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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Now, where would he have gotten that idea?

Atrios has a fine, angry post on Richard Cohen’s mea culpa in yesterday’s Washington Post.  Curiously, his very next post is on how the film Shattered Glass turns out to be “a complete apologia for TNR.”

OK, so let’s connect these seemingly unrelated points.  How could a nice, sensible Washington liberal like Cohen get the idea that we had to take out Saddam because of the anthrax attacks?

Cohen says:

Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration’s desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack—more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.

Who might have frightened him so badly that he was willing to support a war-- not on the grounds that its brutal, fascist dictator should be removed for horrific violations of human rights, but on the grounds that its brutal, fascist dictator had hit us with anthrax, or maybe had the capacity to, or maybe just had the desire to?

Why, The New Republic, that’s who. 

Now, let’s give Atrios credit (not that he needs it from this humble blog!) for noting that Richard Cohen was editorializing for war in Iraq as early as November 30, 2001.  But let’s also remember that the doughty editors of TNR had led the charge to Baghdad a month earlier, in their ludicrous October 29 editorial calling us to “weaponize our courage” and take out that anthrax-producing Saddam.  (Weaponize!  get it?  like anthrax!  Saddam has weaponized his anthrax, and so shall we weaponize our courage!)

This isn’t hindsight on my part, folks-- I thought that editorial was ludicrous the day I read it, and I said so in this essay, which I wrote in January 2002.  (Here’s the relevant clip from that essay if you don’t want to read the whole 4000-word thing:  “In his bunker in Baghdad, a shaken Saddam Hussein looks up from his copy of TNR: ‘Nothing would please me more than to fight American armed forces in the daughter of the mother of all battles-- but I cannot face the fearsome senior editors of this weekly magazine.’")

So if there’s any apologizing to be done on the part of people who ginned up that there anthrax hysteria, I’d start with Stephen Glass’s former employers, myself.

Kudos to Cohen for making exactly half this point in his column:

My point is that we were panicked. Yet that panic never gets mentioned. Last month the New Republic published a “special issue” in which a bevy of very good writers wondered whether they had been wrong to support the war in Iraq. Most of them admitted to having erred about this or that detail or in failing to appreciate how badly George Bush would administer the war and the occupation. But none confessed to being seized by the zeitgeist. I read the magazine cover to cover and unless I somehow missed it, the word anthrax never appeared. Imagine! Not once! Not a single one of these writers admitted to panicking over anthrax.

To finish the point Cohen didn’t quite make, go back and look for the word “anthrax” in TNR from, say, September to December 2001.  Don’t worry-- you’ll find it!  But you can’t look online-- for some reason, the magazine’s archives don’t go back that far.  Ask a friendly public librarian for help.

Posted by Michael on 07/24 at 04:12 AM
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