E&P Survey Finds That, At Critical Point, Editorials Offer Little Commentary on Troop Escalation in Iraq

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By: Greg Mitchell

As a critical turning point in America?s role in the nearly four-year-old Iraq war nears, the editorial pages of the largest U.S. newspapers have been surprisingly ? even, appallingly ? silent on President Bush?s likely decision to send thousands of more troops to the country.

It follows a long pattern, however, of the editorial pages strongly criticizing the conduct of the war without advocating a major change in direction. Now it comes at what appears to be a crucial point, with Democrats in Congress, overcoming their own timidity on the issue, finally emerging Friday with opposition to the buildup — setting up a possible battle royal in the days ahead.

Newspapers, at least in their editorials, have chosen to retreat to the sidelines so far. This comes even as hawkish conservatives such as Oliver North, and dozens of other op-ed contributors, have come out against the idea, and polls show that 11% or less of the public back the idea. That would seem to set the stage for editorials taking a strong stand, for or against.

An E&P survey of major papers? editorial pages this past week, however, finds that very few have said much of anything about the well-publicized ?surge? idea, pro or con. They may finally declare themselves Sunday ? much too late, given that the president seems to have made up his mind and just shook up his cast of commanders to assemble a more sympathetic crew. (Note: This “surge” in editorials on Sunday did not happen. See update below.)

The liberal editorial page of The New York Times has said nothing this week, beyond noting the “bleak realities” in Iraq, even as its regular columnists Bob Herbert, Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd and (on Sunday) Frank Rich and David Brooks, across the page, have ripped the idea.

Other papers often critical of the war, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, USA Today, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — among others — have also been silent. Oddly, all of them hailed the recent Iraq Study Group report, which opposed an escalation.

The Washington Post, hawkish in the past, has not even roused itself to say anything. Perhaps it is hopelessly torn. Even its conservative columnist, Charles Krauthammer, blasted the execution of Saddam’s execution on Friday, concluding: “We should not be surging American troops in defense of such a government.”

But the paper, we’ve learned, will run a major op-ed on Sunday by Sen. John McCain, titled, “The Case for More Troops.” Also coming Sunday a column by George Will called “Surge, or Power Failure?” It comes out against the idea, saying only a massive escalation might work.

Another longtime war supporter, the Chicago Tribune, did run an editorial on Friday, raising doubts about a surge, but did not come out flatly against it, focusing on handing over more responsibility to the Iraqis in general: ?President Bush will need firm answers to overcome some intense public opposition.?

The Chicago Sun-Times said nothing. Ditto for the Sacremento Bee, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, Portland’s The Oregonian, Long Island’s Newsday and New Jersey’s Bergen Record.

A Miami Herald editorial on Saddam?s hanging closed with, ?Now it is up to Iraqis and their international supporters, especially the United States, to find a way out of the despair and darkness that have been Iraq’s unfortunate fate for far too many years? — but it did not say a word about the “surge.”

Neither did the Dallas Morning News in its lone editorial related to Iraq, also on Saddam’s hanging, saying only, “The window of opportunity for success is closing rapidly as the White House re-evaluates prosecution of the war.”

The Sun of Baltimore seems out of step in this group, issuing a strong editorial against the escalation about a week ago. A longtime critic of the war, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, called for withdrawals, not an escalation, on Saturday. A San Francisco Chronicle editorial looked ahead to the president?s decision, stating, ?If it’s only dressed-up talk about sending in more troops, it won’t be worth hearing.?


The Washington Post did carry an editorial, which praises Sen. McCain and Sen. Lieberman for “courageously” pressing the “surge” — but adding the idea still gives the editors “pause.” It concludes: “If he chooses escalation, Mr. Bush will have to work a lot harder than he has before to explain the mission that justifies the risk and to build support in Congress and with the public.”

The New York Times again failed to discuss the surge, even though it ran a lengthy editorial attack on Bush called “The Imperial Presidency 2.0.” The closest it came to taking up the matter in the editorial was one snippet, where it accused the president of interpreting “his party?s drubbing as a mandate to keep pursuing his fantasy of victory in Iraq.”

Among the many leading papers that also ignored the pending Bush move on Sunday were the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News and Cleveland’s Plain Dealer.

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