With 223 days left in his presidency, George W.
Bush laid more flagstones along a path to war on Iran. There was the usual declaration
that "all options are on the table" – and, just as ominously, much
talk of diplomacy.
Three times on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports, Bush "called a
diplomatic solution 'my first choice,' implying there are others. He said 'we'll
give diplomacy a chance to work,' meaning it might not."
That's how Bush talks when he's grooving along in his Orwellian comfort zone,
eager to order a military attack.
"We seek peace," Bush said in the State of the Union address on January
28, 2003. "We strive for peace."
In that speech, less than two months before the invasion of Iraq began, Bush
foreshadowed the climax of his administration's diplomatic pantomime. "The
United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the
5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world," the
president said. "Secretary of State Powell will present information and
intelligence about Iraqi's legal – Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempt
to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups."
A week after that drum roll, Colin Powell made his now-infamous presentation
to the U.N. Security Council. At the time, it served as ideal "diplomacy"
for war – filled with authoritative charges and riddled with deceptions.
We should never forget the raptures of media praise for Powell's crucial mendacity.
A key bellwether was the New York Times.
The front page of the Times had been plying administration lies about
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for a long time. Now the newspaper's editorial
stance, ostensibly antiwar, swooned into line – rejoicing that "Mr. Powell's
presentation was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic
invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual
case against Mr. Hussein's regime."
The Times editorialized that Powell "presented the United Nations
and a global television audience yesterday with the most powerful case to date
that Saddam Hussein stands in defiance of Security Council resolutions and has
no intention of revealing or surrendering whatever unconventional weapons he
may have." By sending Powell to address the Security Council, the Times
claimed, President Bush "showed a wise concern for international opinion."
Bush had implemented the kind of "diplomacy" advocated by a wide
range of war enthusiasts. For instance, Fareed Zakaria, a former managing editor
of the elite-flavored journal Foreign Affairs, had recommended PR prudence
in the quest for a confrontation that could facilitate an invasion of Iraq.
"Even if the inspections do not produce the perfect crisis," Zakaria
wrote the previous summer, "Washington will still be better off for having
tried because it would be seen to have made every effort to avoid war."
A few months later, on November 13, 2002, Times columnist Thomas Friedman
wrote that "in the world of a single, dominant superpower, the U.N. Security
Council becomes even more important, not less." And he was pleased with
the progress of groundwork for war, writing enthusiastically: "The Bush
team discovered that the best way to legitimize its overwhelming might – in
a war of choice – was not by simply imposing it, but by channeling it through
Its highly influential reporting, combined with an editorial position that
wavered under pressure, made the New York Times extremely useful to the
Bush administration's propaganda strategy for launching war on Iraq. The paper
played along with the diplomatic ruse in much the same way that it promoted
lies about weapons of mass destruction.
But to read the present-day revisionist history from the New York Times,
the problem with the run-up to the Iraq invasion was simply misconduct by the
Bush administration (ignobly assisted by pliable cable news networks).
Recently, when the Times came out with an editorial headlined "The
Truth About the War" on June 6, the newspaper assessed the implications
of a new report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The report shows
clearly that President Bush should have known that important claims he made
about Iraq did not conform with intelligence reports," the Times
editorialized. "In other cases, he could have learned the truth if he had
asked better questions or encouraged more honest answers."
Unfortunately, changing just a few words – substituting "the New York
Times" for "President Bush" – renders an equally accurate
assessment of what a factual report would clearly show: "The New York
Times should have known that important claims it made about Iraq did not
conform with intelligence reports. In other cases, the Times could have
learned the truth if it had asked better questions or encouraged more honest
Now, as agenda-setting for an air attack on Iran moves into higher gear, the
mainline U.S. news media – with the New York Times playing its influential
part – are engaged in coverage that does little more than provide stenographic
services for the Bush administration.