Paul Krugman wonders if the media has learned anything from its past mistakes:
Snow Job in the Desert, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing the United Nations Security Council, claimed to have proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. ... [M]any people in the political and media establishments swooned: they admired Mr. Powell, and because he said it, they believed it.
Mr. Powell’s masters got the war they wanted, and it soon became apparent that none of his assertions had been true.
Until recently I assumed that ... a repeat of the snow job that sold the war impossible. But I was wrong. The administration, ... relying on Gen. David Petraeus to play ... Colin Powell..., has had remarkable success creating the perception that the “surge” is succeeding, even though there’s not a shred of verifiable evidence to suggest that it is.
Thus Kenneth Pollack..., author of “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq” ... and ... Michael O’Hanlon, another longtime war booster, returned from a Pentagon-guided tour of Iraq and declared that the surge was working. They received enormous media coverage; most ... accepted their ludicrous self-description as critics of the war who have been convinced by new evidence.
A third participant..., Anthony Cordesman ... reported that ... he saw little change in the Iraq situation... But neither his dissent nor a courageous rebuttal of Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack by seven soldiers actually serving in Iraq ... received much media attention.
Meanwhile, many news organizations have come out with misleading reports suggesting a sharp drop in U.S. casualties. The reality is that ... every month of 2007 has seen more U.S. military fatalities than the same month in 2006.
What about civilian casualties? The Pentagon says they’re down, but it has ..[not] explained how they’re calculated. According to a draft report from the Government Accountability Office, which was leaked..., U.S. government agencies “differ” on whether sectarian violence has been reduced. And independent attempts ... to estimate civilian deaths ... have not found any significant decline...
Above all, we should remember that the whole point of the surge was to create space for political progress in Iraq. And neither that leaked G.A.O. report nor the recent National Intelligence Estimate found any political progress worth mentioning...
But, say the usual suspects, General Petraeus is a fine, upstanding officer who wouldn’t participate in a campaign of deception — apparently forgetting that they said the same thing about Mr. Powell.
First of all, General Petraeus is now identified with the surge; if it fails, he fails. He has every incentive to find a way to keep it going, in the hope that somehow he can pull off something he can call success.
And General Petraeus’s history also suggests that he is much more ... political ... than his press would have you believe. In particular, six weeks before the 2004 presidential election, General Petraeus published an op-ed article in The Washington Post in which he claimed — wrongly, of course — that there had been “tangible progress” in Iraq, and that “momentum has gathered in recent months.”
Is it normal for serving military officers to publish articles just before an election that clearly help an incumbent’s campaign? I don’t think so.
So here we go again. It appears that many influential people in this country have learned nothing from the last five years. And those who cannot learn from history are, indeed, doomed to repeat it.