“Those of us who once advocated this war [in Iraq]
are humbled,” Cohen wrote in a column on April 4. “It’s not just that we
grossly underestimated the enemy. We vastly overestimated the Bush
Cohen castigated Bush for “his embrace of
incompetents, not to mention his own incompetence. … Rummy still runs
the Pentagon. The only generals who have been penalized are those who
spoke the truth. … Victory in Iraq is now three years or so overdue and
a bit over budget. Lives have been lost for no good reason – never mind
the money – and now Bush suggests that his successor may still have to
keep troops in Iraq.”
But what is also true is that the major U.S. news
media has operated with equally stunning incompetence and – just like in
the U.S. government – there has been almost no accountability.
The Washington Post, for instance, offers up nearly
the same line-up of columnists who ran with the pro-war herd from 2002
Some, like David Ignatius, have only slowly begun
to retreat from their enthusiasm for invading Iraq; others, like Charles
Krauthammer, remain true believers in the neoconservative cause. Fred
Hiatt stays ensconced, too, as the editorial page editor, despite having
to admit that his pre-war editorials shouldn’t have treated the threat
of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as
a “flat fact” instead of an allegation.
Yet, even the tactical retreats by “humbled”
pro-war columnists like Cohen have focused on U.S. incompetence in
waging the war, not any outrage over the illegality and immorality of
invading a country that wasn’t threatening the United States.
By failing to expand the criticism of Bush beyond
success or failure, the mainstream U.S. news media implicitly embraces
Bush’s assertion of a special American right to attack wherever and
whenever the President says.
It’s still out of bounds to discuss how the Iraq
invasion violated the Nuremberg principle against aggressive war and the
United Nations Charter, which bars attacking another country except in
cases of self-defense or with the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
Indeed, in the mainstream U.S. press, there’s a
smirking attitude whenever international law is mentioned, much like the
contempt expressed by President Bush in his quip, “International law? I
better call my lawyer.”
To one extent or another, nearly all major U.S. news outlets have
bought into the imperial neoconservative vision of an all-powerful
United States that operates outside of international law. This
perspective can be found among the loudmouths at Fox News as well as in the
more tempered columns by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.
So, the debate over the Iraq War’s legality has
been limited mostly to the Internet and to the foreign press. Despite
growing mainstream U.S. doubts about whether the Iraq War was “worth
it,” there are almost no second thoughts about whether it was a war
Yet there is a strong argument that the United
States should begin facing up to how Bush’s actions violated the rules
laid down by the Nuremberg Tribunals, which held that aggressive war was
an offense so severe that it justified execution.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who
represented the United States at Nuremberg, stated, too, that the
principle did not only apply to Adolf Hitler’s henchmen, but to all
nations, including World War II’s victorious powers.
“Let me make clear that while this law is first
applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to
serve a useful purpose, it must condemn aggression by any other nations,
including those which sit here now in judgment,” Jackson said.
This failure of the U.S. press corps to address
legal and moral issues raised by Bush’s Iraq War also reflects a refusal
by the news media to hold leading American journalists accountable for
their part in the tragedy.
Richard Cohen may feel “humbled,” but that is
little comfort to the tens of thousands of Iraqis and American soldiers
killed and maimed from an aggressive war that nearly all the high-priced
American pundits cheered on.