‘E&P’ Column on 3rd Anniversary of War Reveals How Little Has Changed One Year Later

By: E&P Staff

Exactly one year ago, on the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, E&P Editor Greg Mitchell wrote a column taking issue with the lack of progress in the war and the failure of newspaper editorial pages to argue for the beginning of a phased U.S. pullout or at least setting a timetable for that.

Now, 12 months later, the war goes on — it has even been escalated with the addition of 30,000 more U.S. troops — and newspapers in recent days have again failed to take a strong stand for reducing the American involvement.

Here’s is Mitchell’s column from one year ago.

Anyone who hoped that the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq would inspire the country?s leading newspapers to finally editorialize for a radical change in the White House?s war policy has to be disappointed, again. From this evidence, the editorial boards of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the Knight Ridder collective, and others appear to be as clueless about what to do as are Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld.

Reading the editorials, which mainly call for more of the same, puts you in a time warp: They could have been, perhaps were, written one year ago, maybe two. There’s always a “turning point” to count on, from the transfer of power to this-time-we-mean-it-we-are-really-forming-a-unity-government.

Reviving a Vietnam-era phrase, it is the nation’s editorial voice that is the “pitiful, helpless giant,” even as the American and Iraqi public, alike, call for the start of a withdrawal.

On the other hand, the same newspapers — and many others — produced for the third anniversary on Sunday tough-minded and vital war coverage likely to make any thinking reader cry out in the direction of Washington, “Enough!” But that’s nothing new. Reporters for most papers long ago revealed that the U.S. presence is Iraq is doing some good, but more harm. Then the editorial side proclaims: Let’s stick around for more.

As with their news coverage, the editorials are often harshly critical of the war and the administration. They inevitably say the right things. Yet, after all that, they claim despite no real evidence, that things will only get worse if we start even a very slow pullout or, gosh — after three years with no end in sight — set some kind of timetable for same.

The New York Times, for example, cogently lays out everything that has gone criminally wrong, with little hope for improvement, but concludes with this ringing call for ? what? “The Iraq debacle ought to serve as a humbling lesson for future generations of American leaders — although, if our leaders were capable of being humbled, they could have simply looked back to Vietnam,” the Times declares. “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.”

Urgent diplomacy and forceful reminders: In other words, leave it to the incompetent gangs in Washington and Baghdad that the editorial has just eviscerated.

Here is what the Times wrote on the first anniversary of the war in 2004: “Right now, our highest priority is making the best of a very disturbing situation.” The “possibility” of “an Iraq flung into chaos and civil war, open to manipulation by every unscrupulous political figure and terrorist group in the Middle East, is too awful to contemplate.” Two years later, we’ve got it.

The Washington Post, for its part, did not run an editorial on the war on Sunday. It did offer an Op Ed by Donald Rumsfeld. “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis,” he wrote.

What about The Los Angeles Times? No help there. It boasted that it “will resist the temptation to be fashionable and will take this opportunity to at least concede that the Bush administration’s actions were rooted in a strain of American idealism most often identified with Woodrow Wilson.” And: “Much of the mocking by Bush critics about the supposed absurdity of the administration’s claims about weapons of mass destruction is revisionist nonsense.”

Think about all that for a minute. Then ponder that while the L.A. Times calls Iraq a “quagmire,” says U.S. leaders are completely out of ideas, it concludes with this unconscionable call to inaction: “As it enters its fourth year, the war in Iraq defies simplistic characterizations from both ends of the political spectrum. The heroism of U.S. forces and of ordinary Iraqis going about their daily lives is inspiring. But the future of Iraq remains shrouded in gray uncertainty.” And that’s it.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said today on ABC: “And this mindless kind of banter about, well, if we leave, the whole place falls apart; we can’t leave; we can’t even think about leaving. Wait a minute: You just showed on your screen the cost to the American people of the last three years. It’s helping bankrupt this country, by the way. We didn’t think about any of that and not just the high cost of lives and the continuation of that but our standing in the world.”

Chuck Hagel said that, and The New York Times and L.A. Times can’t?

Even the folks at Knight Ridder, the chain which produced some of the toughest pre-war and war coverage, prove toothless in an editorial published in many of its papers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, today. Like others during the past two years, it puts off any phased pullout until another “turning point” to come: “We helped make this mess; we have a moral obligation to try to leave Iraq in one piece. It is not an endless obligation, though. By the summer, it should be apparent whether Iraqi leaders can form a unity government that shuns violence.”

And what of Knight Ridder’s likely new owner, McClatchy? That chain’s California papers offered their own pointless assessment: “Bush has painted himself and this country into a dangerous corner from which no exit is in sight, save more years of bloodshed and misery in Iraq on the one hand or, on the other, a hasty U.S. departure that would dishonor America and leave Iraqis to cope with the tragedy visited upon them. It’s been a long three years. How many more await?”

Plenty more, if newspaper editorial pages (with a few brave exceptions) have anything to say about it.

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