Washington Post Editorial Board Attempts To Erase Its Pre-War Rush To Invasion

Today marks the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. To commemorate the occasion, the Washington Post has trotted out its editorial from May 4, 2003. The reprinted editorial contains a preface, emphasizing that the WP disagreed with the infamous banner:

Five years ago, President Bush declared the mission in Iraq accomplished. The Post editorial board disagreed. Here’s what the board wrote on May 4, 2003. […]

Still, it’s also impossible to agree with the banner that was draped near Mr. Bush on the carrier deck, proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” Aides say the slogan was chosen in part to mark a presidential turn toward domestic affairs as his campaign for reelection approaches. … There is much to be done; the greatest tests and risks still lie in the future.

It’s wonderful that the WP didn’t buy into Bush’s PR stunt on May 1, 2003. But this self-congratulatory reprinting of its May 4 op-ed is disingenuous. Among the the nation’s major newspapers, the WP editorial board was one of the loudest cheerleaders for war in Iraq. As Chris Mooney wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review:


The paper started out hawkishly, echoing many of Bush’s arguments and calling war “an operation essential to American security” even before Powell’s presentation. The Post then quickly endorsed Powell’s WMD and al Qaeda claims. … Yet as invasion approached, the paper shifted its tone. In two lengthy editorials, it directly answered antiwar arguments and responded to readers who’d accused the paper of “jingoism.” Following this public grappling with dissent, the Post unleashed a flurry of editorials smacking the Bush administration for “worryingly vague” postwar planning. … The paper never changed its stance on war, however.

As much as it would like to pat itself on the back for getting one right, the WP editorial board had many more that were wrong. A few lowlights:

“After Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [2/6/03]

“The Perils of Passivity” [2/13/03]

“But the United States cannot again join the Security Council in backing down from a confrontation with the Iraqi dictator, as it did repeatedly during the 1990s, also under pressure from France and Russia.” [2/16/03]

“In the case of Iraq, the functioning of American democracy has been pretty straightforward. President Bush has been respectful of opponents, at least at home, as he should be on such a momentous issue.” [2/23/03]

Evidently, getting just one editorial right is a “mission accomplished” for the Washington Post.


The Washington City Paper notes that on May 11, approximately a week after this op-ed, the WP attacked Democrats for criticizing Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” moment:

Their real gripe with Mr. Bush is that he looked great; the president pulled off his “Top Gun” act as much as Michael Dukakis flubbed his spin in a tank.

No wonder the WP chose not to highlight this piece as well.