By Adam Johnson / The Real News Network
Recently, the Pentagon reportedly blocked efforts by the Biden White House to share information pertaining to Russian war crimes with the International Criminal Court (ICC), citing concerns about the precedent it would set for prosecuting Americans for war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other fields of US military involvement. On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, there was a cyclical irony to the whole story: the US was effectively admitting it had zero legal or moral authority to help prosecute Russian war crimes in Ukraine because it had, itself, committed many of the same crimes, up to and including the invasion of another country. The Pentagon’s stonewalling attempts will likely be overturned, especially after lawmakers and officials are sufficiently reassured that “precedent” means basically nothing when it comes to international law and the ICC—which has, exclusively, out of its 41 public indictments, only charged Africans with war crimes in the 20+ years of its existence. There’s little reason to think this all-African run will change; however, given Russia’s relative pariah status on the global stage, its tiny GDP, and its flagrant disregard for civilian casualties, it’s possible they could make history and break the reverse color barrier. But the idea that the US, Israel, UK, and any other Western powers would ever be on trial for war crimes at the Hague has about as much chance of happening as a cracked egg spontaneously reassembling back into a full egg. Which is to say, it’s all part of the morality theater in DC, but not something anyone legitimately fears.
Indeed, not only have none of the hawks who promoted, cheerled, or authorized the criminal invasion of Iraq ever been held accountable, they’ve since thrived: they’ve found success in the media, the speaking circuit, government jobs, and cushy think tank gigs, and they currently occupy the Oval Office. Meanwhile, those in the mainstream who openly opposed the war—like, for example, Phil Donahue and Chris Hedges—were either fired or relegated to alternative media outlets. The almost uniform success of all the Iraq War cheerleaders provides the greatest lesson about what really helps one get ahead in public life: It’s not being right, doing the right thing, or challenging power, but going with prevailing winds and mocking anyone who dares to do the opposite.
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20 years on, let’s check up on some of US media’s biggest cheerleaders for the Iraq War and see how they’re living their best life:
How they sold the invasion of Iraq: David Frum was a head writer for the Bush White House and coined the term “Axis of Evil.”
How their career blossomed after being horribly wrong: After his stint in the Bush White House, Frum pivoted to his “second act” as a well-paid and influential columnist for The Atlantic and a mainstay of cable TV. After wallowing in mid-tier relevance during the Obama years (his most notable contribution was denying Israeli war crimes during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 by accusing Palestinians of using Crisis Actors), Frum hit paydirt with the rise of Trump the following year. Probably the biggest benefactor of the so-called “NeverTrump Republicans” media creation—a makework jobs program concocted by MSNBC and The New York Times to maintain the Republican brand and launder the reputation of discredited Bush-era right-wingers—his Twitter following exploded from 100K in 2015 to over 1 million today.
What they’re up to now: Frum still publishes xenophobic cover stories for The Atlantic (while attacking Trump on immigration from the right). Most recently, he’s been keeping himself busy laying the groundwork for a soft US coup in Mexico by hysterically drumming up fake charges of dictatorship on the part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. But mostly he’s a social media brand, a neoconservative platitude machine for low-information MSNBC viewers, crying about “authoritarianism,” “rule of law,” and other warmed-over Cold War slogans used to justify US meddling in foreign countries. He not only still doesn’t apologize for his role in selling the Iraq War, he defends it, and defends it in extremely patronizing and racist terms.
How they sold the invasion of Iraq: David Frum’s boss, Jeffery Goldberg, was a reporter at The New Yorker who laundered conspiracy theories connecting Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and Iraq to al Qaeda more generally—theories that were discredited at the time and, in retrospect, played an essential role in convincing liberals to support the war. Six weeks before the invasion, Goldberg went on the holiest of holies for Democratic media consumers, NPR, to discuss “Possible Links Between Iraq and al Qaeda and Evidence That the Iraqis May be Trying to Evade Weapons Inspectors.” In that interview, he helped spread Dick Cheney’s misinformation about Saddam having a hand in 9/11.
How their career blossomed after being horribly wrong: Jeffery Goldberg is now editor-in-chief of the prestigious and influential Atlantic Magazine. Like everyone else on this list, he has used recent Russian meddling in US elections and aggression against Ukraine to launder his image and promote himself as a champion of Western Liberal Democracy and the Liberal Rules Based Order™.
What they’re up to now: Goldberg had the gall to write for and oversee a multi-part series in The Atlantic on “conspiracy theories” from 2020-2022. He even co-produced a documentary series for Peacock (backed by Atlantic majority-owner and multi-billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs) detailing the rise of conspiracies in American politics. And while many of the conspiracy theories the series documents are, indeed, toxic and damaging to our tenuous democracy, Goldberg conveniently ignored one of the more consequential conspiracy theories of the past 20 years: the idea that Iraq played a role in planning and carrying out the 9/11 attacks. This conspiracy theory alone—and that is certainly an accurate way to describe it—helped cause the deaths of between 500,000 and 1 million Iraqis.
How they sold the invasion of Iraq: Having just left Congress in 2001, Joe Scarborough was, naturally, handed a cable show on MSNBC called “Scarborough Country” in April 2003, two weeks after the invasion. One of the first things he did from his newfound media perch was mock those who had doubted the wisdom of the war.
“I doubt that the journalists at The New York Times and NPR or at ABC or at CNN are going to ever admit just how wrong their negative pronouncements were over the past four weeks,” he said on April 9, 2003. The next day he mocked “elite journalists, politicians, and Hollywood types” for being wrong.
“I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types…. I just wonder, who’s going to be the first elitist to show the character to say: ‘Hey, America, guess what? I was wrong’? Maybe the White House will get an apology.”
How their career blossomed after being horribly wrong: Bizarrely, in the years after Scarborough made a big show out of mocking war skeptics, he made a career out of rebranding as one himself. As FAIR’s Peter Hart thoroughly documented, Saraborough frequently rang in each annual anniversary of the Iraq invasion by omitting his role altogether and running cover for himself by lying about certain Democrats supporting the war, like Carl Levin and Nancy Pelosi, who didn’t.
What they’re up to now: Joe Scarborough has been a multimillionaire morning show host on MSNBC for 16 years. His initial smug commentary on the network, particularly his mocking of war critics, has been entirely memory holed.
How they sold the invasion of Iraq: Jonathan Chait was a young careerist writer at The New Republic (which, at the time, was run by the very pro-Iraq War Marty Peretz) who wrote several articles explicitly arguing for the Iraq Invasion. One such article, headlined “Give war a chance,” made the case for why “liberals should support military action against Iraq.”
How their career blossomed after being horribly wrong: Perhaps the least cushily rewarded of anyone else on the list, the 51-year-old Chait remained a lowly—though, one assumes, a massively overpaid—staff writer for a number of years, eventually rising to the rank of senior editor before departing from The New Republic in 2011.
What they’re up to now: Chait remains a tedious hippie-punching writer for New York Magazine where he checks the box, complaints about Politically Correct (d/b/a “woke”) college kids, Bernie Sanders, Medicare for All, and anything to the left of the Obama White House. His latest obsession on the left-punching beat is carrying water for the current anti-trans panic.
How they sold the invasion of Iraq: Fareed Zakaria was one of the biggest promoters of the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric that underwrote so much of the jingoistic fervor for the invasion. It was Zakaria, after all, who penned the now-infamous “Why They Hate Us” cover story for Newsweek two weeks after 9/11, accompanied by a photo of a dead-eyed, gun-wielding child ready to murder Good White Americans.
As FAIR noted in 2007, Zakaria’s 2002 report on widespread European opposition to the Iraq War was strangely headlined, “The Lonesome Doves of Europe.” In the article, Zakaria refers to Germany’s opposition to the war as “bizarre” and paints Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s anti-war position as little more than “[p]andering to public opinion.”
How their career blossomed after being horribly wrong: Zakaria has been a Serious Person cable news fixture for the past 20 years. In 2015 he performed the obligatory Iraq War mea culpa, but it was defensive, revisionist, and concluded with the sense that there were no greater lessons to glean from the entire saga. Only that his judgment was off that week.
What they’re up to now: Zakaria hosts Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN and writes a weekly column for The Washington Post.
How they sold the invasion of Iraq: Applebaum was a member of The Washington Post editorial board that loudly championed the invasion of Iraq. Their most infamously and colossally wrong editorial, “Irrefutable,” from Feb. 6, 2003, read:
“After Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Powell left no room to argue seriously that Iraq has accepted the Security Council’s offer of a “final opportunity” to disarm. And he offered a powerful new case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is cooperating with a branch of the al Qaeda organization that is trying to acquire chemical weapons and stage attacks in Europe.”
Needless to say, every word of this was a lie. And an incredibly smug lie, to say the least.
How their career blossomed after being horribly wrong: Applebaum remained a Washington Post opinion writer for years. Her most dubious contribution to the discourse was her cruel defense of Roman Polanski from critics who thought he should be held legally accountable for raping a 13-year-old, rather than living in a villa in France and continuing to make movies. In “The Outrageous Arrest of Roman Polanski” from 2009, Applebaum feigned outrage over the fact that some people would want child rape to be prosecuted. (The article appears to have been scrubbed from The Washington Post’s website, but it remains on webarchive for those interested in reading…)
Undisclosed in Applebaum’s defense of Polanski: her husband Radosław Sikorski, then-Polish foreign minister, intervened on Polanksi’s behalf, lobbying then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to send Polanski back to France (Clinton, understandably, blew him off).
What they’re up to now: Applebaum is now a staff writer at—where else?—The Atlantic. And she’s a senior fellow at The Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies—another neoconservative mainstay whose reputation has been wiped clean by her rebranding as an anti-authorarian liberal hero standing up to Putin.