Commentary Magazine


The New York Times’s War on Wolfowitz

The 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq unfortunately has provided the occasion for some who ought to know better to propagate bizarre myths about the war. In this regard, the New York Times editorial board is in a class by itself. In an editorial today, “Ten Years After,” the Times casually writes: “In 2003, President George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to wage pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein and a nuclear arsenal that did not exist.”

It is perhaps a sign of how far gone into the land of fantasy the Times editorialists actually are that they could write a sentence like this and not have anyone fact check their assertion. Was it really the case that the Iraq War was the result of a plot by President Bush and, of all people, the deputy secretary of defense? Weren’t there some other, rather more important figures in the Cabinet who supported the invasion too–not only the president but also Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice?

More significantly, wasn’t the war authorized by both houses of Congress? Perhaps the Times editorialists have forgotten that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq was approved in October 2002 by a vote of 296-133 in the House and 77-23 in the Senate. This was a war that had bipartisan support, winning the backing of 82 Democrats in the House and 29 in the Senate.

Among those who backed this undertaking were, inter alia, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Hagel, former Secretary of State (and possibly future presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton, and then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Their position–that we had to be willing to use force against Saddam Hussein–was overwhelmingly popular, backed by over 70 percent of those surveyed.

The Times is right that, no matter the vote in Congress or the state of public opinion, President Bush ultimately bore responsibility for the invasion because he was commander-in-chief. But, news flash, Paul Wolfowitz was only the No. 2 official in the Department of Defense. Not only was he not in the chain of command (which runs from the president to the secretary of defense to the combatant commander), he was often ignored by his boss, Donald Rumsfeld. So why on earth, out of all the possible candidates in Washington, would the Times ascribe 50 percent of the responsibility for the invasion of Iraq to Wolfowitz?

The obvious explanation, although the Times editorialists don’t use the word, is that this is an attempt to resuscitate the old canard about how the “neocons lied us into war.” That is the kind of nonsense you expect to hear from the likes of Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. Shame on the Times editors–they should know better.