Accountability and the War in Iraq

Lawrence Freedman: Well, I think there’s a distinction between the accountability of the punditry which, by and large, is not- I mean, it’s surprising- ‘cause I do it myself enough- how little people remember what you’ve said. Maybe that’s a reflection on me, but by and large, the- you know, a climate of opinion was created, not just by Administration officials, but by a lot of people who, you know- obviously, David Frum was in the Administration and then he was out of it- but a lot of people who talked up the war, again for reasons that I understand, but without thinking, “What’s this actually gonna mean in practice?” And, you know- and I think- I always sort of feel, as somebody who, you know, does get involved in these

debates, the most useful role the outsider can play in them is often just to try to analyze them as coolly as possible- here’s the upsides, here’s the downsides, here’s the risks- rather than be a sort of polemical advocate for a particular course of action, when actually you’re not responsible for how this is gonna play in practice. One of the reasons the neocons have gotten themselves into such a position on this war is that they’re blamed for creating the climate of opinion. But actually, they had very little influence over the conduct of policy itself. And so they get into the odd position of saying, “Well, this is a great thing to do, but you screwed up because you didn’t do it properly.” But, you know- what they’re asking the American government to do was historically a pretty challenging thing, and if you’re gonna be an enthusiastic advocate of the course of action, it’s no good to say, “Well, I’m sure all that will be sorted out.” And if, you know, you look at Ken Adelman’s commentary on the war, when, you know, he was the one who used the unfortunate phrase “Cake Walk”- and he was right in what he was talking about, if he thinks Saddam Hussein would be more of a “Cake Walk” than many of those who were warning of the difficulties that the American military would face. But he just assumed, and he said, as the war took place, “Hey, I’m sure Rumsfeld and so on have got great plans there. They’re great public servants and they know what they’re doing.” And then two years, three years later, he was saying, “Gosh, they screwed up.” Well, you know, it’s a bit late. So, I think there are issues of accountability when something as bold and ambitious and unusual as this, I also think- thankfully, the Americans do too often- was being planned.

Recorded on 5/19/08

Lawrence Freedman argues that journalists and policy-makers must hold themselves liable for their roles in affecting public opinion of the war.

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less