2020年1月7日 星期二

When liars go to war

Remember Iraq? Here we go again.
Demonstrators in Washington, D.C. march to the Trump International Hotel on Jan. 4 to protest U.S. military involvement in the Middle East.Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock
Author Headshot

By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

I wrote my first column for The New York Times 20 years ago. I was hired to focus on business and economics — I remember Howell Raines, the editorial page editor at the time, saying “We have five columnists writing about the Middle East, which is too many, and nobody writing about the economy.” And I fully expected to spend my time mainly on the tech bubble, China’s entry into the world economy, and so on.

But events intervened, in ways that seem highly relevant to our current situation.

First, I found myself horrified by the 2000 election campaign and its immediate aftermath — both by the campaign’s content and by most of the media coverage. For it was obvious to me that George W. Bush was being deeply dishonest about his policy proposals on things like tax cuts and Social Security privatization — dishonest in a way we’d never seen in previous elections.

Yet the conventions of “balanced” coverage prevented the news media from making Bush’s dishonesty clear. As I wrote in November 2000, “If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ‘Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.’”

Then came Sept. 11, and the partisan exploitation of the atrocity. Within days, Republicans tried to use the terrorist attack as an excuse to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy. But nobody wanted to hear about that; the media narrative was of a nation unified in its determination to stand tall, and the corrupt reality was largely covered over.

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This cover-up, in turn, paved the way for the terrible political and media failure that was the march to war in Iraq.

The evidence that we were being misled into war was overwhelming and obvious. But I found myself a very lonely voice in pointing that out, told, among other things, that I should stick to economics. (Among the relative handful of politicians who had the courage to oppose the war were Bernie Sanders, and, I think more surprisingly, Nancy Pelosi.)

But how did I know that the case for war was fraudulent? I wasn’t any kind of expert on foreign policy, weapons of mass destruction, or any of that. I was, however, reading widely — for there was some reporting, notably at Knight Ridder, that exposed what was going on.

Beyond that, I had been following the Bush administration on other issues, and had seen a pattern of dishonesty. In particular, the selling of the war sounded just like the selling of the Bush tax cuts — ever-changing rationales for a never-changing policy. That is, a pattern of lying on domestic issues was good reason to believe that we were being lied into war too.

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Which brings us to this current moment. The media and the public are far less gullible now than they were then, but even now there’s a tendency to take administration claims at face value, or at least semi-seriously.

Don’t do this. Lies don’t stop at the water’s edge. Administrations that are dishonest about domestic policy tend to be dishonest about foreign policy too. And while the Bush administration lied a lot, Trump and company lie about everything.

Quick Hits

If history is any guide, Iran is willing to accept huge losses of life; the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s produced World War I-level carnage.

Remember “We will be welcomed as liberators”?

One reason Iraq went so badly was that the Bush administration disdained experts and only recruited political loyalists. Sound familiar?

Iran’s economy isn’t that big. But it could wreak havoc by closing the Strait of Hormuz.

Feedback

If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at krugman-newsletter@nytimes.com.

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Facing the Music

What’s going on?YouTube

I scream at the top of my voice, what’s going on?

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