Writers who got Iraq right, Episode #1
Despite generally terrible, incurious media coverage before the war--for which many media outlets belatedly apologized--there were also several pundits, columnists and authors who were right about the war before it began.
For my money, no one predicted what has ultimately transpired better than The Atlantic Monthly senior editor Jack Beatty. He wrote several pieces about what was coming, but two in particular stand out. On February 5, 2003, Beatty wrote that, no matter what the Administration was saying, this war was going to be costly in both human and financial terms.
The rubble of "victory" will still be smoking when the U.S. taxpayer inherits the burdens of occupation. In a comprehensive analysis of the economic costs of war, William Nordhaus, a Yale economist, gives a range of bad news, starting from $100 billion, if all goes well, to as much as $1.9 trillion if nothing goes well and the occupation drags on. U.S. troops never seem to come home...Early this year, Columbia and Harvard economists estimated that the war could top out over $2 trillion.
In this case, as in many others, it wasn't so much that Beatty was looking into the crystal ball and predicting magically, but, unlike so many of his fellow writers, Beatty brought together information gathered from experts on economics, sociology and from his own deep understanding of history and showed the Iraq War would be anything but the cakewalk we were being promised.
Even after the war began, Beatty was dead on. On May 1, 2003, as the most of the American press was fawning over Bush's "audacious" carrier landing stunt--"ultimate in presidential symbolism"--The Atlantic Monthly published a piece in which Beatty, today, seems to have been particularly clairvoyant:
My brother-in-law fought in Vietnam for the domino theory. His son fought in Iraq for a new domino theory—the notion that a U.S.-sponsored democracy there will release a democratic "tsunami" that will topple the authoritarian governments of the Arab world. Domino Theory One was based on a strategic misconception: that we were containing expansionist international communism in Vietnam instead of resisting a nationalist, albeit Leninist-led, revolution rooted in the struggle against French colonialism. Domino Two is based on the theory that the Arab "regimes" are our enemy in what James Woolsey, the former CIA chief and ubiquitous TV hawk, calls "World War Four"—because their domestic repression stokes Islamist terrorism, which the regimes then deflect toward the U.S. But Shiite anger at the U.S. and the baffled response it has met with from U.S. officials who expected our forces to be hailed as liberators suggest that religion may be to Domino Two what nationalism was to Domino One—its fatal blind spot. Isaiah Berlin captured the nature of religious-based resistance to foreign domination in his metaphor for the political dynamics of nationalist resistance that swept us out of Vietnam—"the bent twig," which snaps back harder the further it is pushed.As the first in Nitpicker's series of "Writers Who Got Iraq Right, I interviewed Jack Beatty about the war, why so many in the media failed to see the horrors ahead, Don Rumsfeld's resemblance to Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, and how evidence "get(s) in the way of being a 'big thinker.'" Audio of that interview follows (Windows Media Player required.)
As the audio begins, Beatty is discussing the unwillingness of George W. Bush and his supporters to understand what their war has become--and was always destined to become.
Listen to the interview.
Keep visiting for more installments, including Nitpicker's interview with Paul Krugman, who is next in the series.
Update: Episode #2 in this series--an interview with Paul Krugman--is now available here (and in a much less annoying format).
Update: Hello, Romenesko readers! Look around. For you journalists, I'd especially like to see someone cover this and, while you're at it, please do some research.
Update:If you would like the mp3 version of the Beatty interview and you have an e-mail which will accept a nearly 10 MB file (Gmail will), please send an e-mail to nitpicker-at-gmail.com with "Beatty" in the subject line.
Update: I failed to mention that Jack Beatty is a frequent guest on WBUR's "On Point."