If you were asked to identify a single moment that best captures the failure of elite media outlets to act as agents of accountability, you could do worse than David Gregory asking Paul Wolfowitz on "Meet the Press" this weekend what we should do, “as a policy matter,” to deal with the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
Wolfowitz, as deputy secretary of defense from 2001 to 2005, was one of the chief visionaries and supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And he got just about everything wrong, from the cost of the war to the presence of WMD. And he doesn’t particularly care. In an interview with the Sunday Times last March, Wolfowitz made the argument that even though they got it wrong on WMD in 2003, everything they said was happening (but wasn’t) would likely have happened later. “We would very likely either have had to go through this whole scenario all over but probably with higher costs for having delayed, or we’d be in a situation today where not only Iran was edging towards nuclear weapons but so was Iraq and also Libya.”
What price did Wolfowitz pay for his part in the biggest American foreign policy disaster of that last generation? George Bush nominated him to the presidency of the World Bank. While at the World Bank he violated ethics rules and caused a scandal that paralyzed the institution. He was forced to resign after governments around the world called for him to be fired.
Everything Paul Wolfowitz has touched in the last decade has turned into an international catastrophe. And yet there he was on "Meet the Press" this weekend, asked to offer his take on what to do now that the rolling disaster he helped set in motion has reached yet another bloody nadir.
And Wolfowitz isn’t alone. The latest violent surge in Iraq has brought out the whole gang of original Iraq War agitators, who are having little difficulty finding platforms to push for a new armed conflict. L. Paul Bremer, the former special envoy to Iraq who disbanded the Iraqi army post-invasion and thus set the stage for the prolonged and brutal Iraqi insurgency, was given Op-Ed space by the Wall Street Journal to argue for U.S. military intervention. “Of course Americans are reluctant to re-engage in Iraq. Yet it is President Obama's unhappy duty to educate them about the risks to our interests posed by the unfolding drama in Iraq.”
The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol (“The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably,” April 2003) was on ABC News this weekend and criticized President Obama for “our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.” This morning Kristol called for U.S. soldiers to be sent to fight in Iraq, again. “Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011,” Kristol argues. “The crisis is urgent, and it would be useful to focus on a path ahead rather than indulge in recriminations.”
It’s a neat rhetorical trick for Kristol and other Iraq War promoters. The disaster they helped create is so urgent, they claim, that we can’t waste time arguing about why the disaster exists in the first place. Their argument for taking them seriously is to ignore everything they’ve said up to this point. For neoconservative pundits, it’s a sort of guaranteed job security: push for armed conflict, and if it descends into chaos then that’s just another reason to push for more armed conflict.
There are no consequences for being so wrong all the time. Kristol and Wolfowitz and all the other people responsible for dragging us into Iraq should be pariahs who labor under the expectation of doing some measure of atonement for their stubborn and wrongheaded pursuit of a disastrous policy. Instead they get invited on to Sunday shows to discuss what we should do next in Iraq.