Failing to Stand Athwart National Review and Yell "Stop the Iraq Invasion!"

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It's somewhat old news to readers of the print American Spectator, as it appeared in their June issue, but fresh on the web this week: Blackwell Corporation chairman Neal Freeman's alternately scabrous and wounded account of his conflicts and eventual break with his long-time comrades at National Review over their support of the Iraq War.

Freeman had served on NR's board of directors for 38 years. It was, as he details it colorfully, an always-interesting convocation of like-minded souls, dedicated to the greater good of the magazine and the conservative movement, under the gentle suasion of first among equals William Buckley synthesizing the best of their views into the Correct Line.

Then came 9/11, and, as you might recall, everything changed:

George Bush had been elected President on a foreign policy platform with three planks: (1) that the U.S. would not act as the world's policeman; (2) that the U.S. would be humble before the nations of the world; and (3) that the U.S. would not engage in nation-building. Taken together, these three planks added up to a conventionally conservative approach, a platform that had been roundly endorsed by NR. Now, with a 180-degree whiplash, the Bush administration began to rumble about "regime change" and "going it alone," and "building a democratic Iraq." Call this 9/12 approach whatever you will—utopian, neoconservative, Wilsonian—it could not fairly be characterized as "conservative." And thus was set the agenda for every Board discussion from the fall of 2001 through the summer of 2004. We would talk about Iraq.

And during that talk, Mr. Freeman, even with his years of companiable partnership with the rest of the board, found himself an odd man out. He explains at length his intimate connections with a wide variety of people who ought to know–defense contracts, high level diplomatic and intelligence sources (Freeman had been the longtime producer of the PBS program American Interests)–and found

What struck me was that, over the course of the 18 months between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, I never encountered a single professional who knew that the case for WMD had been established.

The editors of NR were unafflicted by such doubts. Along with the rest of the commentariat, right, left, and center, they seemed to take it as a given that Saddam had built a serious WMD arsenal. When I would press them on this point at meetings, their impatience would show: "Oh please, he used them on his own people" or "Come on, why do you think he threw out the arms inspectors" or some other such non-responsive response. I wondered then and wonder still how so many people—all of them bright and journalistically trained people—could have been so trusting of secondary and partisan sources…..By January of 2003, as we rolled up the ramp to war, I was the only director who spoke against the invasion. Eleven people spoke in favor, with the rest in tacit concurrence.

Freeman goes on to detail, quite compellingly, the tensions his apostasy created between his old pals and him, and his growing disquiet as anyone who publicly opposed or questioned the invasion was excoriated by the magazine–Freeman was particularly upset when Robert Novak was pilloried by David Frum in his April 2003 cover story on "Unpatriotic Conservatives." Freeman thought Frum was unfair to a grand old man of the movement and longtime friend of the magazine who had perfectly legitimate questions about the war, and thought the magazine owed Novak a public apology. It didn't happen.

I continued to attend board functions, holding a grin-and-bear-it pose as the editors reported, early on, how swimmingly the Iraq campaign was going and then, in a later analysis, how Rumsfeld's inept tactics were botching Wolfowitz's brilliant strategy. I hung in there because I had enjoyed a great run with the magazine….and I just didn't have it in me to tell Bill I was quitting. When in July of 2004 he announced to a hushed Board meeting that he was withdrawing as proprietor, my colleagues were stunned and disappointed. I have to say that I was relieved. It gave me a chance to go out the way I came in—with my man Bill.

His man Bill has now expressed similar reservations about how it has all turned out so far in Iraq, and second thoughts about whether the enterprise should have been entered into at all. His old magazine, officially, holds the line.

Many old Hit and Run posts regarding intralibertarian disagreement about the war/occupation.

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  1. If they’re discussing WMD’s they’re not discussing the reason for Iraq, which was getting rid of state support of terrorism, starting with Iraq as a good first choice.

    Modern technology is too deadly for terrorist groups to be allowed to acquire it, is the lesson of 9/11. Henceforth, the US will no longer co-inhabit the globe with 8th century governments.

    The deal today : you need a certain size to pull off significant terrorist acts, but size makes you easy to detect and defeat, provided that states aren’t supporting you. So detection and elimination and arm-twisting of friendly and not-so-friendly states to provide detection, and its effectiveness, is what is at the moment protecting us.

    You can’t have a state supported source of weapons, though. So Iran and North Korea wind up on the agenda as well.

  2. Modern technology is too deadly for terrorist groups to be allowed to acquire it, is the lesson of 9/11. Henceforth, the US will no longer co-inhabit the globe with 8th century governments.

    Modern technology like… commuter airliners? I would say that one of the lessons of 9/11 is that terrorists can inflict terrible casualities even without WMDs or other advanced weapons.

  3. Ian, no, like what’s next.

    Airliners wouldn’t work again in any case. Passengers will kill anybody who gets out of line. (Stupid not to give them all weapons as they board.)

    It’s just that on 9/11 we realized that it’s not a criminal matter but something worse.

  4. Yes, by all means, let’s hold another “why did we invade Iraq” thread. No doubt each person’s favorite reason will prevail this time.

    Good article. I am always happy to read material that indicates there are still true conservatives out there.

  5. “If they’re discussing WMD’s they’re not discussing the reason for Iraq,”
    Have a selective memory there, pal? Remember, we don’t want the conclusive proof of WMD’s to be a mushroom cloud? Remember the mobile chemical labs? Remember the yellow cake fiasco? Apparently not.

    “…which was getting rid of state support of terrorism, starting with Iraq as a good first choice.”
    Care to support this asinine statement? With no links to 9/11 and a sectarian hatred of the shiites, where is all this state-sponsored terrorism? You could at least cite to one example of Iraq’s contribution to the field.

    “Modern technology is too deadly for terrorist groups to be allowed to acquire it, is the lesson of 9/11. Henceforth, the US will no longer co-inhabit the globe with 8th century governments.”
    I was going to tear this statement apart, but it stands as an ode to your partisan hackery. Only the neocons and god-freaks see no irony in making policy decisions by the Bible and decrying those who make decisions by the Kooran.

    “…you need a certain size to pull off significant terrorist acts, but size makes you easy to detect and defeat, provided that states aren’t supporting you. So detection and elimination and arm-twisting of friendly and not-so-friendly states to provide detection, and its effectiveness, is what is at the moment protecting us.”
    Perhaps you could share some of your intelligence with the Federal Government. Your assumption here is unbased, but we’ll leave the partisan hackery for a second. (1) What makes you think that “the deal” today is any different than in the past? and (2) How many guys does it take to hijack a plane? As an aside, when John “Reporting for duty” Kerry said that terrorism needs to be reduced to a nuisance level, the right-wingnuts jumped on him. Your focus on “significant” acts of terrorism is similar.

    “You can’t have a state supported source of weapons, though. So Iran and North Korea wind up on the agenda as well.”
    Perhaps Korea or Iran should have been the “first choice”? America might not “cut’n’run” but we sure did know how to go after the runt of the axis of evil!

  6. Freeman wonders how bright people could be so trusting of partisan and secondary sources.
    Didn’t Clinton have the same intelligence on WMD from the same primary sources Bush did? I spoke with a Congressman who assured me that all the intelligence he saw, backed up by “friends in the Arab street,” supported WMD in Iraq. All turned out to be wrong. Which is a different problem than trusting sources for “facts” other than those you have personally witnessed and verified, which – if one required it – would paralyze most of one’s actions. Ultimately, it comes down to who one trusts, and even those who might be wrong in the past could be right in the future. And it comes down to standing by one’s principles – “we are not the world’s cop” – no matter what the
    evidence is unless that evidence provides clear and credible belief that the U.S. is about to be attacked.

  7. Ian, no, like what’s next.

    So, wait . . . 9/11 showed that we can’t let terrorists have modern technology, but you weren’t talking about airliners, you’re talking about “what’s next?” So how did 9/11 show that?

    It’s just that on 9/11 we realized that it’s not a criminal matter but something worse.

    I’d say on 9/11 we panicked and gave the terrorists the greatest gift they could have hoped for: we made them soldiers in a global War. Remember in the ’70s and ’80s when IRA prisoners went on hunger strikes in order to be declared “political prisoners” rather than the common criminals they were? Terrorists always want others to think of them as warriors. It was nice of the Bush Administration to give them the notoriety they desired.

  8. THERE WERE NO WMDS YOU DUMB PIECES OF SHIT.

  9. “…which was getting rid of state support of terrorism, starting with Iraq as a good first choice.”
    Care to support this asinine statement?

    Lamar, does this count?

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/04/03/world/main505316.shtml

  10. If they’re discussing WMD’s they’re not discussing the reason for Iraq, which was getting rid of state support of terrorism, starting with Iraq as a good first choice.

    WMD’s were the stated reason for the invasion of Iraq, dwarfing all other rationales. I refer you to every newspaper on the planet in the months prior to March 2003.

    Iraq was a terrible first choice. It was irrelevant to defending ourselves against terrorism, it took precious resources away from such a defense, and it caused us to waste time we could have spent dealing with the real problems we face.

    Modern technology is too deadly for terrorist groups to be allowed to acquire it, is the lesson of 9/11. Henceforth, the US will no longer co-inhabit the globe with 8th century governments.

    Iraq an 8th century government? Well, it may be after we get done with it, but before the war it was one of the more secular states in the region. Man, I hope you wash your hands after you pull this stuff out.

    The real lesson of 9/11: terrorism cannot be stopped, so if we would like to reduce its occurrence we need to work to remedy the conditions (whether in other countries or in our own policies) that create terrorists. Trying to kill them once they already exist ain’t ever gonna fix things. It sure is fun though, isn’t it? Of course, were a Democrat in the White House, you would see the light and recognize the whole “War on Terror” as the farce that it is.

  11. Then what about Bill Clinton’s qoute from 2003 from Larry King?

    “It is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons [in Iraq].” Bill Clinton, on July 22, 2003

    I don’t have the link to final UN report handy, but the evidence suggest that Saddam destroyed all his WMDs shortly after the 1992 war; then refused to allow the UN to verify that he had destroyed them; then continued to send “not so subtle” messages to his neighbors that he still had them.

    The guy was a total nut case. What he did was roughly equal to putting his hand in his coat pocket and pretending to have a gun. That’s a good way to get yourself shot.

  12. Maurkov:

    I have to assume that you are intending to insult us all by citing to Donald Rumsfeld’s case for war. He also said there was a nuke program with possible mushroom clouds, and chemicals etc, but all of that was made up. Heck, I guess it is a citation to something, so kudos.

    Of course, people like you don’t ever read the entire article, because that would lead to some kind of, yuck, knowledge. Here’s how the article ends: But Saddam is not the only one giving money. Charities from Saudi Arabia and Qatar ? both U.S. allies ? pay money to families of Palestinians killed in the fighting, including suicide bombers. Why are we invading Iraq but not Saudi Arabia? But hey, your whole point was to cite to Rummy’s case for war, and I applaud you for your contribution.

  13. “I wondered then and wonder still how so many people — all of them bright and journalistically trained people — could have been so trusting of secondary and partisan sources…..”

    It just might have to do with a (human) predisposition to see that which we are hoping to find.

  14. Hey, I remember those far back days of 2003. And what I remember is that no-one on the right or the left really took the WMD argument very seriously. I thought at the time that it was patently obvious to everyone that the WMD charade was a figleaf. I assumed that most educated war supporters knew this but since explaining the real rationale behind the invasion – remaking the Middle East in a democratic image and, more importantly, making sure that the Middle East with its oil does not eventually become a Chinese satrapy – could not be done in a few soundbites, the WMD were simply a convenient and legalistic excuse. I guess I assumed that the pro-war gang was intelligent and had a strategic vision. If anyone really went along with Bush’s invasion because they honestly believed Saddam’s decrepit regime presented a clear and present danger to the United States, than they are complete and utter idiots. Any pundit who sincerely believed in the WMD threat should resign his post immediately. To NR’s credit I still think they are at heart a cynical bunch who know better. If Freeman was too old and out of touch to figure out what the game was really about, he had already lost conservative credibility and needed to be pushed aside.

  15. Vanya,
    I think you’ve hit on something. In order to have “conservative credibility” one must disregard the truth in favor of “legalistic” excuses to justify our foreign policy.

  16. I posted a comment like this on previous threads but I’ll try again:

    What do you people think the US government should do now with respect to Iraq?

    I lean towards setting a timetable. That would reduce one incentive people have to join the insurgency and encourage Iraqis to cooperate with the US in fighting theocratic militants.

    Does anyone have any other ideas?

  17. Pardon me-
    “Remember in the ’70s and ’80s when IRA prisoners went on hunger strikes in order to be declared “political prisoners” rather than the common criminals they were? Terrorists always want others to think of them as warriors.”
    WTF???? Whats that make the bloody Brit gvt, & thier Prot terror catspaws? Whats that make the Supergrass courts, & such defenders of Law & Order as the Black & Tans??
    The IRA men WERE PP’s, the Thatcher gvt tried to ciminalize the fight for Irish soverirgnity. She tried to remove PP status from IRA and Prot militants. The “blanketmen” refused to be thus criminalized, many died for that principle. Why do I think you wouldnt fight, much less die, for ANY principle?
    http://lark.phoblacht.net/index.html
    “I’ll wear no convicts uniform, nor
    meekly serve my time-
    that Britain might make Irelands fight
    800 years of crime” anon
    Pardon the sidetrack, I couldnt allow that bit of tripe to go unchallenged.

  18. What do you people think the US government should do now with respect to Iraq?

    kill sadr, then leave.

  19. kill sadr, then leave.

    And make sure to push for an independent Kurdistan.

  20. Lamar,

    I agree that Rummy is a liar, but I’ve never seen refuted the assertion that Saddam gave money to the families of suicide bombers. Cite please?

    If we’re talking about state sponsors of terror, how are the charities in Saudi Arabia and Qatar topical?

    For the record, I support your position. I’d like your case to be stronger, and contra-factual assertions make you look like an idiot. Then I look like an idiot by association. I hate that.

  21. And make sure to push for an independent Kurdistan.

    if we leave, that’ll happen without us having to cause it. all we have to do is keep turkey’s hands off (e-z-er said than done, true). the kurds haven’t worked out the propaganda machine that the palestinians have, so they’ve gotten screwed over much worse.

  22. edna

    kill sadr, then leave

    Ok fair enough. I take it that would mean other countries’ troops would be leaving as well.

    The reason I lean towards a timetable rather than immediate witdrawal is it would give Iraqis a better chance of avoiding theocracy and/or civil war. Killing Sadr might help but I doubt it would be enough.

    There would probably be fewer attacks on US troops or its allies if we could convince people that doing so would not make them leave any sooner. That is part of the benefit of having a fixed date of witdrawal.

    Re: Independent Kurdistan

    I haven’t heard alot of discussion about what non-kurdish Iraqis think about the idea of an independent Kurdistan. Do most of them care? Are there a significant number willing to fight a war to keep Kurdistan a part of Iraq? Are many Kurds williing to fight one for independence? Will the United States be blamed for any long drawn-out war that occurs there after US forces leave?

  23. “kill Sadr, then leave”
    Yeah, right. Thatl solve the problem. Im sure nobody will step in to his shoes. You must work for Rummy.
    Independant Kurdistan. That been the Mutt Doctrine since, oh, 72 or so. As long as you realize Kurdistan encompasses parts of Turkey & Iran, you are good to go. Will people die for an independant Kurdistan? Theyve been dying for that for a century at least. Do you realize they are Sunni, by and large? And right now they are ruled- as in, they are subjects of- autocratic political parties that are popular by being, at various points, “terrorists” and “criminals”? (they are still terrorist criminals in Turkey & Iran) And at the same time unpopular because they are basically autocrats who hold power by the gun?
    Ain t simple, is it?
    Me? Id say we very carefully, very judiciously, pull troops out of the rest of Iraq, destroying all heavy weapons & munitions dumps, & leaving behind all engineering, medical, & bureaucratic equpiment/ infrastructure. We build a modest base (at the invite of the Kurds) in Kurdistan, to use as a training facility, a language school, a guarantee of Kurdish autonomy.
    We keep the fuck out of Kurdish politics, (that means not sending in the torturers if our favoured lads get the short shrift by thier subjects) and leave when asked.
    But thats just me.

  24. As long as you realize Kurdistan encompasses parts of Turkey & Iran, you are good to go. Will people die for an independant Kurdistan? Theyve been dying for that for a century at least. Do you realize they are Sunni, by and large? And right now they are ruled- as in, they are subjects of- autocratic political parties that are popular by being, at various points, “terrorists” and “criminals”? (they are still terrorist criminals in Turkey & Iran) And at the same time unpopular because they are basically autocrats who hold power by the gun?

    Make a deal with them. Cut the terror nonsense and you’ve got your own country. That’s what they want anyway. Kurds aren’t Arabs, they can be reasoned with. Get Turkey on board (a member of NATO and EU hopeful, remember) and if the Kurds want to cause trouble for Iran let them do as their heart desires.

    Palestinians blow themselves up and get the sympathy of the world. The Kurds behave well and make the best out of hopeless situations and nobody gives a damn about them. We should send the message that good behavior gets rewarded.

    And what’s your source tha the Kurdish leadership is unpopular?

  25. There was a big problem in that Saddam WANTED everyone to think he had WMD’s. Even right up to the war, many of his generals believed he was hiding WMD’s somewhere. Of course in a nation of spies spying on spies and the distrust in Iraq, everyone assumed the other guy knew where they were. US intelligence, being as people reliant as they were (I doubt anyone in the department thought to psychoanalyze Saddam to determine the liar he was) probably honestly believed they were there because they had intelligence from the generals through their network. I think Bush is a naive, bullyish moron, but I also think he thought he was going to find a cache of nuclear arsenal because he would never question the factualness of what he was being told. So that’s what I think happened.

    On the other hand, the media had no business allowing themselves to be swept along in the “trust me” game. Classified information or not, what doesn’t add up shouldn’t be given a free ride. There should have been harder questions on why we were allowing ourselves to become frightened of what was really a local dictator like Chavez or Pinochet. We were already heavily committed in Afghanistan and needed all of our troops to maintain that fragile (now practically destroyed) democracy. Whether or not clearing the regime out would have led to a better leadership had everything gone right is philosophical masturbation. We weren’t ready, we didn’t have good info, we left the questions unanswered.

    We, as America, failed.

  26. We were already heavily committed in Afghanistan and needed all of our troops to maintain that fragile (now practically destroyed) democracy.

    I have not kept up tp date on Afganistan recently so I need to ask: In what way is it “practically destroyed”?

  27. “And what’s your source tha the Kurdish leadership is unpopular? ”
    Less the leadership personalities then the monopoly on power the two (for years, antagonistic) parties hold.
    A few months back the LA Times- as far as US papers go, some of the best long form foriegn reporting) had an interesting story on the subject, prompted by an outraged “mob” of Kurds burning one of the Parties HQ to the ground.
    That would, I imagine, give rise to notions of “umpopularity”, since Peshmerga troops- fine & brave chaps- let it happen.
    To me, such things are healthy signs. But thats just me.

  28. “And what’s your source tha the Kurdish leadership is unpopular? ”
    Less the leadership personalities then the monopoly on power the two (for years, antagonistic) parties hold.
    A few months back the LA Times- as far as US papers go, some of the best long form foriegn reporting) had an interesting story on the subject, prompted by an outraged “mob” of Kurds burning one of the Parties HQ to the ground.
    That would, I imagine, give rise to notions of “umpopularity”, since Peshmerga troops- fine & brave chaps- let it happen.
    To me, such things are healthy signs. But thats just me.

    If I remember correctly it was a minor Islamist party. From what I’ve heard the secular leadership is loved.

    I’m not for mob violence, but if its directed towards religous extremists I can’t get too choked up about it.

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