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In Clinton endorsement, New York Times inches towards historical revisionism
Ron Brynaert and Michael Roston
Published: Friday January 25, 2008

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Paper later apologized for exaggerating Saddam threat

Senator Hillary Clinton earned the endorsement of the New York Times of her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president in a Friday editorial. But in giving the New York lawmaker their nod, the Times' editorial board appeared to be subtly revising its stance in the lead up to the Iraq War, painting the picture that it outright opposed the March 2003 invasion.

"We opposed President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and we disagree with Mrs. Clinton’s vote for the resolution on the use of force," the Times' editors write in Friday's endorsement. But editorials published by the paper in 2002 and 2003 point to a much more ambivalent record on the movement towards the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, rather than the direct opposition the paper asserts in the endorsement.

The paper can point to a March 9, 2003 editorial as its strongest declaration against the Iraq War.

"If it comes down to a question of yes or no to invasion without broad international support, our answer is no," the editorial board reasoned.

But after the editorial was published, the ambivalence of the Times' editorial page toward the invasion of Iraq was visible on the day in a March 18, 2003 follow-up, as the "shock and awe" campaign was set to commence. The opinion piece seemed to say that the war was unnecessary, but also that it was legitimate at the same time.

First, it described President Bush's actions as "a war waged without the compulsion of necessity." Later, the editorial concluded by arguing that the real problem with the war was that Bush seemed to be intent on waging it unilaterally, not that it was being waged at all.

"The result is a war for a legitimate international goal against an execrable tyranny, but one fought almost alone," the Times' editors argued. "At a time when America most needs the world to see its actions in the best possible light, they will probably be seen in the worst."

The position ultimately defined in the March 18 editorial grew out of a months of ambivalent argumentation that never quite arrived at taking a principled stance against the invasion of Iraq.

For instance, an Oct. 3, 2002 editorial prior to Congress' authorization of the use of force called on Congress to thoroughly consider the consequences of war with Iraq, but did not appear to rule out the use of force as an option.

"At this point, there remains a possibility that Iraq can be disarmed by voluntary means," they argued. "Congress must make clear its expectation that all diplomatic avenues be thoroughly explored. President Bush was right to declare Tuesday that 'the military option is not the first choice.'"

In another pre-authorization editorial on Oct. 8, 2002, the Times criticized Democrats in Congress for failing to challenge Bush. However, the paper stopped short of encouraging them to vote against the resolution, declaring it all but inevitable.

"Given the cautionary mood of the country, it is puzzling that most members of Congress seem fearful of challenging the hawkish approach to Iraq," the paper wrote, before adding in the next paragraph, "Congress is likely to grant the president the power to use force that he seeks. But that does not mean the debate should lack seriousness or tough questioning or that it should amount to a blank check."

After Congress had given Bush authority to use force in Iraq, the Times still urged the White House to avoid war, but did not argue against war outright.

"The desirable alternative to war is to send U.N. arms investigators back into Iraq with no restrictions on their ability to search out and destroy Baghdad's illegal weapons programs," the paper urged in a Oct. 11, 2002 editorial. "It needs to be fully explored."

Still, in making this case, it offered a menacing picture of Iraq and its potential to cause destruction in the Middle East.

"[I]f Iraq were to conclude that an American attack could no longer be prevented, Mr. Hussein ''probably would become much less constrained,'" the papers' editors wrote. "Targets for such attacks could include Israeli cities, Saudi oil fields and concentrations of American troops in the region."

And it was on this account, of exaggerating the danger posed by Saddam Hussein to the world, that the Times acknowledged in 2004.

"But we do fault ourselves for failing to deconstruct the W.M.D. issue with the kind of thoroughness we directed at the question of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, or even tax cuts in time of war," they wrote in the July 16 editorial. "We did not listen carefully to the people who disagreed with us. Our certainty flowed from the fact that such an overwhelming majority of government officials, past and present, top intelligence officials and other experts were sure that the weapons were there. We had a groupthink of our own."

In the end, the New York Times' editorial board appeared determined in belief of the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein, agreeing with the president on March 17, 2003 that, "Mr. Bush is right to insist that the choice between war and peace has been in the hands of Saddam Hussein."

And before the "No" editorial was published, they also made it clear that they did not oppose war with Iraq outright. What they opposed was a unilateral war.

"The threat of force, however, should not give way to the use of force until peaceful paths to Iraqi disarmament have been exhausted and the Security Council gives its assent to war," they wrote on March 3, 2003, 17 days before the US invasion began.



 
 


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