Joe Conason’s Journal

Another hawk turns: Kristol suddenly "very skeptical" we'll ever find those WMD.


Bill Kristol’s preemptive spin
After tirelessly promoting the imminent threat posed by Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” in his magazine, on television, on various Web sites and even in a quickie book, William Kristol now confesses doubt. On Fox News Sunday — while host Brit Hume indulged in his characteristic imbecile bluster — Kristol blurted out several near-truths. (I found his startling admissions in an article on, which I checked for accuracy with the Nexis transcript.)

“We shouldn’t deny, those of us who were hawks, that there could have been misstatements made, I think in good faith,” said the Weekly Standard editor, attributing those “erroneous” statements about WMD to “the president and the secretary of state.” (For some reason he left out Rumsfeld, Rice and Cheney.) “I hope [the WMDs] are found,” he said, “but I’m very skeptical.”

As he acknowledged, “We have interrogated a lot of people and we haven’t found a single person who said he participated in disposing, destroying the stock of weapons of mass destruction. Or in hiding them.”

This unsettling realization has led Kristol — who is far smarter than the average Fox dittohead — toward a partial, limited rethink: “People like me, who were hawks, said the war was both just, prudent and urgent. I think just and prudent — fine. But it is fair to say that if we don’t find serious weapons of mass destruction capabilities, the case for urgency, which Bush and Blair certainly articulated, is going to be undercut to some degree.” His rationalization is that the fault lies with inaccurate intelligence rather than political distortion of the information that was available.

“I don’t think we need to be apologetic about the war,” he concluded. Perhaps not about the war itself, since he advocated military action for reasons that went well beyond any U.N. resolution. But for branding honest skeptics as cowardly appeasers, Kristol and his ilk will owe many apologies if, as he now worries, those vaunted weapons are never found.

No apologies here
Speaking of apologies, Andrew Sullivan arraigns me (and Frank Rich and other Bush administration critics) for “hyping” reports about the looting of priceless artifacts in Iraq. At the time, however, there was no disagreement as to whether the Baghdad museums and libraries were robbed or the failure of coalition troops to guard them. Major news organizations like the Washington Post, whose reporting Sullivan now cites to bolster his argument, left no doubt that terrible pillaging had occurred. Neither did ABC News, USA Today, Voice of America, or the AP (whose story was posted by Sullivan’s beloved Fox News).

Happily, “only 33″ irreplaceable items are now believed lost — along with what noted archaeologist and antiquarian Sully describes as “3,000 minor objects of limited value.” (If 33 “priceless pieces” and another 3,000 of lesser worth were stolen from the Smithsonian or the Metropolitan Museum, that would be considered the heist of the century.) That the ultimate losses weren’t much worse can be attributed to the foresight of the museum’s staff rather than the wisdom of Rummy.

So I don’t see any reason to revise my roasting of the defense secretary, whose nonchalant patter about “that same vase” badly damaged the prestige of the United States. And as for Andrew, I urge readers to consult the copious corrective material posted here, where they may enjoy seeing his own habits of hype and elision vigorously “fisked.”
[9:01 a.m. PDT, June 10, 2003]

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