The initial objective was toppling Saddam Hussein, and that mission was accomplished quickly and with fewer losses than almost anyone expected. But since then, little has gone well. My own prognostications have been spectacularly wrong.
Many of the war’s initial supporters, especially those on the left, have been running away from their initial position. Even conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg recently wrote that he now viewed the war as a mistake.
But I don’t believe we would have been better off leaving Hussein in power. Had we done so, we would be back in the position of wondering exactly what he was up to with the weapons arsenal much of the world believed, wrongly, he still possessed.
Bush faced a decision with no real upside, no matter what course he chose: Invade and end the purported threat, or shrink from invasion and wonder indefinitely about Hussein’s intentions and capabilities.
Shrinking from invasion would have meant shirking the challenge of dealing with a Middle Eastern status quo that had become a terrorist seedbed.
His own admission that he has been wrong is not so much humility as it is a statement of fact. He then accuses liberal supporters of the war from backpedaling on their support of the war, but cites no example. He then cites perhaps the only prominent right-wing war supporter who has admitted to having been wrong about the war. This is not what Fox News would refer to as "fair and balanced." More importantly, had the neo-cons and war hawks not been pressing for attacking Iraq while the twin towers and the Pentagon still smoldered, would we really be "wondering exactly what he was up to"? Would we care? And why is it with Iraq we faced only two choices: invasion, or status quo? Whatever happened to sanctions, diplomacy, covert operations, funding opposition groups, or all those other little tricks of the trade we mastered during the Cold War? No, McClanahan would like us to think that there were no good options, that either war or endless wondering was inevitible. That is most certainly not the case. The Bush administration wanted war, and they were aided and abetted by people who rationalized war in one fashion or another, or other people who did nothing to stop it. It is simply not possible to undermine one's own culpability for supporting the war by trying to argue that it was inevitible. Mr. McClanahan is wrong not only about what would happen in Iraq, but wrong about whether we should have invaded in the first place, and he should have the courage to admit as much.
For all that "conciliatory" language, McClanahan then throws out the charge that today's media harbors antipathy towards the military, and in essence, is secretly cheering for us to lose in Iraq. To "prove" this, he cites to the past, and the fall of Saigon:
Three decades ago, I was working in United Press International’s Dallas bureau, which controlled broadcast and newspaper wires for nine tates. One sunny day in April, bells started ringing from the dozens of printers scattered around the room.
We knew it was an item with “flash” priority, which carries 10 bells. I looked down. A printer tapped out: “Saigon falls.” What happened next was astonishing.
Many of my colleagues, young journalists who had come of age politically during the heyday of the anti-war movement, stood up and cheered. Oh, goodie. The United States has lost a war. Many were my friends, but the scene left me cold. That virus — the deep, unquestioning antipathy for all things military — still infects many in today’s media.
Oh really? This is same media that for much of the invasion and the subsequent occupation and battles against the insurgents and militias, has seen it's members "embedded" with U.S. military units, in some cases playing soldier, and in other cases reporting back to us the honest and heart-felt struggles of our soldiers in Iraq? (A former colleague of McClanahan's dispute his account, in the Unfair Park post linked to above.)
Like many of those who cheered on war in Iraq, but now find that things have worsened beyond the point at which they can continue to deny reality and assert that things are only getting better, McClanahan doesn't seem to know what to write now. His column is a mish-mash of buck-passing, blaming liberal war supporters now running away from their positions, to reporters who actively undermine the war effort. Where are the suggestions for what we should do now, except to buck up for a struggle we "can't afford" to lose? There aren't any. Which makes McClanahn's writing as useless and harmful now as it was in 2003.