few months later after the late-summer chem attacks in Syria. He again pushed for strong US actions, and when Obama backed off, he virtually cried in print—despite the apparent Obama “victory” in getting Assad to start to destroy his stockpiles without the US bombing civilian areas. Keller wailed that Vladimir Putin, in keeping Obama from bombing, did the following, among other terrible things:
a) He has stalled and possibly ended the threat that his client thug, President Bashar al-Assad, will be struck by American missiles for gassing his own people. As long as the international community is debating the endless complications of finding, verifying and locking down Assad’s chemical arsenal, Congress and the allies have ample excuse to do nothing.