By: Ari Berman
A new E&P survey of newspaper editorial positions on the Iraq crisis shows that the growing rift at the United Nations and massive antiwar demonstrations around the globe appear to have had an impact. E&P now finds that a majority of top papers oppose any attack on Iraq without broad international support.
While the first two E&P surveys (Jan. 20 and Jan. 31) documented that a majority of the top 50 newspapers (by circulation) opposed President Bush’s desire for a quick invasion, on various grounds, a third survey conducted Feb. 7, immediately after Colin Powell’s presentation to the U.N., charted a dramatic shift. Several previous critics of invasion suddenly espoused pro-war views. E&P identified and charted three groups: very pro-war, severely skeptical, and the cautious (but not necessarily opposed to war).
In the latest survey, the composition of the groups has not only shifted somewhat but a persistent condition for going to war has emerged.
Of the 37 papers publishing editorials on Iraq between Feb 15. and Feb. 19, the hawks numbered 15 and doves 9, while the cautious camp became solidly internationalist. Some that once reluctantly accepted a quick war for different reasons are now calling for any invasion to be backed by a stronger world coalition or with the full support of the United Nations Security Council — a noteworthy condition at a time when the U.N. appears deeply fractured. Thirteen papers now occupy this middle ground, meaning that almost two-third’s of the total sample oppose any war for the time being.
“If war becomes necessary, it will be better waged by the world than by even a broad ‘coalition of the willing,'” wrote the Detroit Free Press on Feb. 15. “The world remains safer if the peace-seeking United Nations remains intact.”
“The easiest part of the Iraq challenge may be fighting Saddam Hussein’s army,” The Dallas Morning News said, but added, “Keeping the world at our side is fast becoming the largest test.”
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis wrote, “Unified action on Iraq remains crucial. …” The Plain Dealer in Cleveland agreed on Feb 19: “The more nations that participate in a military campaign to disarm Saddam, the less likely will be the horrible fruition of ‘what ifs’ tucked in Rumsfeld’s desk,” a reference to a five-page list purportedly stored in the Secretary of Defense’s desk drawer.
Other papers argued that by aggressively pursuing Iraq, the U.S. had squandered vital world support. “Today, much of the world is more concerned about restraining the United States than restraining the brutal tyrant in Baghdad,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote. “In trying to isolate Saddam Hussein, we have instead painted ourselves into a corner.”
Additonal editorials also bemoaned the persistence of unanswered questions not addressed by the Bush administration. “More evidence needs to be found before an attack is launched and the bloody, costly uncertainties of war unfold,” said the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We still have not been convinced that this war is a necessary or a principled action,” the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., argued. “We will continue to press the administration for a full disclosure of the objectives, the cost, the scope, the occupation, and the exit strategies.”
“[Bush] has not prepared the country for the sacrifices that are coming, ” The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., warned. “His belligerent tone has turned off not only Europeans but many Americans as well. If he’s going to war, he will need broad and deep support and home … It is not enough to say [he is] out of patience.”
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale called for a tripling of weapons inspectors and weekly reports to the Security Council. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and The Sun of Baltimore advised the President to acknowledge growing unrest at home and abroad.
A number of other papers, including the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram to The Oregonian in Portland, advised the President to recognize the significance of the weekend’s worldwide demonstrations. “Heed the voices — Peace demonstrations have a point: Bush hasn’t made a strong enough case for war now,” Newsday in Melville, N.Y., wrote on Feb 18.
The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, spun this public dissent into a call for immediate action. “The weekend’s protests across Europe and elsewhere, impressive as they were in terms of sheer numbers, only provide yet another, if secondary, reason for prompt action.” The Journal argued that the “sight of a liberated Iraq” would quell European misgivings about the use of force.
The New York Daily News, New York Post, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, Rocky Mountain News of Denver, and The San Diego Union-Tribune all resorted to French-bashing. “Now who’s the cowboy?” The Detroit News asked. “French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac pitched a raging tantrum after several Eastern European countries defied attempts to bully them beneath France’s skirts.”
The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, The Indianapolis Star, The Tampa Tribune, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans all dismissed calls for increased weapons inspectors, arguing that more time would only help Hussein stall.
“If the Security Council wants to continue to play word games, then let them,” the Boston Herald scoffed. “But this nation’s own government will not put the lives of its citizens at risk while they do.”