Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Henry Farrell watches as the downward quality spiral of the Economist continues:

Crooked Timber: The Economist's Lexington starts an article (behind paywall) on whether Bush lied with a piece of self-justificatory hackishness.

The Democrats risk painting themselves as either opportunists (who turn against a war when it goes badly) or buffoons (too dim to question faulty intelligence when it mattered). They also risk exacerbating their biggest weakness... their reputation for being soft on terrorism and feeble on national security. So who is getting the best of the argument? Mr Bush starts with one big advantage: the charge that he knew all along that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction seems to be a farrago of nonsense. Nobody has yet produced any solid evidence for this. Sure, Mr Bush made mistakes, but they seem to have been honest ones made for defensible reasons. He genuinely believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD's--as did most of the world's security services. And he was not alone in thinking that, after September 11th, America should never again err on the side of complacency. More than 100 Democrats in Congress voted to authorise the war. But being right and being seen to be right are different things. Mr Bush may not have consciously lied, but, egged on by Mr Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, he made dreadful miscalculations.

The issue, as the Economist's journalists know bloody well, isn't whether the Bush administration believed at one point that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It's whether or not the Bush administration mendaciously manipulated intelligence to make the public case for their beliefs. The critics mentioned in the piece aren't making "the charge that [Bush] knew all along that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction." I'm not aware of anyone apart from a few crackpots who are. They're making the case that the Republican administration deliberately suppressed information that didn't support its case, and presented highly dubious information as providing a slam-dunk case for imminent war. In other words, the administration stitched up a regime that turned out not actually to have weapons of mass destruction, let alone an active nuclear programme, through spin, lies and use of "evidence" that they knew at the time to be dubious. I'd like to see Lexington explain exactly how the claims of al-Qaeda links, the aluminium tubes presentation, the yellowcake claims and so on were "honest [mistakes] made for defensible reasons." But of course he does no such thing -- instead he attacks his very own, custom designed straw man in an attempt to disassociate the heap of political trouble that Bush is now in from the fact that the Bush administration undoubtedly lied in the run-up to the war. Shoddy, shoddy stuff.

Nobody wants to pay for a news magazine that demonstrates really lousy judgment. At the most callous and crass of profit-and-loss considerations, now is the time for the Economist to be differentiating itself from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal--not imitating it. At the substantive level, the reputational capital that Lexington is now burning will be very, very hard to rebuild.

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