Sunday, September 11, 2011


From Bill Keller's recantation of his hawkery on Iraq, in today's New York Times Magazine:

During the months of public argument about how to deal with Saddam Hussein, I christened an imaginary association of pundits the I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club, made up of liberals for whom 9/11 had stirred a fresh willingness to employ American might. It was a large and estimable group of writers and affiliations, including, among others, ... Kenneth Pollack, the former C.I.A. analyst whose book, "The Threatening Storm," became the liberal manual on the Iraqi threat....

Like many liberal hawks, I was ambivalent; Pollack said he was 55 to 45 for war, which feels about right.

But, of course, Pollack's book wasn't ambivalent; its subtitle was The Case for Invading Iraq.

Pollack wasn't the president of the United States, someone obligated to choose a course of action in spite of doubts -- he was a policy wonk with ambition who certainly wasn't going to make waves with an ambivalent book. So he took the side of those who derived 100% confidence from the One Percent Doctrine.

It would have been nice if ambivalence had led normally hawkish and normally dovish people to opposite points of view in roughly equal numbers. That might have helped lead to a discussion of the issues that was thoughtful and serious.

But that was never going to happen -- the administration was hell-bent on this, fear of seeming like dirty hippies was inevitably going to push more and more liberals and moderates rightward, and the hawks had a much better propaganda machine (as they would have even if their operation weren't based in the White House).

That's why responsible people had an obligation to err on the side of expressing their doubts. But it's much easier to go with the flow than to try to stand athwart bloodlust yelling "Stop!" And so here we are.