On August 27, Richard Holbrooke, in an article on the Washington Post‘s Op-Ed page, endorsed President Bush’s policy of regime change in Iraq but asserted that his case would be strengthened if he took it to the United Nations. “The road to Baghdad runs through the United Nations Security Council,” the former ambassador to the UN wrote. Two days later Alexander Haig, appearing on the same page, announced his unqualified support for the President’s policy. “Ultimately,” he wrote, a US foreign policy “that allows a country such as Iraq to acquire weapons of mass destruction while violating solemn agreements is a guarantee of a world on the edge of greater terrors to come.” Three days after that, it was Bob Dole’s turn. Calling Iraq a “runaway freight train loaded with explosives barreling toward us,” Dole wrote that “we can act to derail it or wait for the crash and deal with the resulting damage.”
Over the next two-plus weeks, the Post would run articles by former Secretaries of State George Shultz, James Baker and–need I add?–Henry Kissinger, whose article “Consult and Control” took up the top third of the page and marked his second appearance on the page in a month. In early September Holbrooke showed up again to expand on his earlier point about the importance of going to the UN. And in early October, Sandy Berger contributed an article that–building on a piece he had written for the Post in August–made much the same point as Holbrooke’s.
Readers who found this diet of pronouncements from former US officials too bland and unnourishing could, of course, have sampled the Post‘s regular columnists. They include Jim Hoagland, who since the summer has written about Iraq nearly every week, and always in full-throated support of military intervention there. On September 15, for instance, he congratulated President Bush for his “rigorously honest speech” to the UN, which, he said, “more than lived up to his responsibilities to ‘make the case’ for urgent and forceful action to end Iraq’s open defiance of international law.” There’s also George Will, who weekly toasts the Republicans for their fortitude and taunts the Democrats for their vacillation. “All military disasters” can be summed up in two words–“too late,” Will wrote in mid-September, summing up his own position on Iraq. Also contributing regularly are Charles Krauthammer, Robert Novak and Michael Kelly, all staunch supporters of the Administration’s position.
What about the editorial page? Since mid-August the Post has been running editorials on Iraq about once a week, and they have unwaveringly supported military action there. “President Bush yesterday put the case of Iraq before the United Nations and challenged the institution to act,” a typical editorial stated on September 13. “It was the right way to go…. The president compellingly spelled out one set of indisputable facts.” The only time the Post faults the President is when he doesn’t make the case for invasion persuasively enough.
A survey of the Post‘s opinion pages over the past two months reveals a remarkable imbalance on the subject of Iraq, the great issue of the day. Collectively, its editorials, columns and Op-Eds have served mainly to reinforce, amplify and promote the Administration’s case for regime change. And, as the house organ for America’s political class, the paper has helped push the debate in the Administration’s favor.
Needless to say, the Post does run dissenting voices on Iraq. It has featured William Potter, an analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, on the possibility that war will make Saddam Hussein even more likely to use his biological weapons; John Mueller, a professor at Ohio State University, on how the United States is exaggerating the scale of the threats it faces; Fawaz Gerges, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, on the difficulties the United States would likely face in building democracy in a post-invasion Iraq; and James Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy, on how an attack on Iraq could actually increase the likelihood of Muslim aggression against the United States. The paper also ran a stinging attack on Bush policy by former President Jimmy Carter. Decrying the Administration’s backsliding on human rights and its turn away from “laboriously negotiated” international accords, Carter attributed the Administration’s unilateralist approach to “a core group of conservatives who are trying to realize long-pent-up ambitions under the cover of the proclaimed war against terrorism.”