‘Times’ Warp: Paper Backs One Last Chance In Iraq

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By: Greg Mitchell

On its editorial page, The New York Times declared: ?President Bush has lost the confidence of the American people, and his own party, when it comes to handling Iraq. If he wants to win it back, he must come up with a very clear road map for what he expects, both politically and militarily, from the Iraqi government. If the Iraqis fail to meet those goals, he must demonstrate that the price of equivocation is American withdrawal.?

While this may sound like it comes from today?s editorial, which advocates giving the Iraqi leaders ?one last opportunity? via the Bush surge/escalation idea, the depressing truth is that it was published on Nov. 17, 2005.

So the Times, obviously, believes ?equivocation? can?t be rushed, and that the Bush war effort deserves more last chances than, say, Billy Martin got from George Steinbrenner. Even its columnist, Thomas Friedman, famous for his never-ending six-month extensions on hope, finally lost patience recently and came out against the ?surge.?

Last March, the Times declared, “For the present, our goal must be to minimize the damage, through the urgent diplomacy of the current ambassador and forceful reminders that American forces are not prepared to remain for one day in a country whose leaders prefer civil war to peaceful compromise.” That was roughly 260 one-days ago and now the paper wants more, not fewer, U.S. troops there.

Who ever thought the Times? editorial page would come off more hawkish on the “surge” than David Brooks, George Will, and Ollie North?

A spin through past Times editorials quickly retrieves such gems as this headline from Aug. 2, 2004: ?Last Chance for Inclusion in Iraq.?

But I have to say, the paper has actually been devilishly consistent on this. I know that because I have been bellyaching about it for over three years. The editorials have been sharply, sometimes brilliantly, critical of the conduct of the war, but when it comes to future policy, the paper has steadily opposed any pullout — and periodically called for more troops to try to provide more security.

Still, it was shocking today to find the paper holding the fort ? even if our Iraqi allies can?t.

For the Times is in a better position than most to try to reverse U.S. policy. After all, its editorial page was critical of our 2003 invasion at the time, not just in retrospect. Like most papers, its reportage from Iraq has usually been frank and courageous. Meanwhile, it could be forgiven if it felt a greater obligation to help get us out of the war, since its news coverage, featuring Judith Miller and Michael Gordon hyping the Iraqi WMD and ?mushroom cloud? threat, did so much to ease our way into the war.

This is the quagmire — if I may use that word — most newspapers have allowed themselves to inhabit: Disastrous coverage of the run-up to the war, partly mitigated by very tough reporting later; editorial doubts about the invasion wiped out by timidity in failing to press for a major change in course since. The Times is just more guilty than others ? given its greater standing and editorial influence. (Also in the running: The Washington Post, whose editorial page, unlike the Times, has served as cheerleader for the war.)

?As weeks go by without discernible progress, hopes for a decent outcome get progressively harder to sustain,? the Times editorial stated. That one was from Dec. 22, 2004. Two thousand Americans, and likely more than 150,000 Iraqis, have died since then.

Earlier, on July 6, 2004, the Times warned that “overworked soldiers get orders for extended and multiple tours, even as new evidence shows that one in six soldiers who returned home from earlier tours in Iraq is showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or other severe emotional difficulties.”

Then there?s this: ?The United States cannot afford to paper over the real situation in Iraq with the sort of facile slogans, political spin and wishful thinking that have largely characterized the debate so far.? That?s from a Times editorial on April 2, 2004. Nearly three years later, however, the Times still wants to give the fantasists ?one last opportunity.?

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UPDATE FRIDAY:

Following the speech, a New York Times editorial declared that Bush had not met or set necessary conditions and therefore the paper did not back the troop escalation.

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Related E&P Story:

‘NYT’ Does Not Oppose Bush’s ‘Surge’ in Iraq

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