Peggy Noonan's shameless attempt to rewrite (her own) history

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

If the facts don't fit, can pundits just rearrange them? Conservatives like Peggy Noonan seem to think so.

In her most recent Wall Street Journal column about the war in Afghanistan, Noonan actually tries to rewrite history twice: first, regarding President Bush's role in that war; and second, regarding her own role in relentlessly cheerleading the invasion of Iraq -- an invasion Noonan claims distracted the United States from finishing the battle in Afghanistan. (Now she tells us!)

Noonan's inelegant, heavy-handed attempt to alter reality on the opinion pages of the Journal doesn't surprise me. War hawks like her have to find some way to wipe the slate clean. They still, even in 2010, have to find some way to pretend they weren't universally wrong about the war in Iraq, about Bush's divine-like leadership (i.e. "President Backbone"), and how the misguided invasion hindered the battle in Afghanistan.

They have to at least try to rewrite history because if they let the true facts go unchallenged, that means liberal doves were right about U.S. foreign policy. That means conservative pundits, who pride themselves on their deep, deep understanding of all things military (not to mention the Middle East), were the ones who misread everything. They were the ones were got outsmarted by anti-war activists. (Not that that kind of once-in-a-decade blunder seems to hinder the careers of right-wing pundits.)

So yes, re-writing history is an absolute must. And I'm sure Noonan's latest column wasn't the first, and won't be the last, time that she tries to re-arrange the facts regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. And specifically, it won't be the last time she does her best to let herself, and other Bush-era media hawks, off the hook for completely bungling the question of Iraq. But I am sure that attempts like Noonan's need to be forcefully met and pushed back to maintain an honest debate.

And the easiest way to prove Noonan wrong? Simple -- just cite her work from the glory (war) year of 2003.

First, let's quickly highlight the columnist's attempt to eliminate Bush from the current discussion about the war in Afghanistan. How hard did Noonan try to erase Bush from the picture? Very, very hard: She wrote an entire column about the war and never once typed the word "Bush." Not once.

That's not easy, right? I mean, the war was obviously launched under the Bush administration in response to the terror attacks of September 11. And the first seven years of the nine-year campaign were waged under Bush's leadership. And yet ...

The Wall Street Journal essayist and devout GOP partisan wrote a column that cast all sorts of doubt about the war in Afghanistan, but she forgot to type the name "Bush." By contrast, the number of times she mentioned "Obama," or "the president" as a reference to Obama? Ten times.

It's almost like Noonan wants to make this Obama's war, no? Yes: "There is the brute political fact that the war is now President Obama's." Whose war did it used to be? Noonan does not say.

Now, note this passage from Noonan's Afghanistan-related effort [emphasis added]:

But Washington soon took its eye off the ball, turning its focus and fervor to invading Iraq. Over the years, the problems in Afghanistan mounted.

Note the gentle reference to "Washington." Noonan really means the Bush White House there but, apparently, doesn't have the nerve to say so. More importantly, notice how Noonan suddenly sounds like an anti-war blogger, suggesting it was amistake for the United States to take its eye off the ball by invading Iraq.

Oh, brother. Talk about rewriting her own history.

Here's Noonan from February 3, 2003:

Anyway, I think the Democrats have been tied in knots, and they're showing their desperation with their latest talking point, body bags. American invasions mean dead Americans. This is a matter of the utmost seriousness, of course, and yet it dodges the issue. American invasion means dead Americans, but ifMr. Bush is right then refusing to confront Saddam and his weapons now may well mean a future Iraqi- supported or Iraqi-executed attack on our soil. Which could result in hundreds of thousands of dead American civilians. And body bags.


As to the war, Mr. Bush is moving forward with what looks like a great sense of moral security.

Noonan, February 10, 2003:

Colin Powell has persuaded me.


Mr. Powell now stands where the president stands: Saddam Hussein must be stopped.

This is what Mr. Powell asserted, and in my view established, in his U.N. testimony: Iraq has developed and is developing weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has deliberately hid the weapons, in contravention of international agreements. Iraq has relations with and is supportive of terrorists who mean to strike at innocent people.


But we can't dodge history. History won't let us. We'll have to deal with it, do our best, lead for the good.Iraq is part of the pattern of world terror. To move against it is a gamble. But to do nothing is a gamble too. It's gambling on Saddam's future goodwill, a new reluctance on his part to use what he has, a change of heart, mind and character. Does that strike you as a safe bet? A good one?

Me either.

Here she is on February 24, 2003, when Noonan chided two former Democratic presidents who had the nerve to air doubts about the war strategy (they were being "careless"!):

Two of our former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, have been talking a lot about their views and feelings on Iraq. It would be nice if they took to speaking less and thinking more.

From March 24, 2003, when Noonan officially declared a U.S. victory in Iraq, one week after the invasion (I'm not making that up):

Iraq's liberation will be the biggest good thing to happen since 9/11...The American president has, meanwhile, demonstrated to the entire world that he is neither a bombastic naïf nor a reckless cowboy but, in fact, another kind of American stereotype: the steely-eyed rocket man.

From March 31, 2003, when Noonan lashed out at the unpatriotic, anti-war left for spreading "propaganda" about Iraq:

The antiwar left has shown precious little interest in or compassion for members of the U.S. armed services.

From April 7, 2003, when Noonan again announced the war in Iraq had been won:

The war is almost over and young Americans on the ground have won it, and they are doing it like Americans of old. With their old sympathy and spirit, and a profound lack of hatred for the foe, and with compassion for the victims on the ground. Iraq, meet the grandchildren of the men who made the Marshall Plan.

In real time, when the GOP drums of war were pounding in the press in 2003, did Noonan ever stand up and warn that the United States would be taking its eye off the ball by pulling troops and resources out of Afghanistan in order to fight the neo-con's favorite war; that the war effort in Afghanistan would suffer from an invasion of Iraq? Not that I can tell.

In fact, according to a search of her archives here, Noonan only typed up "Afghanistan" in one column during all of 2003. One column. Instead, like every other war-hungry pundit, Noonan insisted Saddam had to go in order to make sure he never unleashed his vast arsenals of WMDs against the United States. (Thanks for the warning, Peggy.)

But now seven years later with a Democrat in the White House, Noonan wants very much to rewrite history, both by eliminating Bush's role in the war in Afghanistan (thereby framing the conflict entirely as Obama's problem), and by pretending everyone knew invading Iraq was a mistake; that it diverted our attention from Afghanistan.

If everybody knew that, than why didn't Noonan make that point when it mattered most?

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