Over the weekend I mentioned the full-throated endorsement, in a Washington Post op-ed by Joshua Muravchik, for going to war with Iran. In case you wonder whether I'm mischaracterizing it, the actual headline on the article was, "War With Iran Is Probably Our Best Option."
Since then the news focus has drifted, partly because of the impending election results from Israel. But the prominent play for such bellicose views was a powerful distillation of what I'm calling the Chickenhawk Nation syndrome: a country in which people breezily recommend war but are uninterested in the tedious details of who will do the fighting or whether the proposed war could be won. Thus some samples of reader reaction:
1) But it's just an op-ed! A number of readers pointed out that this was not the official view of the Post's editorial board but rather that of an outside writer. Indeed, that of a writer known for such views: Back in 2006 he published a very similar op-ed in the LA Times which began, "WE MUST bomb Iran." Today in The Nation Ali Gharib went into more aspects of what he called "The Worst Case for War With Iran You'll Read in a Major Newspaper."
A reader who recently left the military writes:
Generally I detest the "chickenhawk" attack—it seems to me Americans should be able to weigh in on military affairs even if they aren't veterans,and indeed nothing good would happen if you left this stuff to the military to think about. But this disgusted, demoralized former soldier is sick of how often "we can strike as often as necessary," [a line from the WaPo piece] means, "you can." And when you're done, we'll toss you to the curb for being stupid enough to have been a soldier, thankyouverymuch,
That said, though, I'm perplexed by the repeated attacks on the Post for publishing the letter ... The opinion Muravchik voices is very much out in the wild—I for one hear it voiced a lot—and the Post op-eds probably ought to be open to ideas not their own. I'm happier than not that they're letting people—like you—be aware that this idea is out there. That's their job.
Would many nuts (surely including Mr. Muravchik) freak out if some other country's paper wrote something similar? Sure we would. But that's not an argument for making our press monolithic, it's an argument for thinking harder about what it means when something shows up in some foreign news.
I agree that it's useful for this argument to be exposed in explicit form, and that op-ed pages exist in part to show a range of opinion. But anyone who has followed WaPo over the past 15 years knows that along with the WSJ it's had consistently the most hawkish editorial line in foreign policy among the mainstream media. Of the mainstream organs that had pushed hard for the Iraq invasion back in 2002, it is unusual in not having conducted a public "were we wrong?" reassessment, as many others did on the tenth anniversary of the war. Three months ago, Jacob Heilbrunn and and James Carden argued in the National Interest that the Post had become "the most reckless editorial page in America." That's why this article, in this setting, drew a different kind of notice than it would have elsewhere.