All of Stephen Walt’s 10 unpleasant truths about the Iraq War are important, but I’ll single out the tenth point for quoting:
10. The Iraq debacle reflects a broader pattern of failure among key American institutions. Although primary responsibility for the war rests with Bush, Cheney, and the neoconservatives who conceived and sold it, other important U.S. institutions performed poorly as well. Congress never debated the war in a serious way and it continued to back Bush’s policies long after their failure was apparent. Mainstream media institutions like the New York Times and Washington Post smoothed the path to war by parroting the administration’s sales pitch and giving abundant space to pro-war cheerleaders. Even more remarkably, mainstream media organizations continue to rely on the same “talking heads” and inside-the-Beltway pundits whose judgment has proven consistently wrong since 2002. The implication is deeply troubling: if Americans do not learn from this experience and hold those responsible accountable, the Iraq debacle will not be our last.
We would all be in a much better position if the neocons and the Bush administration really did bear sole responsibility for the Iraq debacle. But Walt is right to point to the complicity not only of Congress but also of the supposedly “liberal” mainstream media, which showed no skepticism toward the war at all. Quite the contrary: the New York Times‘ Judith Miller was indispensable in whooping up the case for war, and the Washington Post did not exactly acquit itself honorably, either. The rot in American institutions goes beyond the neocons and the Bushies — though they’re quite bad enough. And in John McCain — a longtime favorite of the mainstream media — Republicans have found a candidate who will be even worse than Bush.