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The [Thursday] Papers

"You may be surprised to learn that, precisely five years ago, at least one-third of the top newspapers in this country came out against President Bush taking us to war at that time. Many of the papers may have fumbled the WMD coverage, and only timidly raised questions about the need for war, but when push came to shove five years ago they wanted to wait longer to move against Saddam, or not move at all," Greg Mitchell writes at the Huffington Post.

Not so here in Chicago, where both the Tribune and Sun-Times supported the war. Nonetheless, a look at editorials from the time is fascinating. The Tribune, for example, was far more skeptical at first than I'd recalled in my own mind.

"Taking the war to Hussein would be a much more formidable undertaking than defeating the Taliban, and one that might do as much to undermine the current war against terrorism as to enhance it," the Tribune editorial page said in November of 2001, in an editorial titled "Don't Take The War To Baghdad."

"Advocates of a wider war suspect Saddam Hussein helped the hijackers who hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Yet the evidence to support that charge remains thin at best. Without a solid case, Washington would find itself with few allies in the effort."

In August of 2002, the Tribune editorial page continued the theme in "Insufficient Evidence On Iraq:"

"Saddam Hussein is unquestionably an aggressive, brutal tyrant. But the president has yet to explain clearly why his government's existence can no longer be tolerated. If the administration can prove that Iraq played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, or if it can show why he can't be deterred from using weapons of mass destruction, it can win over the American people and many skeptics abroad. That case, however, is still waiting to be made."

Nonetheless, the Tribune was in favor of the resolution authorizing the war - sounding very much like Hillary Clinton.

In "Pass The War Resolution," from September 2002, the paper said: "The question of whether the U.S. should attack, unilaterally or nearly so, is quite different from the question Congress now faces: whether to give the president broad powers to launch such a war. The danger is that proponents and opponents of war with Iraq will run to their well-fortified corners, and turn the immediate issue of a congressional resolution into a proxy battle for their raging dispute over war itself.

"The paradox here is that the best hope for avoiding a war - and let's be honest, that is a fading hope for a variety of reasons - lies with being prepared to wage one."

In October 2002, the Tribune followed with "What The War Resolution Means:"

"With the Congress falling in squarely behind him, President Bush now can put the authorization of U.S. military action to its best and highest purpose: squeezing a timid United Nations to enforce its own resolutions against Saddam Hussein.

"Bush can speak in a stronger voice to the UN because of the strong voice emanating from Capitol Hill. The decisions in recent days of so many previous skeptics - U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) among them - to back the president says something about how he methodically has built support for his Iraq agenda since Labor Day.

"Back then the concerns of his critics drove the national debate: Bush, many feared, would plunge blindly into war without consulting the UN, without seeking a war resolution from the Congress, without taking his case directly to the American people."

UPDATE 4:15 P.M. I couldn't find any editorials around the launch of the war in March 2003

My apologies, I don't know why this eluded my search. I was just sent a Trib editorial from March 2, 2003 titled "The Case For War," in which the paper laid out a detailed argument of its position.

"For more than a year, Americans again have asked whether the stakes are worth the risks," the paper said. "Throughout, the Tribune has resisted calling for war, arguing instead that combat is completely avoidable - if the rest of the world will stand united in demanding that Saddam Hussein immediately disarm . . .

"Last summer, critics at home and abroad railed against the Bush administration's rush to war. Many said Washington would plunge blindly into combat without making its case to the American people, to Congress or to the UN.

"Instead the administration obtained congressional permission to launch a war, and a unanimous Security Council vote threatening it. Secretary of State Colin Powell has demonstrated that while Iraq is happy to cooperate minimally if that will stall a war, Hussein continues to hoard the bulk of his long-banned weaponry.

"Those who oppose war, particularly on the Security Council but also in the streets of many cities, have not met similar burdens."

The paper concluded, though, that "Year upon year, every earnest tool of diplomacy with Iraq has failed to improve the world's security, stop the butchery - or rationalize our inaction. The Tribune's reluctant but unavoidable conclusion today echoes the final two sentences of the editorial that appeared here in 1990: "If there is a war, the U.S. and its allies will pay a heavy price. But the price of stopping Saddam Hussein isn't going to get any smaller."

Later that July the paper wrote "Questioning The Case For The War:"

"Like any good salesman, President Bush highlighted the facts that made the most compelling case as he sold the American people on the urgent need for war against Iraq. In his State of the Union address in January, he spoke of 38,000 liters of the deadly botulinum toxin and as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent - all unaccounted for by Saddam Hussein. He spoke of Hussein's continued quest to build nuclear weapons.

"He and his administration made the case forcefully for months, at the United Nations and elsewhere, using an impressive array of intelligence reports and satellite photos. Many Americans were convinced, as was this editorial page."

Tomorrow I'll take a look at the Sun-Times.

War Facts
* Rod Blagojevich was still in the U.S. House at the time and voted in favor of the war resolution.

* In October 2002, Barack Obama gave his now-vaunted anti-war speech. Neither the Tribune nor the Sun-Times covered it. The Defender mentioned Obama's presence at the anti-war rally where the speech took place, but did not mention the speech itself.

* Daschle and Kerry are now Obama supporters. Daschle's former chief of staff, Pete Rouse, was one of the first insiders Obama reached out to when he got to Washington. Obama's communications chief, Robert Gibbs, was the spokesman for Kerry during his presidential campaign until leaving that post to become spokesman for a group formed by the party establishment to stop Howard Dean's presidential bid.

That effort included an ad defended by Gibbs that morphed Howard Dean into Osama bin Laden while an announcer said: "Americans want a president who can face the dangers ahead. But Howard Dean has no military or foreign policy experience. And Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy. It's time for Democrats to think about that - and think about it now."

* "Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that Hillary Rodham Clinton could not be trusted to end the Iraq War because she only started opposing it when she began her bid for president," AP reports.

"Ask yourself," Obama told the crowd, "Who do you trust to end a war: someone who opposed the war from the beginning, or someone who started opposing it when they started preparing a run for president?"

Four years ago, during his U.S. Senate campaign, Obama told the Windy City Times NPR something different. Note: Sorry, I mixed up a Windy City link with a NPR link I had.

"NPR: This ticket, obviously, John Kerry and John Edwards, both senators voted for the war.

"OBAMA: Yeah. Well - and I think that there is room for disagreement in that initial decision. Where I think we have to be unified is to recognize that we've got an enormous task ahead in actually making Iraq work. And that is going to take the kind of international cooperation that I think the Bush administration has shown difficulty pulling off, and I think that the Kerry-Edwards campaign is going to be better prepared to do."

The Beachwood Tip Line: Just sayin'.


Posted on March 20, 2008

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