Keller Claims He Doesn't Take Stands Against Wars, But Said Iraq 'Going Very Badly' in 2007

Executive Editor Bill Keller's latest Sunday magazine column, "Team America," asks in the subhead: "Less than a decade after invading Iraq, the U.S. has rediscovered its missionary spirit. Should we be troubled by this?"

Keller is not completely on board with Obama on what's shaping up to be "regime change" in Libya. But he also claimed that as editor he doesn't take stands for or against wars, whether they are "old" wars in Iraq or "new ones in Libya." A 2007 speech suggests differently.

Keller wrote on Sunday:

In foreign-policy journals, students of America's role have long argued about which deserves priority: our ideals or our interests - the desire to share the freedoms we have or the obligation to protect our security and husband our resources. In practice, that's often a false choice; the imperatives overlap. One reason we proselytize for democracy and human rights is that we believe a world that's more like ours is less threatening. The war in Iraq had multiple pretexts, both idealistic and pragmatic: containing an ostensible threat, rescuing Iraqis from a monster, sowing seeds of freedom in an oppressed region.


Eight years ago, when I was an Op-Ed columnist for this paper, I aligned myself with something I called the I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club - baby boomers whose distrust of foreign intervention, forged during the bloody mess of Vietnam, was tempered by the noble rescue of Bosnia and Kosovo, leading to a grudging sympathy for the invasion of Iraq. I'm sure the Bush administration did not need permission from the East Coast pundit chorus to go to war, but it was a high-water mark of the missionary impulse.


As editor of The Times, I don't take stands for or against wars, old ones in Iraq or new ones in Libya, lest my opinions be mistaken for the guiding doctrine of our news coverage. But it's fair to say the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan underscores the value of a certain humility about our ability to shape history.

In a November 2007 speech sponsored by the left-wing U.K. newspaper The Guardian (amidst partisan attacks on fears stirred up by "the president's political wizard, Karl Rove") Keller opined on the war in Iraq.

And I would argue that in this clattering, interconnected, dangerous world, journalism that cuts through the noise has never been needed more. We have a war going very badly in Iraq, and another one in Afghanistan where our declaration of victory looks very premature.

Yet even as Keller was making his anti-war observation, Bush's "troop surge," announced in January 2007 and opposed by the Times' editorial page, was starting to turn things around for the better.

The paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., delivered an even more explicit opinion on the war in a left-wing commencement speech to graduates of New Paltz college in New Yorkin May 2006: "You weren't supposed to be graduating into an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land."