Bill Kristol, Highly Recommended

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 23, 2007

Bill Kristol's the-war-is-being-won piece in The Washington Post brought him plenty of ridicule, but at least one person liked it.

President Bush read the July 15 Outlook article that morning and recommended it to his staff.

On the other hand, Arianna Huffington called it "the single most deceptive piece of the entire war" and said Kristol had "officially surpassed Dick Cheney as the most intellectually dishonest member of the neocon establishment." David Corn of the Nation dismissed Kristol's "Bush boosterism." And 260 pages of comments on The Post's Web site called him everything from an "uninformed, partisan fool" to a "Bush sycophant" to a "menace to America."

The Weekly Standard editor, looking a bit grayer at 54, takes the broadsides in stride, his genial, professorial demeanor seemingly unruffled by the highly personal attacks.

"I've been pretty consistent, pretty upfront and straightforward about my views," he says in his downtown office. "I had the same views when they were reasonably popular as I do now when they're unpopular. It would really be pathetic to adjust one's analysis based on public opinion."

As recently as a year ago, says Kristol, "it was frustrating, a cause I believed in being mismanaged so badly. I was defending a war whose strategy I really disapproved of. I felt an obligation not to jump ship because I thought jumping ship would be a worse outcome." But he now believes that Bush's surge will lead to a successful outcome in Iraq.

White House aide Pete Wehner calls Kristol "intellectually independent and intellectually courageous. He's been critical of us over the years, too."

No pundit is more closely identified with the war, and for good reason. The Fox News commentator, Time columnist and onetime Dan Quayle aide had long been agitating for an invasion of Iraq. "SADDAM MUST GO," says the cover of a 1997 issue on the Standard's wall. Kristol helped launch a hawkish think tank and pressed his views on the likes of Condoleezza Rice. He insisted, in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and months later hailed Bush as a "visionary."

What has driven his detractors crazy is that he has never acknowledged error in a serious way, instead brushing aside his botched predictions to lecture the country on the right course of action. Even as other conservative columnists have broken with the president, Kristol has stood his ground.

"If you're a Republican or conservative, you're so annoyed by the Bush administration over the years, you have so many grievances, and I do, too," he says. But while Kristol privately makes Titanic jokes about his support for the war, he continues to strafe his targets, writing that "the Defeatist Democrats have lots of support from the mainstream media" and that most reporters are "committed to discrediting the war."

During a White House session with conservative writers on July 13, Kristol suggested to Bush that the administration offer more detailed war briefings.

"Obviously I wish the war had gone better," he allows, but "I'm not going to say something I don't believe to make my critics happier."

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