Liberal Hawks Rethink Stance on Iraq

By Marc Perelman

Published January 16, 2004, issue of January 16, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The elusive search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and mounting questions about pre-war intelligence are prompting some liberal supporters of military intervention in Iraq to reassess their positions.

Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council official in the Clinton administration who wrote an influential book in 2002 advocating military action against Saddam Hussein, acknowledged in an article in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly that “what we have learned about Iraq’s WMD programs since the fall of Baghdad leads me to conclude that the case for war with Iraq was considerably weaker than I believed beforehand.”

Pollack also repeats allegations that administration officials pressured CIA analysts to produce evidence of Saddam’s weapons programs and used “creative omission” to support the White House’s “reckless” rush to war.

In a contribution to a debate among liberal hawks hosted by the online magazine Slate this week, Pollack said that in retrospect he might have advocated deterrence as much as military intervention if he were to rewrite his book today. Other participants, including the journalists Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens and Fareed Zakaria, maintain that ridding the world of a source of instability in the region and a murderous dictator like Saddam Hussein transcends the WMD issue, despite the chaotic postwar conditions in Iraq and the diplomatic fallout from the invasion.

The renewed debate over Iraq comes as Bush’s former treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, is telling reporters that administration officials had been planning to remove Saddam since they first took office early in 2001. “From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said in an interview aired on 60 Minutes. In a separate interview with Time magazine, O’Neill said that he did not see any evidence of the existence of Iraqi WMDs during his 23 months in the administration, when he sat on the National Security Council.

O’Neill has been dismissed by Bush allies as a disgruntled former Cabinet member, bitter over being pushed out after less than two years on the job. Democrats, however, have been quick to seize on O’Neill’s claims as a way to start up a debate over pre-war intelligence.

Pollack now says that intelligence assessments of Iraqi weapons programs were off the mark, particularly regarding Iraq’s nuclear program, but he points out that such assessments were shared by the Clinton administration and even several countries that opposed the war, including France and Germany.

Still, other observers argue that the intelligence estimates on Iraqi weapons programs were far from unanimous and that hawks in the administration deliberately pressured the intelligence community in general and CIA director George Tenet in particular to play up the threat.

“The administration has been a flat-out bully and has compelled intelligence analysts to toe the line,” said Larry Johnson, a former CIA official and past head of the anti-terrorism unit at the State Department. “They framed the estimates.”

But such accusations seem to be having little impact on several liberal supporters of the war, who viewed concerns about WMD as a secondary justification for war.

In his contribution to the Slate forum, Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times, argued that his main reason for backing an invasion was his belief that transforming Iraq into a model of Arab democracy would undercut the spread of radical Islam and Islamic terrorism. Still, he added, the rush to war — the result of focusing on the WMD threat — was to blame for diplomatic and postwar mismanagement that should have been avoided.

Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens, who broke ranks with his fellow leftists after the September 11 terrorist attacks and quit his column at The Nation, argued in his Slate post that the WMD debate is irrelevant because freeing Iraq from a genocidal tyrant was a long-held American policy objective. In addition, he argued that recent conciliatory actions by Libya, Iran and North Korea were directly attributable to the removal of Saddam.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.