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Keller War-Mongers On in Faux-Stock-Taking of NYT/Iraq War

Bill Van Auken of wsws has a NON-shallow take on Bill Keller’s recent disappointingly shallow column on the New York Time’s role in the launch of the Iraq War:

On the ninth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, New York Times columnist and former editor Bill Keller has penned a self-serving piece that obscures his own role in justifying that war, while setting ground rules for launching the next one.

Keller’s headline—“Falling in and out of war”—is an accurate reflection of the smug and cynical character of the well-heeled layer of establishment liberals of which he is a part, and which today constitutes a principal constituency for imperialism.

Let’s just pause here for a sec. “Falling in and out of war?” is the title of his self-congratulating exercise in supposed honest rumination? Is that supposed to be a clever paraphrase of the “fickleness” of falling in and out of love as compared to the fickleness of a superpower falling in and out of war? Colossally minimizing I’d say, already worthy of the vomit bucket. Yeah, one-on-one love can hurt and be tumultuous but the cost in human carnage and obscene tax dollars of WAR deserves less cavalier rhetoric from the get-go I'm thinking.

Keller sets his readers up with the promise that he is ready to make some serious acknowledgements on the NYT’s significant role in justifying and pushing War with Iraq onto the U.S. public. Staking his and its credibility behind it. Van Auken:

“When you’ve been wrong about something as important as war, as I have, you owe yourself some hard thinking about how to avoid repeating the mistake,” Keller begins his column. “And if that’s true for a mere kibitzing columnist, it’s immeasurably more true for those in a position to actually start a war.”

Keller the “mere kibitzing columnist”? Such modesty! One would hardly imagine that when he was “wrong about something as important as war” he was the executive editor of the Times, taking in an annual salary of $650,000 and directing one of the most powerful opinion manufacturing organizations in the United States.

The former editor says next to nothing about how he got it wrong in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, nor why he now believes it was a mistake to support that war, outside of an aside that it “distracted our attention and energy from the far more important undertaking in Afghanistan.”

He is even less inclined to dwell on the implications of his getting it wrong: the death, wounding and forced exile of millions of Iraqis, the decimation of an entire society, and the killing of over 4,000 US troops, along with the maiming of tens of thousands of others.

Van Auken calls out Keller’s shameless minimization of the POWER of his and the NYT’s role in launching this tragic war on FALSE EVIDENCE pushed onto us all:

Any serious examination of the record of the Iraq war inevitably points to the indispensable role of the Times and its editor, Keller, in selling the lies used to justify the war to the American public. This wasn’t a matter of “kibitzing” columns, but a sustained exercise in disinformation, in which the newspaper and its correspondent Judith Miller made the case that the regime in Baghdad was developing “weapons of mass destruction” and that war was necessary. Editorial after editorial and column after column continued a drumbeat justifying war. As the “newspaper of record” and a voice of official liberalism, the Times was cited by the Bush White House in making the case for invading Iraq, and it set the tone for the entire national media.

Keller’s article despicably war-mongers onward, as it waffles on the rush to illegitimate pre-emptive war-making with Iraq, dismisses any serious need to explore the motivation of the Afghan War, justifies the war-making we just committed in Libya and cautions (but never morally or seriously enough) about future wars with Syria and Iran. Keller’s pretense that his is a cautionary editorial on war seems to me more of an impression management cover-up of ego with smoke and mirrors. It has enough war reality horror to confuse his bottom-line intention. A cover-up I say of his own and collectively the NYT's and even the American governments', Bush’s and, more fully, Obama’s, respective you know whats. He is cravenly though covertly endorsing the same GOD-D*MN GARDEN PATH TO WAR.

Keller writes:

There is a broad agreement that it was in America’s vital national interest in 2001 to go after the homicidal zealots behind the 9/11 attacks on America, and the Afghan regime that hosted them. Whatever you think of how the war was waged or how long it should continue, the going-in was, as the cops say, a righteous shoot.

To that Van Auken challenges:

Really? If that was the case, why didn’t the Bush administration order the military into Saudi Arabia, from which 15 of the 19 men accused of the 9/11 hijacking came, along with ideological inspiration, funding and logistical support for the operation? Why some “zealots” were targeted for elimination and others protected was bound up not with any “broad agreement,” but with the geo-strategic interests of US imperialism—in particular, for control of oil, a three-letter word that makes no appearance in Keller’s column.

Keller declares that the Afghanistan war was “as the cops say, a righteous shoot.” The cops do use this phrase, sometimes when describing the fatal shooting of a man seen reaching for a gun that turns out to be a wallet. The underlying assumption is that the United States is the world’s policeman, with a license to use deadly force whenever and wherever it sees fit.

Keller analyzes the tragic US-provoked wars not in his role as a major representative of what used to be a fourth estate as guardian of the citizenry but more as a political and military gamesman. He does finally give the sanctity of human lives lip service. But after bringing up the harsh reality of war, you know which side of the "to war or not to war" equation HIS thumb is coming down on.

The critical difference: Syria is much harder. Libya had weak air defenses deployed along the coastline, easily accessible to Western bombers. Syria’s defenses are more lethal, more plentiful and spread across inland population centers. “We’d have to carpet-bomb a path in and out, or risk American pilots being shot down by the regime and used as human shields,” said John Nagl, a retired Army counterinsurgency expert who teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy. “We’d be killing a lot more people.”

Cost-benefit analysis may seem a cold-blooded discipline — you can’t put a price on freedom, blah blah blah — but it is inseparable from the question of our national interests. After more than 10 years of war that have bled our treasury of at least $3 trillion, killed or disabled many thousands of our troops, and created the kind of multiple-rotation stress that invites atrocities and desecrations, every incremental commitment has to be weighed against the cost to our economic security and our readiness to face the next real threat.

Keller wants his cake and to eat it too. Here he seems to be looking down at the forest of war after 9 years. Keep in mind he is incapable of acknowledging his own and the NYT's tragic role, THE REALITY THAT THE NYT GOT THE EVIDENCE FOR WAR WITH IRAQ WRONG WRONG WRONG and SOLD SOLD SOLD IT TO THE PUBLIC. Banged the drums hard for war with Iraq. The NYT gave the Cheneys et al. the faux-liberal (hah!) media to point to as a mutual endorser for pre-emptive mass devastation. At the marriage of neocons and neolibs I'm thinking Keller was at the very least the best man!

He was lost among the trees then and he still is now. He strives to give the Obama regime the cover of taking all things into serious consideration BEFORE Obama and the US bomb the sh*t out of yet another country.

Policy makers should — and President Obama mostly has — put a premium on appraising alternatives to war. Most notably, the president has held off an Israeli air assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities by mobilizing tough sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking industries, and by all but declaring that if Iran gets too close to making nuclear weapons the U.S. will send in the bombs. The sanctions show some signs of working.

The ultimate “or what” question about Iran is, if sanctions and threats fail, could we live with a nuclear Iran? Could we trust that like every other nuclear state Iran would be deterred from using its weapons by the certain knowledge that a counterstrike would turn Persia into a wasteland? It’s worth serious discussion, but while the idea of containment by deterrence is gaining ground in pundit-land, President Obama can’t touch it; to do so would undermine the whole effort to halt Iran’s program and, not incidentally, would be hazardous to his reelection.

To me this man is uber chilling. Yes, Bill. “Sanctions.” Let’s not get into the reality of what “sanctions” do. Keep it Orwellianly distant from your reader. Like Obama is doing a huge favor to Iran with mere sanctions.

By all means, let’s pretend that we are a serious challenger (hah) of Israel’s borderline trigger-fingeredness for war when our Congress and newspaper editorial offices are chock-full of Israel Firsters! Yeah, Obama wants to keep Israel at bay re Iran until AFTER the election. This is the priority to Obama and apparently upper most in Bill Keller's mind RATHER than inflicting further hell on humanity. Keller mentions war "wasteland" and Obama's "re-election" in the same breath. That is cold.

The tragedy of American BIG MEDIA, whether print media or on the tv, is that they ALWAYS throw morality under the bus and focus focus focus on "might and mendacity make right" political gamesmanship.

Keller is unquestioning as to the bloodbath (my word, of course, never would be Keller's) in Libya thanks to US “leading from behind” he proudly calls it, because it had cronies involved and this is the NYT's justification for the deadly but benign-sounding “no fly zone”.

Keller additionally "jumps the shark" with this colossal obnoxiousness:

My first caveat is public opinion, which no democracy can ignore. Fighting wars is not something you do by poll. Public opinion can be wrong. It lagged behind F.D.R. before World War II; it was riding along enthusiastically with President Bush when he invaded Iraq. But public opinion puts a thumb on the scale. ....


(pause in blog for vomiting)

Van Auken gets to the heart of the matter, the defiance of international law, the “heart” that Keller was incapable of reaching back then and is still incapable of acknowledging today. I wish Mr. Keller had kept his reflections to himself, kept his big, dangerous mouth shut once again, but if you don’t do an honest atonement of your sins you keep on passing disaster-mongering and colossal narcissistic self-interest on at the sacrifice of HUMANITY. Van Auken:

One question is entirely missing. He does not bother to ask: is the war legal?

“Optional wars,” as Keller delicately describes them, are, in the language of international law, wars of aggression.

The Nuremberg Military Tribunal, which tried the surviving leaders of Hitler’s Third Reich, described such a war as “essentially an evil thing.” It declared that “to initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The United Nations Charter, to which Washington is a signatory, commits member states to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Such considerations are of no interest to Keller and fellow “liberal” supporters of imperialism. Having licked the wounds to their vanity and reputations inflicted by the debacle in Iraq, they are now gearing up to back new wars being prepared by a Democratic president on the same pretexts of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and human rights utilized by his Republican predecessor.

In his utter disregard for international law, Keller expresses the essential criminality of US foreign policy.

He closes his column with the invocation: “If Iraq taught us nothing else, it should have taught us this: Before you deploy the troops, deploy the fact checkers.”

Is this meant to be ironic? Wasn’t it the ostensible role of the New York Times and what was once known as the “fourth estate” to challenge the government’s monopoly of information and question the supposed “facts” used to justify war?

If Iraq taught us anything, it is that under conditions of the explosive growth of American militarism, unprecedented social inequality and a relentless attack on democratic rights, the corporate-controlled media plays the role of the servile mouthpiece of the government. Today, having learned nothing, it is regurgitating and embellishing upon official lies to construct the justifications for an even more devastating war to further the aims of US imperialism.

Obama and Keller. Both ever-committed to impression management uber alles. They will enable each other. Who gives a serious sh*t about people dying? About real accountability for mass carnage? About moral and international law? Not them. Not really.

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ralphbon's picture
Submitted by ralphbon on

I have no quarrel with the thrust of Van Auken's arguments. However, when Judy Miller and Michael Gordon were peddling their crap about aluminum tubes, and through and past the launching of the war on Iraq, Howell Raines was Executive Editor at NYT, not Bill Keller. At that time, the execrable Keller was indeed a kibbitzing columnist, of staggering mediocrity, which persists.

Van Auken does no one any favors by failing to check his own facts before sanctimoniously "correcting" Keller about his employment status in the run-up to the war.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Hey Ralph.

Yes, the reference gave me pause, too, but I assumed Van Auken meant executive small "e" not number one guy. And then once war was launched Keller was number one guy.

Keller was "managing" editor of the NYT from 1997 to September 2001. He became Op-Ed columnist and senior writer in September 2001. Howell Raines was the executive editor until 2003 and then Keller became the executive editor from July 2003 to Sept. 2011. On June 2, 2011, Keller announced that he would step down from the position to become a full-time writer. Jill Abramson replaced him as executive editor.

best, libby