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When It Raines It Pours

From the August 26/September 2, 2002 issue: The New York Times marches on against the war.

10:00 PM, Aug 16, 2002 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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There's nothing subtle about the opposition of the New York Times to President Bush's plan for military action to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq. This bias colors not just editorials but practically every news story on the subject. Consider the front-page, above-the-fold piece on August 16, declaring that top Republicans "break with Bush on Iraq strategy."

True, a handful of Republicans have heartburn over Bush's intentions in Iraq--but only a handful. The list grows thin after Nebraska's Chuck Hagel in the Senate, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. The placement of the Times story, though, suggests a mass repudiation is taking place. It's not--far from it.

That's the distortion part of the story. The inaccurate part involves former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom the Times names as a critic of military action against Iraq. Not so. He's an ally of Bush. Kissinger laid out much of the case for invading Iraq to achieve regime change in an August 11 op-ed in the Washington Post. He explicitly endorsed Bush's policy of preemption: removing a threat before it strikes. The inviolability of the nation-state is no longer the rule, he wrote: "The terrorist threat transcends the nation-state; it derives in large part from transnational groups that, if they acquire weapons of mass destruction, could inflict catastrophic, even irretrievable, damage."

That's not all Kissinger wrote. He insisted "the case for removing Iraq's capacity for mass destruction is extremely strong." He said containment and deterrence worked against the Soviet Union but "are unlikely to work against Iraq's capacity to cooperate with terrorist groups." And he said wiping out Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "would have potentially beneficent political consequences." He concluded: "The imminence of proliferation of WMDs, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system and the demonstrated hostility of Hussein combine to produce an imperative for preemptive action." Kissinger's only qualm was how Bush sells his strategy to allies.

The Times also added an unprofessional touch. It couldn't confirm the rumor that Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, had met with Bush to air their anxieties about attacking Iraq. In fact, both the White House and State Department said they were "unaware" of such a meeting. So how did reporters Todd Purdum and Patrick Tyler get the rumor into their story? They quoted Hagel as saying it happened. Since when did Hagel become the last word on who did or didn't meet with Bush? Since last Friday in the Times.

A further sign of professional lapses in the service of editor Howell Raines's crusading obsessions came later that same day in Elisabeth Bumiller's dispatch from Crawford, Texas, posted on the Times's website. Her story referred to "the growing chorus of concern among Republicans," repeating the paper's erroneous conceit that the "chorus" includes Kissinger. More embarrassingly, she reported that Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had made the administration's case for a strike against Iraq "in London, where she was delivering a message aimed at tamping down European opposition."

Actually, Rice made her comments on August 1 in her Washington office, where she was interviewed by the BBC. Our advice to the Times: Take a break from trying to manipulate American foreign policy, and concentrate on Who, What, When, Where, and Why.