New Republic Editors 'Regret' Their Support of Iraq War
There were indications early on that some of the administration's evidence was shaky, says the editorial, and "in retrospect we should have paid more attention to these warning signs."
The New Republic then retreats to its second argument, the "moral rationale" for war against one of the "ghastliest regimes of our time." But even on this more favorable turf, the administration's mistakes, including having "winked at torture," means that "this war's moral costs have been higher than we foresaw."
John Judis, a New Republic senior editor, disagreed with the editorial and felt it should have gone further. He had argued before the war that there was insufficient evidence that Hussein posed a nuclear threat. In light of subsequent events, he says, "I feel vindication."
As for the moral case for war, Judis says, "I found Saddam Hussein's regime as abhorrent as anyone. But I thought there were a lot of historical reasons to doubt that the U.S. going it alone, or with Britain, could create a regime in the Middle East in our own image. I don't see any reason for believing that things will get better."
The battle lines for the internal debate were drawn. Beinart is a charter member of the liberal hawks club, but much of the staff is more dovish. At one point, participants say, one staffer declared that the war effort had been a total disaster, prompting an impassioned plea from others, including hawkish foreign-affairs writer Lawrence Kaplan, that they shouldn't give up hope.
Peretz, who may be the magazine's strongest supporter of the war, argued against going too far.
"I don't think the New Republic owes anybody an apology," Peretz says. "There were some things we were mistaken about, like believing there were WMDs, but my piece lays out an argument for the war independent of that mistake. These apologies are silly." But he welcomes the editorial, adding: "I would have written it slightly differently."
Among the other contributors, some, like Zakaria, admit error: "The biggest mistake I made on Iraq was to believe that the Bush administration would want to get Iraq right more than it wanted to prove that its own prejudices were right."
Wieseltier goes further than the editorial, saying flatly: "If I had known that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I would not have supported this war." He says he has "come to despise" some of the officials running the war.
Others, like McCain, stand their ground: "Even if Saddam had forever abandoned his WMD ambitions, it was still right to topple the dictator."
Beinart, who in a signed column rips the conservatives who promoted the war, now contends he was misled by the administration. "I feel furious," he says. "If the administration had been less duplicitous, we and others might have recognized that Saddam didn't have nuclear weapons. . . . Maybe we were naive, but I didn't think they would lie to that extent."
Beinart still believes that things may turn out all right in Iraq. But, he concedes, "we may have to go back and do another editorial a year from now."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
A headline on a June 19 Style story about a New Republic editorial on the Iraq war was inaccurate. The magazine expressed regret for some of the arguments it made on the war's behalf but did not apologize or retract its support.
_____More Media Notes_____
Bill Clinton's Aura: Still at the Cleaners (The Washington Post, Jun 21, 2004)
Dominick Dunne and the Case of the Soured Source (The Washington Post, Jun 14, 2004)
Fewer Republicans Trust the News, Survey Finds (The Washington Post, Jun 9, 2004)
15 Years Later, the Remaking of a President (The Washington Post, Jun 7, 2004)
In Boston and New York, Predictable Coverage for Predictable Conventions (The Washington Post, May 31, 2004)