Who is responsible for the now-detested Iraq War? Is it the politicians who authorized it, the public who supported it, or the commentators who were out front in justifying it? Lately it seems we are settling on the pundits, at least the unrepentant ones.
Unfortunately, that doesn't do history justice.
The subject of "pundit accountability" and the de facto tenure of the commentator class is cropping up again. Frederik deBoer made a powerful version of the case, saying that journalists and commentators need to put their own house in order before they come after academia. DeBoer fires at all sorts of targets. But the argument for consequences in commentary has been a long-running theme aimed at supporters of the Iraq War. I've probably made it in the past, too: Why do we still listen to people who got it so, so wrong?
Media Matters made another version of the same argument in June, aiming it at Ari Fleischer:
The role people like Fleischer played in supporting and selling the invasion of Iraq and whether or not they've assessed that role and found their actions wanting are factors media should consider as they report on current efforts by conservatives to pin all the blame for the current state of that country on President Obama. [Media Matters]
And it crops up on Twitter. When David Frum questioned the credibility of photos emerging from Israel's war in Gaza, he had to back down with an apology. His critics brought up his zealous support for the Iraq War. Over and over again. And they wrote in a way that implies he was personally responsible for thousands of deaths. Some do the same for John Podhoretz, David Brooks, or Bill Kristol. (Notice a pattern?)
I believe the whole lot of them were wrong on the Iraq War. And perhaps I should welcome this line of inquiry. After all, I would stand to benefit because I started my career at a magazine that staked out a dissenting opinion on the war in Iraq before it began. If the warmongers must be silent, there is more aural space for me to shout.
Barak Obama used a similar line of attack on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary campaign:
[People] should ask themselves: Who got the single most important foreign policy decision since the end of the Cold War right, and who got it wrong?
And yet less than two weeks after his election, Obama made the person who was doggedly wrong on the "most important foreign policy decision" in a generation his secretary of State.
That convenient amnesia is exactly what is going to happen in 2016, when many of those who are willing to shout "baby killer" at Paul Wolfowitz will make it their full-time job to elect Hillary Clinton commander in chief. Clinton has given a totally implausible account of her evolving views on Iraq, even as she continues her hard-line hawkishness. Her entire career has been peppered with urging presidents to bomb, whether the target was Serbia in the '90s or Libya and Syria this decade.
Regretfully, I can recall what it was like to oppose the Iraq War firmly and early. The war's supporters were not just 15 guys spread between The Weekly Standard and the Office of Special Plans. They were everywhere. The Iraq War had strong public support at the beginning with firm opposition to the war polling in the mid-20s. It had the support of the great and good at The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Republic, National Review, Slate, Andrew Sullivan, and the whole panoply of "war bloggers." The activist opposition to the war was led, very unfortunately, by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.), a group with embarrassingly specific views on the Soviet invasion of Hungary. If we act now as if the war were solely the responsibility of a tiny group of commentators, we're doing it to absolve ourselves and our elected leaders.
If you are tempted (as I have often been tempted myself) to hold people accountable for the Iraq War, begin with yourself, and vow not to elect an Iraq War supporter to the White House in 2016. Instead of shouting at a pundit, organize to defeat Hillary.