Bill Keller: Testosterone and a Liberalism-Inferiority Complex Led Me to Support the Iraq War

Eight years, an estimated 100,000 Iraqi deaths, and 40,000-plus American casualties after Bill Keller banged his felt-tipped mallet on President George Bush’s war drum, the crotchety former executive editor of the New York Times has explained his decision. Keller’s "My Unfinished 9/11 Business"–four whole pages of equivocation and reluctant apologies–is meaty. And by meaty, I mean the piece is about Bill Keller’s penis.

Here is Keller explaining how he did not feel manly enough to keep his daughter safe in a post-9/11 world:

My prudent punditry soon felt inadequate. I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism.

Here is Keller listing the roster for his boys club of “skeptics”-turned-hawks, who could not possibly all have been wrong, even if the NYT's bad reporting informed their opinions:

During the months of public argument about how to deal with Saddam Hussein, I christened an imaginary association of pundits the I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club, made up of liberals for whom 9/11 had stirred a fresh willingness to employ American might. It was a large and estimable group of writers and affiliations, including, among others, Thomas Friedman of The Times; Fareed Zakaria, of Newsweek; George Packer and Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker; Richard Cohen of The Washington Post; the blogger Andrew Sullivan; Paul Berman of Dissent; Christopher Hitchens of just about everywhere; and Kenneth Pollack, the former C.I.A. analyst whose book, “The Threatening Storm,” became the liberal manual on the Iraqi threat. (Yes, it is surely relevant that this is exclusively a boys’ club.)

Here is Keller describing how one year after the invasion, one of the boys in his boys club invited all the other boys to talk about whether or not they were right:

In 2004, a year after the invasion, and again in 2008, Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate and a charter member of my I-Can’t-Believe club, invited liberal hawks to second-guess their support for the war. The responses ranged from remorse to self-vindication, with lots of tortured doubt and defensiveness in between. But I held my tongue. By that time I had moved from the Op-Ed page into a job — executive editor — in which I was obliged to keep my opinions to myself lest they be mistaken for the newspaper’s agenda or influence our coverage.

Here is Keller saying that Iraq presented an opportunity to restore America’s virility:  

Others brought to this moment the lessons of Bosnia, where an American-led alliance had stopped the murderous Serbs and somewhat erased the residue of American impotence left by Ho Chi Minh and “Black Hawk Down.”

Here is Keller saying that the one person he remembers objecting to Iraq was a woman, and that he did not listen to her:

It should perhaps have caught our attention that Samantha Power, who literally wrote the book on humanitarian intervention (the Pulitzer-winning “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”) and who had endorsed armed intervention in Bosnia and Rwanda, and at an earlier time in Iraq, did not support the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Here is Keller saying that he should have been more skeptical of Bush because the president did not display the paternalism necessary for successful nation-building:

And if we were paying closer attention, as we should have been, we would have been more alarmed by the fact that the authors of the invasion had shown open contempt for the kind of “nation building” that went into the Marshall Plan. They seemed to have in mind a hit-and-run democracy project for Iraq, which was folly.

Here is Keller explaining why the boys club could not be swayed by evidence that suggested the case for invading Iraq was not actually a slam dunk, even after military journalist Fred Kaplan departed their ranks:

The rest of us were still a little drugged by testosterone. And maybe a little too pleased with ourselves for standing up to evil and defying the caricature of liberals as, to borrow a phrase from those days, brie-eating surrender monkeys.

And here is Keller listing what he could have done differently:

Whether it was wrong to support the invasion at the time is a harder call. I could not foresee that we would mishandle the war so badly, but I could see that there was no clear plan for — and at the highest levels, a shameful smugness about — what came after the invasion. I could not have known how bad the intelligence was, but I could see that the White House and the Pentagon were so eager to go that they were probably indifferent to any evidence that didn’t fit their scenario. I could see that they had embraced Chalabi, the exile cheerleader for war, despite considerable suspicion within the State Department and elsewhere that he was a charlatan. I could have seen, had I looked hard enough, that even by the more dire appraisals of Hussein’s capabilities he did not amount to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called in a very different context “a clear and present danger.” But I wanted to be on the side of doing something, and standing by was not enough.

And there you have it: Bill Keller beat Bush's drum not with a mallet, but an erudite wang. 

Further reading: Matt Welch on Paul Berman's wars; Tim Cavanaugh on "the twilight of the liberal hawks."  

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    My prudent punditry soon felt inadequate. I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks. Something dreadful was loose in the world, and the urge to stop it, to do something — to prove something — was overriding a career-long schooling in the virtues of caution and skepticism.

    "When you have kids, you'll understand."

    PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS IN QUOTATION MARKS. I DO NOT HAVE KIDS.

  • ||

    And of course now we know exactly what that sick fuck was doing on 9/11. Some freaks get off on death and destruction, I guess, which might offer another explanation for his warmongering.

  • WTF||

    ...I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks.

    Yup.

  • ||

    I noticed that as well. Is he really this self-unaware, or did he mention that on purpose?

  • CatoTheElder||

    Like the Riggs says, this article is all about "Bill Keller’s penis". Keller is reporting that it was stiff on 9/11/01.

  • Bill Keller||

    Honey...who knows what tomorrow will bring....but we still have tonight.

    (30 seconds later........)

  • GILMORE||

    (30 seconds later........)

    "Ahh, that was refreshing! Now I feel like invading a middle eastern country on a shaky pretext"

  • T||

    Can't he just drink and beat his wife like the other members of the tiny penis club?

  • WTF||

    So basically he figured he would fuck Iraq with George Bush's dick.

  • ||

    i became a cop to deal with my low self esteem due to my inability to sexually please a woman.

  • Gojira||

    But I wanted to be on the side of doing something, and standing by was not enough.

    (emphasis mine)

    And there you have it, folks: the essence of statism boiled down to it's most pure. There is a problem, with someone, somewhere, so we have to do something.

  • ||

    It doesn't matter that he doesn't know what to do; he has to do "something". What an unbelievably primitive and moronic thought process.

  • Abner||

    I like what Ann Althouse said:

    "My preference is always: do nothing. That's the presumption you need to overcome. It's good for government and it's good for your individual life too. (For decades, my personal motto has been: Better than nothing is a high standard.)"

  • ||

    By that time I...was obliged to keep my opinions to myself lest they be mistaken for the newspaper’s agenda or influence our coverage.

    I would tend to doubt that a man deluded enough to think that the New York Times does not actively push an agenda has anything other than a Brooks Brothers brand metrosexual demi-wang.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I don't know about the other people on Keller's "I-can't-believe-I'm-a-Hawk" list, but Christopher Hitchens does not belong. He is a hard-core warmonger in this particular situation. Nothing reluctant about that keyboard warrior. He was a big critic of the Cold War, but when it came to the war on Islamowhateverism, he was red hot.

  • ||

    In 2001 Hitchens was still writing for the Nation. I don't think he could have been considered a neo-con at that point. I think that was about the time he did turn into a warmonger.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    He thinks he's following in the best left-wing tradition. Not all leftists call themselves pacifists, they're just waiting for the right war to come along, and to Hitchens, this means a war against evil monotheists. I predict that he won't be writing any Kelleresque articles fretting about whether he should have endorsed the war.

  • Bam!||

    I think Hitchens is a literal military atheist. Declaring war on a religious people? Sign him up!

  • Abner||

  • Hank||

    OK, a pound of ground beef and two pizzas isn't "a 16,000 calorie sandwich" any more than an entire salad bar is a 50,000 calorie salad.

  • Michael||

    What is it with the "epic mealtime" meme bullshit lately? At least once a week some knucklehead posts this kind of stupidity on Facebook and none ever bring me closer to understanding the premise behind it.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    They forgot to batter and deep fry it at the end.

  • Warty||

    Just 'cause you can doesn't mean you should. This applies doubly to food.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I'll let anon-bot take this. Go ahead anon-bot.

  • ||

    The more things change, the more they stay the same... here is another NYT opinionator who wants Obama to Do Something in his jobs speech. Literally, and with almost refreshing candor, he says explicitly that it doesn't matter what the Something is that is Done. Comes with a side of authority fetishism, of course.

  • Michael||

    ...a job — executive editor — in which I was obliged to keep my opinions to myself lest they be mistaken for the newspaper’s agenda or influence our coverage.

    (spastic inhale)

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!111!!!1!!!!!

    (wheeze)

    Damn.

  • Tman||

    Some of us refuse to look at the decision to remove Saddam through the Liberalism-Inferiority complex window and instead look at it through the common sense logic window.

    Saddam was a threat to the US, and the recent upgrade of Islamic terrorism's potential destructive power further underscored the fact that leaving him alone would pose an unacceptable risk.

    Logical people can disagree with our chosen course of action for a variety of reasons, but they cannot avoid the fact that Saddam and his regime were NOT something that we could simply "do nothing" about. We were already technically still at war with the guy and protecting the northern Kurds from further brutality. There was no Arab Spring coming to Baghdad if Saddam was still around, but al-qaeda and their buddies were fleeing Afghanistan after we removed them and they were started showing up all over Iraq for a specific reason, prior to our invasion.

    You can disagree the course of action, but you cannot deny the facts.

    www.husseinandterror.com

  • Brandon||

    We were "technically" NEVER at war with the guy, nor were we technically at war with the country of Iraq. This continued conflation of humanitarian reasoning and "he was an existential threat to our nation" crap really undermines the credibility of your "facts."

  • Tman||

    We were "technically" NEVER at war with the guy, nor were we technically at war with the country of Iraq.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Liberation_Act

    This continued conflation of humanitarian reasoning and "he was an existential threat to our nation" crap really undermines the credibility of your "facts."

    www.husseinandterror.com

    You can ignore these links, but you would not be debating in good faith if you do.

  • Trooper Jones||

    More bedwetting over Iraq.

    I am so glad we fought a 10 year war to ensure Shia majoritarian rule in Iraq. It was so worth it especially when it meant throwing away what we might have gained in Afghanistan.

  • MJ||

    "We were "technically" NEVER at war with the guy, nor were we technically at war with the country of Iraq."

    In the Ba'athist Iraq, the practical difference between the country of Iraq and Saddam Hussein was what?

  • Chatroom Crackpot||

    Funny, your website doesn't mention the 34 Americans killed and 170 wounded by the state of Israel in it's attack upon the USS Liberty.

  • O2||

    The Committee’s report cites several conclusions in which the Administration’s public statements were NOT supported by the intelligence. They include:

    Ø Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

    Ø Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

    Ø Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

    Ø Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.

    Ø The Secretary of Defense’s statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information.

    Ø The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 as the Vice President repeatedly claimed.

    http://intelligence.senate.gov.....?id=298775

  • Tman||

    Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

    The Committee’s report specifically removed by a committee vote of 8-7, the press statement by Brigadier General Vincent Brooks wherein he stated that -"The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak."

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRA.....se.01.html

    Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

    Saddam had already given financial support to Islamic terrorist organizations. Whether or not he would have given them WMD's had he any left after the first Gulf War was not a question of which we could wait until 2006 to know the answer.

    The point is that we were wrong about the extent of Saddams WMD development, but not wrong about his involvement in Islamic terrorism, despite what claims were made in the Senate Committees final report. The fact is that this particular report specifically excluded several examples of direct connections to international Islamic terrorism and Saddam Hussein. A big part of the report's "additional views" section (wherein members of the committee voiced their disagreement about the final conclusions) stated very clearly that -The "most problematic area of contact between Iraq and al-Qaida were the reports of training in the use of non-conventional weapons, specifically chemical and biological weapons." Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been present in Baghdad, and Ansar al-Islam, an al-Qaeda affiliate organization that identified itself as the "sworn enemy" of Saddam Hussein had operated in northeastern Iraq in an area under Kurdish control."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.....o_al-Qaeda

  • Trooper Jones||

    Change your drawers.

    By your logic, we should have and should in the future invade a lot of other countries. It's the argument or dead enders. I am waiting for your ilk to produce your "stab in the back" theory for why we didn't do better than we did.

  • Tman||

    By your logic, we should have and should in the future invade a lot of other countries.

    No. In the immortal words of Al Gore-" "Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq."

    Iraq was a special case in regards to the new reality were faced with post 9/11. I would not put Iraq in the same category as say, North Korea in regards to Islamic Terrorism. I would put Iran in that category, but the ability for the US to remove the unpopular and undemocratic regime in Iran was and remains an entirely different situation than what was going on in Iraq.

  • Trooper Jones||

    Dead ender.

    That you obviously don't know that we could overrun Iran or North Korea in a few weeks just as we did Iraq shows that you really don't know what you're talking about. The means are available. Too bad your ends are fanciful at best.

  • Tman||

    That you obviously don't know that we could overrun Iran or North Korea in a few weeks just as we did Iraq shows that you really don't know what you're talking about.

    Iran has an entirely different set of logistics and military capabilities than did Iraq. For instance Iran actually has a functioning Air Force. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I....._Air_Force , which Iraq did not have. You can argue that ours is superior and you'd be right, but again Iran is not the same situation as Iraq. Iraq was considerably less capable from a military standpoint.

    North Korea has several thousand artillery installations aimed at downtown Seoul and within moments of any type of major confrontation they would immediately reduce about half of Seoul (pop: +/- 10 Million) to a parking lot. This again, is a totally different situation from Iraq.

    I think it is you who doesn't know what you are talking about.

  • Sidd Finch||

    $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak $25K Salman Pak

    yawn

  • ||

    My postings are gonna be erratic for a while. I just wanted to do a preemptive:

    "Shut the Fuck Up White Indian."

    That is all.

  • Privation Private Property||

    "Agriculture creates Government." ~Thomas Manning, Against the Grain, p. 73

    Don't you City-Statists get that your petty dreams of liberty are impossible, and that I live under the presumption that one person besides myself gives a shit? Here, let me post 200 another shitty comments about some moronic historical theory that only I understand! One day my methods of persuasion will surely pay dividends in this wretched den of City-Statists!

    PRIVATION
    PRIVILEGE
    PRIVATE PROPERTY
    BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH

  • ||

    100,000 Iraqi deaths, and 40,000-plus American casualties

    American deaths are just over four (not forty) thousand. It would probably be a little more honest to compare deaths with deaths rather than deaths with wounds.

  • ||

    "Casualty" means wounded or dead. It would probably be a little more intelligent to know what words mean before you comment.

  • Chatroom Crackpot||

    Also, that 4000 only counts service members who died in Iraq. If they died later in Germany or back in the states due to wounds received, they were not counted as KIA.

  • ||

    He's not comparing those numbers, he's just mentioning them. Nothing dishonest about it.

    It wouldn't be dishonest for me to say I ate four apples and put six oranges in the freezer.

  • ||

    So Keller realized, post-9/11, that he'd been forgetting he was a man. Then a couple years on, he went back to being a bitch. Seems perfectly consistent to me!

  • Fluffy||

    I remember a mounting protective instinct, heightened by the birth of my second daughter almost exactly nine months after the attacks.

    It's nice to see that some people didn't spend 9/11 clued to their TV's in dismay, but instead spent 9/11 fucking like minks.

  • ||

    Who says you can't do both?

  • man up, Keller||

    So many anti-war types jumped on the Bush war bandwagon. Why don't they just admit that they were ticked off by the attack on the holy liberal city of NYC and could potentially have killed some high-princes of liberal media.

    The fact that Keller has to expend so much effort explaining himself just demonstrates what a pussy he is.

  • GILMORE||

    man up, Keller|9.6.11 @ 2:13PM|#
    So many anti-war types jumped on the Bush war bandwagon

    Ironically, I was anti-Iraq despite being very pro-kill-all-the-fucking-Taliban-and-Al-Qaeda-on-the-planet. Mainly because I thought it was a diversion that would suck up resources and draw attention away from the real problem for the sake of going after a convenient albeit un-connected-to-9/11 pre-existing 'bad guy'. Funny how that worked out.

    Also, and other pro-war types might take issue with this one, I was opposed to any invasion of a middle-eastern country unless there was a clear threat, and that we wouldn't be in a position of just making a bad neighborhood worse. It was just giving both jihadis as well as the Left a convenient excuse to accuse us of unwarranted aggression, threatening other ME states, 'stealing teh oils' etc. i.e. 'behaving in exactly the way Osama accuses the US of being'

    Not that that's a reason to not do something by itself... just that I thought it lacked a legitimate casus belli, that the neocon theory of a 'liberation' translating into a regional toppling of other autocratic regimes was nonsense*, that it could ignite civil war between shia and sunni, kurds would rebel in Turkey/Iran, etc.... just produce a dozen consequences none of which would be good. The only people I found that generally agreed with/supplemented my thinking were a few former military people writing in foreign affairs... I suppose you could of called us the 'usually-pro-war Negative Nancys'

    The whole, "saddam was a threat" thing is pretty pathetic bullshit. If that's your case, why the fuck wouldn't we invade Iran or Pakistan? Places with actual nuclear programs, and places that have very clear and distinct ties to terrorism. People who go, 'well, if we'd known all the details'... weren't paying attention to the details. Also, its kind of a cover for saying, "We went in knowing that half our reasons were bullshit, but we did it anyway hoping it'd all make us look good in the end"

    Dont get me started on Paul Fucking Bremer. I would have almost given the thing a pass if they hadn't of blown the thing to shit by putting him in there and doing EVERYTHING WRONG THING AS FAST AS POSSIBLE

    The thing about Iraq that annoyed me most was the fact that we were clearly using 9/11 as an excuse to pursue a different agenda. Everybody in the Admin (except perhaps Bush II himself) was a Gulf 1 architect/veteran. This was their hobby horse. It didn't matter if it had nothing to do with the WoT. I wanted Osama's head on a stick ASAP. They decided that wasn't as important as settling old scores. Fucking idiots.

    *re: the neocon theory of toppling regimes= some might argue that - ultimately - perhaps getting rid of saddam was a key trigger for what is now known as the Arab Spring... that, even if it wasn't what was intended, well....these 'side effects' are happening!

    Bullshit. If you read their actual theory, the main thing they were hoping to do was undermine Iran. Not Egypt, or other countries where we *preferred* the despots. The invasion of Iraq did nothing but empower Iran. Their whole scheme produced results opposite of their intentions. And they should be remembered as total failures....not people who 'got it right by accident'.

  • Invisible Finger||

    But I wanted to be on the side of doing something,

    Yes, we know. That is the default stance of the NYT on every goddamned topic, not just this one..

  • ||

    This just in: NYT Editor is a nitwit. News at 11.

  • What?||

    No, nitwit is not even close.

  • Matt||

    The worst kind of coward is someone who is so afraid of being called a coward that he betrays what he knows is right.

    He said he supported war because he's afraid he might not be able to defend his family -- how can you even hope to defend your family when you can't even stand up for your own principles and oppose dumb wars? If someone's afraid of merely being called unpatriotic, how can anyone expect that person to be courageous in the line of fire?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement