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 the U.N.”
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 answers.”
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.
NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of Made Love, Got War.