Accuracy in Media

The debate over the Iraq War will continue. But at the end of 2005, we heard some rather interesting and surprising comments about the war. 

On CNN, before he moved to Fox News, veteran Washington reporter and columnist Bob Novak made some striking charges about why the U.S. went to war. Novak, who was a known critic of the war in Iraq, laid the blame on Israel.

Here was his exchange with Wolf Blitzer on December 23:

BLITZER: Was the president sold a bill of goods on Iraq?

NOVAK: I think they got in a mindset where they really wanted change of government, and then it was a need to find reasons for a change of government.

BLITZER: Why was that?

NOVAK: I believe that they felt that this was the key to American foreign policy. I think it was — they thought it was very important to our ally, Israel, to get rid of him, to [have] peace in the Middle East, and then you kind of think of reasons to get it done.

Blaming Israel for the war is usually done in conjunction with references to the Project for a New American Century, a so-called “neo-con” group that wants to expand U.S. influence in the Middle East. Some major Bush Administration figures have been associated with it. Support for Israel has become a controversial topic, even though Democratic and Republican administrations going back decades have made support for Israel an element of U.S. foreign policy.

But is Israel really the reason why the U.S. went to war in Iraq?

Another interesting exchange was on Meet the Press on Christmas day. Tim Russert had as his two guests Ted Koppel, who stepped down in late 2005 as the host of Nightline after more than 25 years in that position, and Tom Brokaw, who stepped down as NBC Evening News anchor a little over a year ago. They were discussing the war in Iraq, and the evidence, or lack thereof, of Weapons of Mass Destruction leading up to the war:

MR. BROKAW:  ?the French intelligence were sharing the same conclusions with the administration.  I thought–I agree with you that I don’t think that we pushed hard enough for vigorous debate.  I think that on Capitol Hill that the debate was anemic, at best.  You had–Ted Kennedy and Senator Byrd, really, were the only ones speaking out with any kind of passion in the Senate, the people who…

MR. RUSSERT:  And they were not questioning whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

MR. BROKAW:  No.  No.  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  That seemed to be a uniformly held belief.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.  Yeah.

MR. KOPPEL:  Nor did the Clinton administration beforehand.


MR. KOPPEL:  I mean, the only difference between the Clinton administration and the Bush administration was 9/11.

MR. BROKAW:  Right.

MR. KOPPEL:  If 9/11 had happened on Bill Clinton’s watch, he would have gone into Iraq.

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.  Yeah.

So from these three mainstream news titans comes the view that the U.S. and its allies agreed that Saddam had WMD.  But what is even more intriguing was Koppel’s assertion that Clinton would have invaded Iraq, if 9/11 had occurred on his watch.

The evidence suggests that Clinton may have done just that. Clinton, after all, had signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, calling for regime change, and had bombed Iraq in December 1998, claiming that “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.” He did that without seeking approval from Congress or the United Nations.

Did this make Clinton into a “neo-con?” If he had invaded Iraq after 9/11, would he have been charged with being a “neo-con?”

The use of this term, “neo-con,” is sometimes used to suggest that U.S. foreign policy is being determined by a secretive group of Jews with inordinate power over U.S. affairs.

The facts, however, suggest that Iraq was perceived as a threat by foreign policy experts from both parties, by our allies and the U.N. itself. The Saddam regime was officially declared a terrorist sponsor by the U.S. and it was pursuing weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. After 9/11, Bush officials came to the belief that the U.S. had to strike back, not only in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based, but in Iraq, which had been a threat to Middle East stability for years. Iraq was a threat to Israel, but it was also perceived as a threat to the U.S.

It’s true that Israel benefits from a U.S. policy of eliminating terrorist regimes in the Middle East. But that in no way suggests that Israel is calling the shots, and that the U.S. and the rest of the world do not also benefit from Saddam’s fall from power.

It is strange, at this late date, that there is still a debate over going to war. The debate is fueled by those, such as Novak, who want to suggest there was some kind of manufactured rationale for the war, based on Jewish support for Israel.

We wonder if Novak will make that argument on the Fox News Channel. If he does, we can anticipate some major fireworks with Fox News panelists Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes, among others. But we doubt that Novak will walk off the set.

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