S1: In late August 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris less than a week later. Eighty seven year old Mother Teresa died of cardiac arrest in Calcutta. The two deaths were met with an outpouring of public grief. One person who didn’t participate was the British journalist Christopher Hitchens
S2: of Princess Diana had trodden on a landmine, which I think would have been a very fine way for her to go. Then we could say in a sense, that life and death had had some in
S1: his commentary was shockingly unsentimental and unapologetically left wing. According to him, the royal family were parasites on the British people. And he argued that the Catholic Church’s opposition to family planning parts of India trapped in poverty.
S3: And you call this the goul of Calcutta,
S2: Mother Teresa, Mother Teresa
S1: Hitchens love to attack the conventional wisdom all the way through the 1990s. He was extremely skeptical of the US’s muscular foreign policy. But it wasn’t that he hated war. He identified as a Trotskyist. For him, the next revolution was always just around the corner. Hitchens covered the abolition of the Greek monarchy and he championed the cause of the Kurds.
S4: There was always something very marschall about Christopher.
S1: That’s Katha Pollitt. Her column ran alongside Hitchens, as in the left wing magazine The Nation.
S4: You know, his father was a military man. I think there was an appeal in him of war, violence, revolution
S1: after 9/11, when other nation writers worried about how the US might respond. Hitchens openly relished the fight to come.
S4: He wrote that what he thought about 9/11 was was this feeling of elation, because now the battle would be joined, the battle with Muslim fundamentalism. And I’m thinking that’s the first thing you think
S1: Hitchens was all for deposing Saddam Hussein in his nation column. He called the dictator a sadistic megalomaniac. Hitchens, a support for the war, aligned him with the Bush administration, especially with the ambitious foreign policy intellectuals who’d been pushing war with Iraq since before 9/11. This was a surprising turn for such a long time committed leftist. In the fall of 2002, his connection with the neoconservative movement began to deepen.
S3: What I didn’t know when I went about essentially introducing Paul Wolfowitz and Christopher Hitchens to one another was Secretary Wolfowitz had been reading him for years.
S1: That’s Kevin Kellems back in 2002. He was the right hand man to Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, Kellems lived in the same neighborhood associations. The two men met at a party and survived when they started talking about Afghanistan and Iraq. Kellems thought his boss and Hitchins might find a lot to talk about, so he brokered a lunch meeting at the Pentagon. At that lunch, Hitchens and Wolfowitz talked about genocide, human rights and Iraq.
S3: And I didn’t put it on any schedule, didn’t tell anyone, because at that point, it probably makes some people nervous bringing Christopher into the Pentagon. He had come out of the far left and was provocative and it might fear that he was a loose cannon. And, you know, the Pentagon is a little bit of a buttoned down place.
S1: As Kellems tells it, this Hitchins Wolfowitz introduction was like an Iraq hawk meet cute.
S3: There clue’s mutual admiration. I mean, the conversation was so fast and lively that they were literally ending each other’s sentences and cutting each other off.
S1: Hitchens and Wolfowitz talked for an hour and a half
S3: when he got outside. He was perspiring a little and said, oh, my only worry was going that long without a smoke.
S1: Hitchens became one of the loudest voices in the American media, arguing in favor of war with Iraq.
S2: I would say, in the words of a famous old statesman, never be afraid of doing the right thing if it also happens to be in your own interest.
S1: Hitchens has friends on the left. Watch the shift happen in real time.
S3: It’s a heavy thing to suddenly be inside and have people saying, yeah, your friends on the left say this baloney, but we have intelligence that says, you know, there’s a nuclear threat.
S1: That’s the writer, Mark Danner. After 9/11, he argued forcefully against invading Iraq. Dana and Hitchens were old friends as the American invasion loomed. They staged a series of public debates about the impending war.
S3: As Christopher said, I don’t care what the details are, they attacked us and we have to fight them back. And it didn’t matter that the details included the fact that Iraq did not attack us and in fact, felt very much like revenge against the Arabs who had dared to strike the United States. And I think that point of view was shared not only by a lot of the public, but in various ways, by the intellectual class and certainly in some ways by those in the government who designed and promoted the war. As Henry Kissinger said at the time, we have to humiliate them in just the way they tried to humiliate us.
S1: It wasn’t surprising to hear an argument like that from Henry Kissinger when it came from a charismatic, supposedly left wing writer like Hitchens. It hit differently.
S2: People say it’s risky. All right, then, I’ll admit it. That’s part of what I like about it. It does take the risk that democracy and self-government is both more desirable, more stable and more defensible than than dictatorship or proxy rule. I think it could be.
S1: Hitchens left the nation in 2002. Thanks to the magazines anti-war stance. He began to write a column fighting words for Slate, where he was read by a liberal leaning audience that was more receptive to his arguments. Hitchens is writing and his persona. May deposing a dictator and bringing democracy to the Middle East seem romantic if the invasion went the way that the administration said it would. America could once more be the heroic protagonist of world history, the way it had been when it fought the Nazis. It felt exciting to be for something.
S3: I think he probably had a substantial influence in giving people who thought of themselves as lefties an excuse to be for the war.
S1: Here’s Katha Pollitt.
S4: I would say I had a difficult relationship with Christopher. But, you know, here’s a funny thing. Many people are kind of boring and they’re and many writers are kind of boring. Many columnists are kind of boring. And he brought a kind of swashbuckling character to opinion journalism that it doesn’t usually have.
S1: Do you think that’s why so many people were sort of seduced by his views on something like Iraq?
S4: Yeah, I think so. I think that he has you know, he has there’s like a cult of Christopher. A lot of men, especially, I don’t think so many women, but many, many men, many young men just adore him.
S1: Frank For who was then a young writer at the liberal New Republic, got to know Hitchens around this time. He sat and watched as Hitchens held court in a big apartment in Kalorama, the leafy D.C. neighborhood where the Obamas and Jeff Bezos now live. Hitchens wanted the apartment to serve as a salon where big ideas could get hashed out. He smoked and drank enthusiastically, and he enjoyed performing.
S5: He had these rooms that were incredibly minimalistic, white walls and kind of these vast spaces that seemed like they’d been kind of hollowed out for the sake of social gatherings.
S1: The year leading up to the invasion of Iraq was all anyone was talking about. George W. Bush had sketched a justification for the war, good versus evil, us versus them. But that left a lot of details to be filled in. Bush wasn’t interested in having that kind of intellectual debate, but a lot of other people were on Charlie Rose’s nightly PBS show in the pages of magazines and these new things on the Internet called blogs. And in Christopher Hitchens, his living room. Hitchens, his get togethers drew an eclectic crowd. His new friends, the neocons were there.
S5: I remember sitting there one one evening and Paul Wolfowitz was at the same table as Salman Rushdie.
S1: What did Paul Wolfowitz and Salman Rushdie talk about?
S5: You know, strangely, I think I remember them talking about the New York Mets,
S1: the other unwinnable war. Yeah. Kevin Kellems remembers the actress Bo Derek coming over, Martin Amis was an old friend. So was Ahmed Chalabi. But it Hitchins is you might also run into a lefty congressman or an anti-war journalist.
S5: Part of kind of the charm of Hitchens is that he would invite people he disagreed with and then break from kind of the mold of a gracious host that he’d been playing just five minutes before. And he would kind of argue with just the most vociferous, most passionate, sometimes most ad hominem sort of way against his guests, kind of denouncing them for their immorality and softness.
S1: Hitchens died in 2011, three years earlier. Slate had invited a group of writers who had supported the Iraq war to answer the question, why did we get it wrong? Hitchens was the only one whose answer began. I didn’t. This is a slow burn. I’m your host, Noreen Malone. Lots of Americans opposed the Iraq war in the months before the invasion, including a majority of Democrats, but inside Washington and in a lot of the media, there’s an elite bipartisan opinion to be against. The war was to be unserious. At some point, I started to think that Iraq was like murder on the Orient Express. Everyone did it. The foreign policy establishment, just about everyone was in on the invasion and they all had different justifications. So where did all these pro-war ideas come from? Why did liberals and conservatives find so much common ground? And how much responsibility should writers and intellectuals bear for one of America’s deadliest mistakes? This is Episode four, Fighting Words. When the Soviet Union crumbled, America was faced with one big foreign policy problem. Now what?
S6: For more than four decades, America’s energies were focused on containing the threat to the free world from the forces of communism. That war is over. In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking in some detail about the possibility of a new world order emerging after the Cold War.
S1: A group of foreign policy intellectuals known as the neoconservatives had some ideas for how to shape that new world order. Here’s James Mann. He’s the author of An Intellectual History of the Bush Foreign Policy Brain Trust, called Rise of the Vulcans
S7: after the Cold War. They believed, one, that the United States should play a very active role in the world. And, too, it should move actively on behalf of democracy and against dictatorships.
S1: Like a lot of neoconservatives, Paul Wolfowitz worked in the George H.W. Bush administration. Wolfowitz, his father, was a Polish Jewish emigre and the shadow of the Holocaust loomed in their home. Wolfowitz, his life, had all these strange little brushes with cultural history. For instance, Saul Bellow based a character on him in his novel, Ravil Stein and Wolfowitz, his early mentor, was a nuclear strategist who was part of the inspiration for Dr. Strangelove. Wolfowitz was a famously disorganized person, which explains why he was known mostly as an ideas guy, nearly Nyos. When Wolfowitz was working under Dick Cheney in the Defense Department, his team wrote a position paper. It was sort of grandiose, a blueprint for a post-Cold War world. It went a little something like this.
S7: The United States should try to prevent the emergence of any rival power anywhere in the world. That is, there should never be a rival like the Soviet Union again, in fact, that the United States, as the document said, should build up its power to the extent that no other country could even afford to challenge it.
S1: The Wolfowitz doctrine, as it became known, argued that the United States’s mission was to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in places like Iraq. Wolfowitz have been frustrated when the first President Bush decided not to take out Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War, he thought that by bringing democracy to Iraq, you could change the entire Middle East.
S2: And I think these claims of success in Iraq are a joke. Saddam controls the ground. We control an additional 60 miles of Iraqi airspace. That isn’t what matters. People who trusted in us have been killed, wiped out. He continues with his nuclear weapons program.
S1: And when George H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid, Wolfowitz and the neoconservatives found themselves out of power. They spent the next eight years becoming more influential within the Republican Party, developing their ideas and policy journals and think tanks like Bill Kristol Project for a New American Century. Kristol was kind of the crown prince of the neocons. Bill’s father was Irving Kristol, one of the intellectuals who departed the left and started the neoconservative movement in the Cold War. The US had propped up dictators for strategic advantage. Now, neoconservatives like Bill Kristol argued America didn’t need to do that anymore. It could help promote its global dominance by saving countries from abusive leadership and genocide. Here’s Kristol in 1998.
S6: My position is simple that America is a great nation. We have the role of world leadership. We may not like it, but if we don’t take it, no one will take it. If we don’t take it and if no one takes it, the world will be much more dangerous for us. Our peace, our prosperity, our liberties will be threatened.
S1: Kristol used Rupert Murdoch’s money to start a magazine called The Weekly Standard. It had a small circulation but high impact. Dick Cheney’s office alone ordered 30 copies every week. The writers and editors of The Weekly Standard were sort of like Iraq invasion hipsters. They were into the idea before anyone else. Back in 1997, the Standard ran a cover story headlined Saddam Must Go.
S6: Iraq is a genuine threat. Either we’re going to have to live in a world in which he has the capacity to use chemical and biological weapons, maybe ultimately against us, or we have to go in and remove Saddam, in my view. And I think it’s worth the use of ground troops if we get rid of Saddam.
S1: I think when George W. Bush became president, the neoconservatives went back into government work. After 9/11, Bush elevated people who could frame geopolitics as a moral struggle, people who had a vision of an America that would take bold, heroic action overnight. Paul Wolfowitz and his allies became the most important thinkers in the U.S. government. When the Bush administration made the case for war, the neocons provided the intellectual justification, they appealed to conservative ideas of patriotism and militarism. It’s not surprising that Republicans lined up behind that kind of thinking. But it’s less obvious why large segments of the American center left also supported the invasion. Frank, for
S5: I think it was possible to really hate George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and still support their war. You know, there was this this post 9/11 ethos where it felt like something needed to be done.
S1: The Democrats who supported the war became known as the liberal hawks. Not every liberal supported the war by a long shot, but a lot of the foreign policy establishment did. Kenneth Pollack, a former Clinton national security staffer, wrote an influential book Making the Case for War, political theorist Michael Ignatieff argued that humanitarian intervention was necessary and right. Many of these writers were deeply tied into power and the establishment. For instance, here’s Thomas Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times.
S2: Now, when we talk about Iraq, I lean in favor of doing something, but only if we can do it right, because I do believe Saddam Hussein is a really bad guy who is doing really has done really bad things and will continue to do them.
S1: Bill Keller, who would go on to edit The New York Times, wrote a column declaring himself a member of the I Can’t Believe I’m a Hawk Club. The editor in chief of The New Yorker, David Remnick, wrote a column that landed on the side of invasion. Michael Kelly, the editor in chief of The Atlantic, and Peter Beinart, the editor of The New Republic, also backed the war. So did the editor of Newsweek International and star talking head, Fareed Zakaria. The Washington Post editorial page came out in favor of the War two in 2002, Vanity Fair and Annie Leibovitz cover spread that had Bush and his cabinet post like movie stars. It’s a big out group shot, something the magazine usually only does for its Hollywood issue. Bush is wearing a big cowboy belt buckle with the presidential seal on it. And Dick Cheney is kind of looking out at you with Come Hither Eyes. The headline was War and Destiny. It was part of this pro-war consensus to Jacob Weisberg was editing the magazine.
S3: Then we got a lot of people, including a lot of liberal writers, who weren’t regular Slate contributors kind of on the record about what they thought about the war. And the sentiment was predominantly in favor of it with kind of an infinite number of qualifications. But I think most of the people who wrote in that forum felt that getting rid of Saddam Hussein regime change was desirable, even if they had real skepticism about Bush and the Bush administration carrying it out.
S1: Frank, us as the liberal hawks and the neocons were sort of coming from a similar place
S5: at a place like the New Republic, which not to put too fine a point on. It had a lot of Jewish intellectuals like myself who are living in the shadow of the Holocaust were really excited about the notion that the United States could use its power as a force for good to prevent genocides all around the world. So critics would say, oh, the United States should be the policeman of the world. And we were kind of like, yeah, the United States should be the policeman of the world.
S1: The scope of this bipartisan consensus was limited to liberal hawks, didn’t necessarily share the neocons ambition to remake the Middle East or their belief that unilateral military force was the best way to spread democracy around the world. But they did agree on the need for intervention. To understand why, for says you need to understand the psychology of some liberals after 9/11, in the long shadow of Vietnam,
S5: you know, beginning in the 1960s, there was a backlash against liberalism. And at the core of that backlash was the sense that liberals had been weak kneed. And, you know, for electoral reasons, liberals kind of constantly tried to disprove that. But I think that there was also a psychological element to it as well, where the neocons accused the liberal intellectuals of being feeble. You know, there’s like a playground dynamic where the liberals then kind of want to prove that that’s not the case. And so you say I’m weak kneed. Well, hell, I’m willing to kind of parachute into the desert and invade, you know, this country.
S1: There were some recent foreign policy lessons that also helped fuel the debate over Iraq in the 90s. The Clinton administration had intervened in the Balkans to slow down the genocides there. It hadn’t intervened in Rwanda where 800000 people were killed. A lot of people wish the administration had done something. People who thought this way were known as humanitarian interventionists. If you saw the world the way they did, Iraq seemed like the next place to go in the way Saddam Hussein treated the Iraqi people, especially the Kurds, was impossible to stomach. For many humanitarian interventionists, the face of the Iraqi cause was Kanan Makiya.
S8: I came here as a child and I have such fond memories of being here on holiday with my father. How things have changed. The horror is everywhere. It surrounds us.
S1: Makiya hurt here in a PBS documentary that aired in 1992, was an Iraqi exile. He originally worked professionally as an architect, but he was best known as the author of a book about his home country called Republic of Fear. Makiya wrote under a pseudonym to protect his family. Still in Iraq,
S8: most people live in a twilight zone. They follow orders blindly. They don’t question. They choose not to know evil of this kind on this scale.
S1: Makiya worked with Ahmed Chalabi organization, the Iraqi National Congress. But while Chalabi appealed to the neocons, Makiya had a way of winning over liberals and where Chalabi was a proud political operator, Makiya was an intellectual like Christopher Hitchens. Makiya started out as a Trotskyist, but by the time he started writing about Iraq, he modeled his work on Honna Arun’s. He saw parallels between Saddam Hussein’s regime and German totalitarianism. Makiya told me that he thought regime change was possible because of how Iraqis responded to the American military during the 1991 Gulf War.
S3: Iraqis rose up. They were even up there on the rooftops of houses and buildings in Baghdad, clapping and cheering on allied planes as they bombed Iraq. I mean, this had never happened before. This was a solid totalitarian regime with unspeakable numbers of armed men and with the largest networks of informers and and agents. And nonetheless, the unthinkable happened. Once that happened, people like me were energized. This was possible.
S1: People like Makiya argued that Iraq had the potential to become a democracy because of its well-developed infrastructure, an educated middle class, that middle class would be decimated by the Gulf War and the sanctions that followed. But Makiya still believed the United States could save his country.
S3: I had friends on the left who were saying, Cannon, you can’t trust the United States. You simply can’t trust them. We we always botch these things up whenever we get involved. And I was saying my reply would always be, you can’t make it worse than it already is.
S1: Makiya wasn’t making the case that success was guaranteed. He was arguing that the U.S. had an obligation to try. And he famously predicted that American troops entering Baghdad in 2003 would be greeted with sweets and flowers,
S3: even if there was a less than five percent chance of success. I would be morally bound to fight for it and to argue for it. It means that no great transformation of a country and a transformation of Iraq from a totalitarian state to something that is a lot better than a totalitarian state, even if it’s not a fully fledged democracy. No such transformation can take place with a kind of knowledge beforehand that it is going to be successful.
S1: Makia, like Chalabi, hadn’t lived in Iraq in a long time. He’d left in the late 60s. This could create a blind spot, but exile bias. Only Iraqis and Americans we’re hearing from were the ones who had already left Iraq. These exiles tended to be like Chalabi and Makiya, much wealthier, more westernized, more liberal than the average Iraqi. Often they were secular. And intentionally or not, the exiles gave the impression that everyone in Iraq wanted what they wanted. It wasn’t just fancy established writers like Christopher Hitchens who were spending their days arguing about war.
S7: I was a senior in college when the war started, but I was an early adopting blogger. So I was both in school, but also kind of in the In the Takes Universe.
S1: That’s Matt Iglesias, who co-founded Vox and now writes a subsect newsletter. A lot of college kids at places like Harvard where he went war against the war, but not him.
S7: Look, you know, I mean, I was looking to graduation. I was I was looking at my job. I was looking to my aspiration to become, you know, a frank for kind of person. And I was aware that, like in like sophisticated political commentary circles, these things that my friends around the dorm thought were considered like incredibly naive and dumb ways of looking at it. And I thought that, like, I had developed this much more sophisticated view from reading all these these wise professionals
S1: after 9/11 and began to feel like the print news cycle couldn’t keep up with the pace of the news. But there were these new things called blogs, and a bunch of them were focused on war and Iraq.
S7: People wanted to participate in a faster conversation and then people would have these big arguments, you know, like they would write essays the way, you know, we always sort of did in the in the small magazines kind of world. Except, you know, you didn’t need to be among the elect who had one of those jobs and at the New Republic or the Nation or Slate to go self publish an essay on the Web.
S1: A lot of the first big bloggers were in favor of the war, Instapundit Balloon Juice. Andrew Sullivan, who is the former editor of The New Republic. Then people started writing from the anti-war side and sites like Atrius and Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, the conversation got more heated and more frequent. People weren’t looking for reporting from the blogs. What they wanted was something that was, believe it or not, in relatively short supply. Back then, they craved opinion, even from writers who had no particular expertise about Iraq. They wanted more tone, more aid. And that’s what the blogs offered. Bloggers called their intellectual opponents whores and idiots. A lot of the writing made Christopher Hitchens look buttoned up, temperate. There was also something compelling about watching bloggers go at each other, arguing in real time. This new form was exciting. It made people pay attention and that attention gave the bloggers a kind of instant credibility. Blogs that had tiny readership started to influence newspapers and magazines. Writers like Ignatius and Ezra Klein jump started their careers by blogging in favor of the war,
S7: particularly in this day and age. It seems noteworthy to me how much of a white male thing this all was. I mean, let me start a self published website in which I tell you what to think about things is like the most 20 something white guy thing that I can I can imagine in the world. And it was a you know, was a boon to me as an overconfident 20 something white guy. What was interesting about it was that it had this open and meritocratic aspect to it where it wasn’t like you needed, like, connections with somebody, but you required this incredible sense of entitlement to do it at all. And, you know, it’s not a coincidence who that was or who had that sense of entitlement, particularly looking back on it. That’s what’s just like so striking to me.
S1: If you were deep in the world of blogging or opinion writing, there was this frothy illusion that you could hash out the world’s problems by arguing better than the other guy, these writers were like grown up boys playing a giant game of risk. Thanks to the neocons and the liberal hawks in the war bloggers, the discourse was flooded with arguments in support of the war. The people who thought that invading Iraq was a bad idea. They felt like they were being steamrolled. One of them was Mark Danner, who was on the other side of the debate from Christopher Hitchens, Danner had supported interventions in places like the Balkans, but not Iraq. He thought that Saddam actually might have WMD, but that those weapons weren’t a reason to go to war.
S3: He does not seem to have ambitions beyond its borders. He does not threaten the United States. He was defeated in his war against Iran. He’s within his box is his army, is in military, is decaying. And this is a trumped up threat.
S1: Danner and a lot of other opponents of the invasion believe the administration was using WMD in a cynical way, that they were a pretext for the US to do what it was going to do no matter what.
S3: I mean, my position was a realist, one. I wasn’t simply saying to all wars. I was saying this is a stupid idea that’s going to redound. It’s going to be a mess. A lot of people are going to die and the United States will not achieve its aims and will be in a much weaker position in the region after this happens.
S1: Part of the elite consensus in favor of the war was a reaction to the public mood after 9/11. Katha Pollitt, The Nation writer, remembers the way the culture shifted and what it felt like to be on the other side of that shift.
S4: I wrote a column in The Nation that they’ll put it on. My tombstone is the column I’m probably most notorious for, where I said I discussed a debate I had with my daughter, who was then around, let’s see, around 12 because she wanted to fly the flag and I did not want to fly the flag. Once I start flying the flag, they’re going to go to war. I know for a lot of people it doesn’t have that meaning, but for me it had the meaning of jingoism. America, no one all like that.
S1: The Weekly Standard ran a story called Flags from His Pollet. In response, people started mailing Pollet and her daughter presence.
S4: And so we got all these little cocktail flags and people had cut out flags out of the newspaper and somebody drew a flag. It was really funny. And somebody sent me somebody sent me ten dollars and said I should buy myself some red, white and blue flowers.
S1: What did you do with all the flags?
S4: I think I still have them somewhere. I’m I wouldn’t throw away something so historic.
S1: All of this flag waving wasn’t consequence free after 9/11, people who presented as Arab were increasingly attacked and harassed. Thanks to the Patriot Act, racial profiling was sanctioned by the US government. Khalid Baojun is a law professor at Wayne State University and the author of American Islamophobia.
S3: We’re coming in to a new sort of political moment where people who look like me and my family members, where public enemy number one
S1: just six days after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush said in a speech, the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam, but embracing only some Muslims. He was drawing a line.
S3: He was sort of constructing a new kind of Muslim binary, if you will, like kind of a good versus bad Muslim binary that the kind of Muslims that he lauded in the kind of Muslims that he would would sort of like characterize as peaceful are the individuals who would not engage in specific kinds of activity that was viewed with suspicion by the state, individuals who were very patriotic, individuals who were not critical of US foreign or domestic policy individuals weren’t dissident’s individuals who might temper their Muslim identities, their conspicuous Muslim identities for a more, I guess, assimilated American identity.
S1: They do not see a connection to one of the neoconservatives biggest ideas, one that Christopher Hitchens also subscribed to the notion that the West was headed into an increasingly violent clash with the Islamic world. By this logic, Muslims like countries are either with us or against us. The liberal interventionists tried to distance themselves from rhetoric like that. They constructed complicated arguments about how supporting the war didn’t mean supporting Bush and Cheney, but ultimately they were part of the with us or against us crowd. Here’s Thomas Friedman in 2003 talking about what he thought Middle Eastern terrorists needed to see.
S2: And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad and basically saying, which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society. You think this bubble fantasy where it’s going to let it grow? Well, suck on this.
S1: On February 15th, 2003, two hundred thousand people marched against the war in New York City. Millions more protested across the world. A few days later, Frank For went to a book party. The Metropolitan Club, a block from the White House,
S5: gets more or less the WASP biased institution in Washington. I think that you’re required to wear a jacket and tie there
S1: for was it the WASPs institution in Washington? Because this New Republic colleague, Lawrence Kaplan, was one of the authors being celebrated. The other was Bill Kristol. Their book, called The War Over Iraq, was a polemic that called for invasion.
S5: First of all, the party attracted kind of all of the eminences from neocon land. And so Wolfowitz was there and Richard Perle was there and there were senators there.
S1: The event was something like a mixer for the cross section of the establishment that agreed the U.S. should go into Iraq. This was a month before the invasion. The people at the Metropolitan Club had been desperate to convince the world that this war was a good idea and now it looks inevitable. For a lot of the night, there was a kind of gleeful energy in the room, but when Lawrence Kaplan and Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz got up and made speeches, the mood was a lot less fizzy.
S5: So the neocon cast of mind is one that prides itself on its moral seriousness. So they kind of stood up in this this joyous chitter chatter atmosphere and delivered these remarks that were kind of strikingly gloomy about the slog that was ahead and the test of our moral character that we we would be facing. And it was it was slightly dissonant because, you know, so many of the intellectuals had described the Iraq war as a cakewalk.
S1: The question of how much responsibility writers and intellectuals bear for what happened in Iraq is something that some of them are still wrestling with,
S5: whether the New Republic published its pieces or not, I think that war probably would have happened, you know, regardless. Do I believe that? And it’s it’s it’s it’s an interesting question, like, would somebody like Joe Biden have supported the war if there weren’t liberal media institutions there making the case? Like would Joe Biden and John Kerry and Hillary Clinton have done it if they didn’t feel safety of being accompanied on that journey by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic? I kind of I actually, you know, now that I think about it, I think that they probably would have had a harder time going that course. I think that maybe maybe the war would have been more of a partisan issue if the liberal intelligentsia had had gone the other way on the war.
S1: A year after the invasion, many of the liberal hawks and some conservatives to realize the Iraq war had been a catastrophic mistake.
S9: Good evening. The United States invasion of Iraq is proving to be a Pandora’s box, and the Americans can’t seem to slam the lid shut. First, they weren’t able to find any weapons of mass destruction. Then the surge in major fighting when it was supposed to be over. Now adding to the crisis of credibility, allegations of torture, not to mention
S1: a lot of them wrote essays revisiting their arguments, explaining how they’d been so wrong about the most important debate of their lifetime. Everyone except Christopher Hitchens wanted to clarify their own personal record. In fact, Hitchens seemed a little contemptuous of people who said they’d have never supported it if they’d known more at the time. When I asked some writers who supported the invasion to talk to me. Many were defensive. They assumed I wanted them to atone for their sins once again. And they felt like they’d done that enough. One person referred me to his e-book on the subject. The people who were willing to talk maybe hadn’t left as much of a paper trail, Frank, for, for instance, never officially wrote anything advocating for the war. What the people who supported the invasion want you to understand is that there was a logic to their thinking that it made sense, given what they understood at the time about WMD, that they wanted to make the world better. But even revisiting it that way reduces a war that destroyed millions of lives to a dinner party debate topic, which is part of the problem.
S5: I think it’s really painful to revisit the years after 9/11, because if you’re if you’re an intellectual, your job is to reason your way to the best argument. But 9/11 provoked an incredibly strong emotional response and people and intellectuals. And it’s I think it’s embarrassing sometimes to go back and to see how how we surrender to emotions sometimes, how we surrender to unreason, how we surrender to the prejudices.
S1: For a generation of political writers and thinkers advocating for the US invasion of Iraq wasn’t a career ending error of judgment, it was a rite of passage.
S4: Katha Pollitt What really gets me is that all the people that were wrong about the war, like Michael Ignatieff, for example, and Christopher Hitchens, all the intellectuals, they went on to Great Glory and all the people that were against it did not go on to great glory. And it was sort of like you helped engineer a situation while engineers a strong word, you helped promote a situation that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of a society and wider war. Now you’re saying it was just sort of a detail that because your impulses were good, come on.
S1: Lawrence Kaplan, the New Republic writer who teamed up with Bill Kristol to write the case for invasion, reported from Iraq after the war began. People told me he was so disillusioned by what he saw there, who he saw die and what he believed to be his role in a tragedy. He left journalism. He moved far away from the Beltway. I asked him to come on the podcast, but he declined. He thought he’d said too much already. Slow Burn is a production of Slate plus Slate’s membership program, Slate plus members get bonus episodes of Slow Burn every week, where we’ll go behind the scenes into making the show. And there are clips and interviews that we couldn’t fit in here. And this week’s bonus episode, you’ll be hearing a roundtable of Slate writers and editors revisiting the run up to the Iraq war, head over to sitcoms, slow burn to sign up and listen. Now it’s only a dollar for your first month. We couldn’t make slow burn without the support of Slate plus. So please sign up if you can head over to Slate Dotcom slow slogan and a programming note. Slow burn. We’ll be back with a new episode in two weeks. Slow is produced by me, Jason de Leon and Sophie Summer, grad with Editorial Direction by Josh Levine and Gabriel Roth. Our mix engineer is Merritt Jacob. Brandon Angelides composed our theme song. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Jim Cook. Special thanks to Jared Holt, Allison Benedikt Low and Lou Dark, John Ethan Brooks, Megan Karlstrom, Rachel Ström, Seth Brown Chao to Aisha Solutia, Katie Raeford and Obvious. Gentlemen, thanks for listening.