Finally, Bill Keller, the New York Times's Liberal Hawk, Repents





Ruth Rosen, a Professor Emerita of History, was a former columnist at The Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her most book is "The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America." This article originally appeared at Talking Points Memo.

Bill Keller was just beginning his "new life" in the opinion section of the New York Times when the catastrophic events of 9/11 altered his life.  Once, he had been skeptical about the use of American military force.  Now, for reasons he still doesn't seem to fully understand, he joined, "an imaginary association of pundits of 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."  He supported the war in Iraq.

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11 Keller looks back in the NYT magazine and with a certain amount of honesty, he tries to understand why he supported a war in Iraq.  He disarmingly notes that he was not alone and that a whole coterie of well-known male pundits held the same views, including "Thomas Friedman of the Times; Fareed Zakaria, of Newsweek; George Packer and Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker; Richard Cohen of the Washington Post; the blogger Andrew Sullivan; Paul Berman of Dissent; Christopher Hitchens of just about everywhere; and Kenneth Pollack, the former C.I.A analyst whose book, The Threatening Storm, became the liberal manual on the Iraqi threat."

Good for Bill Keller for noting the elite male nature of this imaginary association.  "Yes," he writes, "it is surely relevant that this is exclusively a boys' club."

I knew, and even liked, some of these men, but I only had contempt for their uncharacteristic stupidity.  Like Keller, I was also working in the opinion section of a newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle, and while they kept up a drum beat for the Iraq war, I kept writing a steady series of columns exposing lies of mass deception.  But I failed; they and the Bush administration won.

How, I wondered could they not see the Big Lie, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11?  Once that lie was successfully planted in Americans' minds, it was easy to argue that these villains also had weapons of mass destruction that they intended to use on the United States.  Everyone seemed to forget that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

How, I wondered, could they not see that the need to create a lie to invade Iraq had everything to do with oil and strategic bases in the Mideast, but nothing to do with preventing a terrorist attack against this country?  How could Thomas Friedman be so silly as to assume that President Bush would fight the war Friedman wanted, as opposed to the chaotic and catastrophic destruction Bush brought to the Iraqi people?  Sure, Hussein was a monster, but he had not ordered the attacks against the United States.  Did they really not listen to all the reports of those in the international community who searched for, but found no nuclear weapons?  Did they really not notice the ten million people who marched around the globe before the war began?

Why, in other words, were they so uncharacteristically irrational?  To his credit, Keller writes, "We were a little too pleased with ourselves for defying the caricature of liberals as, to borrow a phrase from those days, brie-eating surrender monkeys."  Also to his credit is his admission that that these men apparently still needed to earn their military creds, and that they should have listened to Samantha Power, "who literally wrote the book on humanitarian intervention (the Pulitzer-winning "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age Of Genocide")."

With their arm-chair machismo, they supported the war.  Maybe it made these liberal hawks feel better about themselves, but it undermined the anti-war movement, and they became, as he admits, what historian Tony Judtt called "Bush's Useful Idiots."  Many of them will never know the contempt and disgust anti-war activists felt towards them.

And so, they wrapped themselves in the flag.  No, they weren't going to be wimps, not these powerful male intellectuals.  And, as he concedes, [we] "were still a little drugged by testosterone."  No comment.

Good for Bill Keller.  I have waited a long time for such repentance.  Those of us who exposed the lies and deceptions never had a chance.  If anyone listened, they dismissed us as unpatriotic, or as women, or as men who had been emasculated because they, too, were equally convince an invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake.  But I digress; the gender politics of that moment is another story, deserving much greater detail.

Perhaps other liberal hawks have written such tough-minded recants and I've missed them.  But kudos to Bill Keller for having the courage to look in the mirror, search his soul, and finally tell an important truth.


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