Fred Hiatt and Iraq — Together Forever

The latest pro-war Washington Post Editorial illustrates how the Iraq disaster was spawned and why we are not leaving any time soon.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below – updated again)

Last Sunday, The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt wrote an Editorial setting forth all of the lessons he claims he has learned as a result of cheering on this disaster of a war in Iraq. Hiatt intoned: “looking back also is essential, particularly for those of us who supported the war.” Here are three of the “lessons” he says he learned (numbers added):

The question that Gen. David H. Petraeus posed (as recounted in Rick Atkinson’s history, “In the Company of Soldiers”) as he led the troops of his 101st Airborne Division from Kuwait across the Iraq border, “[1] Tell me how this ends?” — that question must be the first to be asked, not the last. The answer won’t always be knowable. But [2] the discussion must never lose sight of the inevitable horrors of war. [3] It must not be left to the generals in the field.

War cheerleader Hiatt lectures us: “the discussion must never lose sight of the inevitable horrors of war.”

But that was Sunday — six whole days ago. Today, Hiatt has an Editorial, revealingly headlined “Retreat and Butter,” emphatically criticizing House Democrats for what he calls their “retreat” bill, requiring troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by August, 2008 — almost one-and-a-half years away. By that time, the U.S. will have occupied Iraq for more than five years. But that is not enough for Hiatt:

Representatives who support the bill — for whatever reason — will be voting to require that all U.S. combat troops leave Iraq by August 2008, regardless of what happens during the next 17 months or whether U.S. commanders believe a pullout at that moment protects or endangers U.S. national security, not to mention the thousands of American trainers and Special Forces troops who would remain behind. . . .

As it is, House Democrats are pressing a bill that has the endorsement of MoveOn.org but excludes the judgment of the U.S. commanders who would have to execute the retreat the bill mandates.

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And what is Hiatt’s alternative? This: “The Senate’s version of the supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan contains nonbinding benchmarks and a withdrawal date that is a goal.”

So Hiatt wants to leave the question of whether we ever leave Iraq to the full and unfettered discretion of the commanders (exactly what he said on Sunday should never be done) and, in reality, to the unlimited discretion of the President. The Senate should politely suggest “goals” but leave it to the Leader to Decide when we leave, which means we never do. That has worked really well so far. Clearly, Hiatt has learned so very many lessons.

Note also the hallmark of the Fred Hiatt/Beltway Media mind: namely, unbridled scorn for the views of the lowly Americans masses. Relying upon the method perfected by Rush Limbaugh, Hiatt complains that “House Democrats are pressing a bill that has the endorsement of MoveOn.org but excludes the judgment of the U.S. commanders.” Thus, Hiatt implies with his slimiest innuendo, Democrats are opting for their wild-eyed fringe McGovernite pro-”retreat” base, which stands in stark contrast to the serious, pro-American military commanders who should be obeyed instead.

Why shouldn’t Democrats in Congress listen to the views of Moveon.Org members? MoveOn is a grass-roots group driven by ordinary American citizens. The Fred Hiatts of our country sit by quietly when legislation in Congress, as it is every day, is drafted and enacted at the direction of K Street lobbyists and sprawling associations of all sorts of corporate interests. That is all business as usual, things as they should be, our country being quietly moved by the superior, buttoned-down elite. But if Congress once listens to the opinions of actual citizens — those filthy bloggers and their readers, or grass-roots groups like MoveOn — that, for Hiatt, is when democracy is imperiled.

More to the point, MoveOn and its members — unlike Hiatt and his oh-so-smart-and-serious expert-friends at The Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute — were right about the war. Unlike Hiatt and his friends, MoveOn members don’t have to issue confessionals about “Lessons Learned” because they foresaw exactly the horrors that would be unleashed by invading Iraq. So between the Americans who comprise the membership of MoveOn and Fred Hiatt and his friends, it is easy to see who is worth listening to and who is not.

Most revealing of all is Hiatt’s decree in his “Lessons” Editorial that “the discussion [over war] must never lose sight of the inevitable horrors of war.” But that is something which serious people worth listening to always understood. It was Hiatt and his brilliant- serious- national- security- scholar/experts who saw war — and still see war — as nothing more than an abstract policy option, sitting neutrally aside all of the others, for the U.S. to pursue whenever it seems vaguely beneficial.

People who cheer on a war and then admit afterwards that they “los[t] sight of the inevitable horrors of war” are, in essence, confessing to a profound lack of judgment and a warped moral sense. And worse still, Hiatt’s words about finally appreciating the “inevitable horrors of war” are completely empty. After all, he still viciously opposes even the most minimal efforts to bring an end to the disastrous and tragic war he helped to spawn, and in spouting such opposition, does not even pay lip service to the ongoing horrors — foreseeable and unforeseeable — which his war will continue to create.

Even now for Hiatt, five years of the war he cheered on is not enough. The one option we must avoid at all costs is any limitation whatsoever on the President’s power to keep the troops there forever. Polite suggestions to the Leader are fine, as long as they are completely optional. But what is “irresponsible,” unserious and to be avoided at all costs is anything that limits in any way Bush’s ability to prolong the war for as long as he wants.

Hiatt demands that we stay in Iraq indefinitely even though he has no idea how the war will ever end — the consideration which, in his “Lessons Learned” Editorial, he said was the “question [which] must be the first to be asked, not the last.” But Hiatt and his friends are completely uninterested in the question of how the war will end. Just like Bush, they do not want the war to end ever, because the end of the war will bring about the day they fear most — the day when it must be acknowledged that the war they brought us was a profound failure and a cataclysmic mistake.

We are staying in Iraq because our elite opinion-makers who bear great responsibility for the war have — just like their President — learned absolutely nothing, their self-serving claims to the contrary notwithstanding. And because they learned nothing, we are continuing now to do exactly the same thing in Iraq that we have been doing since March, 2003.

Quite revealingly, in March, 2003, the Fred Hiatts of the world were snidely mocking the “MoveOn.org crowd” for opposing the war. And in March, 2007, they are doing exactly the same thing. Among Beltway opinion-makers, absolutely nothing has changed. The U.S. continues to have little hope of reversing the disasters which have plagued our country for the last six years because the same people, driven by the same intellectual and moral sicknesses, continue to shape our discourse and drive our decisions.

UPDATE: Will it ever happen that people will see enough things like this and finally realize what the “liberal media” really is and what it is not?

UPDATE II: Greg Sargent has the video and transcript of Rep. David Obey’s superb response today on the House floor to Fred Hiatt’s Editorial. It is worth watching to see the passion in Obey’s speech — Washington needs a lot more of that — but here is just an excerpt:

Let me submit to you the problem we have today is not that we didn’t listen enough to people like The Washington Post. It’s that we listened too much. They endorsed going to war in the first place. They helped drive the drumbeat that drove almost two-thirds of the people in this chamber to vote for that misbegotten, stupid, ill-advised war that has destroyed our influence over a third of the world. So I make no apology if the moral sensibilities of some people on this floor, or the editorial writers of The Washington Post, are offended because they don’t like the specific language contained in our benchmarks or in our timelines.

What matters in the end is not what the specific language is. What matters is whether or not we produce a product today that puts pressure on this Administration and sends a message to Iraq, to the Iraqi politicians that we’re going to end the permanent long-term dead end babysitting service. That’s what we’re trying to do. And if The Washington Post is offended about the way we do it, that’s just too bad.

“The problem we have today is not that we didn’t listen enough to people like The Washington Post. It’s that we listened too much.” Precisely. And it is very refreshing to see Beltway politicians not only realizing that, but saying it very clearly.

There is probably no better favor Congressional Democrats could do for themselves — and for the country — than to cease paying attention to the mewling, neoconservative-accommodating, principle-free “advice” that constantly spews forth from the likes of Fred Hiatt. That is the advice which, as much as anything else, has led us into the predicament we find ourselves in as a country.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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